Michigan wins another game, but concern lingers over stagnant passing attack
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Another week, another game where the Michigan football team looked like another one-dimensional team on offense.
The third-ranked Wolverines fought their way through struggling Nebraska on Saturday, win the game decisively, 34-3but not without further evidence of a stagnant passing attack.
Quarterback JJ McCarthy, once heralded as Michigan’s next big thing, went just 8 of 17 for 129 yards and two touchdowns, the kind of pedestrian performance you’d expect from Cade McNamara last year.
Still, the Wolverines offense somehow dictated it — recording 46 carries for Michigan running backs, more than half for Heisman Trophy contender Blake Corum. And while Corum (28 carries, 162 yards, tD) was once again terrific, the Wolverines failed to connect on the deep ball. McCarthy tried twice, in consecutive plays early in the second quarter, but the ball appeared out of reach each time.
“We were close to a couple again today,” said head coach Jim Harbaugh. “It was really really good coverage. Some of those deep balls we threw were well covered.
While you could tell Nebraska’s 203rd-ranked passing defense was spot on all night, a pattern developed here. Michigan doesn’t call many passing plays to begin with, with the Wolverines attempting less than 26 passes per game, a number that ranks them 103rd in college football. Among Big Ten teams, only Wisconsin and Minnesota have thrown the ball less.
And when they throw the ball, the finishes don’t rack up yards. Michigan ranks in the bottom half of FBS in passing games over 30 yards with 11, with its longest throws Saturday for 28 and 29 yards, respectively.
“Just more reps, man,” said receiver Ronnie Bell, who had four catches for 72 yards, including the 29-yard catch. “We need more reps. Before training, after training – and I really have to be on the same page. Today I felt like we were as close as we’ve ever been to finishing those games.
We’ve heard the same talk for weeks, but Michigan still produces the same results. And then it comes back to his strength, the running game, where Corum racked up seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games, an impressive feat considering the high carrying load and responsibility.
Still, he handled it like a pro, just like Hassan Haskins did in 2021 when Corum was slowed by a sprained ankle.
“We practice it – we hit, we hit, and I tell them, ‘Keep doing it. Do not stop. Don’t stop throwing the ball deep,” Corum said. “Even if JJ knocks down or someone drops him, don’t stop. It will hit. It’s like saying if I get hit in the backfield, I’ll stop running. No. I will continue.
To his credit, Harbaugh conceded the idea that it might be difficult for McCarthy (or any quarterback) to find a rhythm throwing the football when a team chooses to run it more than 40 times per match. Yet that’s exactly what Michigan did, averaging 44.7 carries per game, the 11th-highest average in the nation. The running offense has become the framework and identity of Michigan’s offense over the past two years, a fact for which Harbaugh and the coaches have apologized.
“When you get 5 yards per run, 6 yards per run, it’s hard to just say, ‘Let’s throw it,'” Harbaugh said. “But yeah, put it on me – I’ll take responsibility for the passing stats, that they weren’t higher than they were. And be happy we’re 10-0 and moving on.
Which brings us to the difficult balancing act Michigan faces. A dominant, rushing physical offense helped Harbaugh and his Wolverines earn a win over Ohio State, the Big Ten championship and a berth in the College Football Playoffs last year. But when they tried to take on a physical, bruised Georgia, they found little success — and didn’t have enough weapons in the passing game to outweigh the struggles.
Across 10 games, there’s been little evidence to prove that Michigan is significantly better at the passing game. Bell returned this year, giving them an extra option, while Roman Wilson showed big game potential in the slot, but reliable options were few and far between. Question posed: Will the Wolverines be able to duplicate their magic on the field over the next three weeks, or will they be forced to pull a rabbit out of their habit when the push hits against Ohio State?
“We’ll see. We’re going to do what we think is the best chance of winning the game,” Harbaugh said. by air or by land. Today was the day we chose to go more into the field. George Patton would be proud.
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