In a normal year, this week is one of the highlights, right up there with Christmas. The back and forth, the uncertainty, the excitement. To borrow a line, “there’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories,” but after what happened in Piscataway last Saturday and the entire Mel Tucker saga that has swallowed up this season, those glories feel a long way away.
Yes, folks, it is Michigan week.
The Season So far
From the moment toe met leather on September 2nd, Michigan has rolled. In the opener against East Carolina, the Wolverines took care of business 30-3. The next week, they dispatched UNLV 35-7. In Week 3, they took care of Bowling Green 31-6. When Jim Harbaugh returned from his self-imposed suspension at home against Rutgers, Michigan opened Big Ten play with a 31-7 win. Against Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana, they won by 38, 42, and 45 points respectively.
Michigan has played a laughable schedule against downtrodden G5 teams and the dregs of the Big Ten. To their credit, they’ve made that schedule look as comically soft as possible.
Offensively, Michigan has found something this season, even if that something is sparked by incompetence in opposing defenses. Sherrone Moore is in his first season as the sole offensive coordinator for the Wolverines, after serving as a co-OC and Offensive Line Coach. Moore has been on Michigan’s staff since 2018 after a stint in Mount Pleasant at Central Michigan under both Dan Enos and John Bonamego.
With Cade McNamara’s departure to Iowa City, JJ McCarthy became the undisputed starting quarterback this season, and he has taken that role and run with it. McCarthy has thrown for more than 1500 yards already this season, averaging 216 per game. He’s only thrown 3 interceptions compared to 14 touchdowns, and he has the mobility to extend plays and turn nothing into something. This play against Indiana in the rainy Ann Arbor afternoon last week is a perfect example:
Love seeing this from Michigan QB JJ McCarthy.— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) October 14, 2023
Uses his legs to get outside, sees the open space downfield, and directs his tight end for an easy touchdown.
McCarthy has been showing his ability to improvise and create some big plays today. pic.twitter.com/cHczBuJWcK
McCarthy on his own is quite good, but his supporting cast might somehow be even better. Blake Corum returned this season from the injury he suffered against Illinois last November, and has been the clear lead back over the highly touted Donovan Edwards, nearly tripling Edwards’ rushing yardage. Corum’s diminutive stature brings to mind his position coach, former Michigan running back Mike Hart, though Corum brings a level of agility and skill that Hart even lacked.
The offensive line, also coached by Sherrone Moore, is a force. In each of the last two seasons, the unit has won the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in the country. This year’s Michigan team returned 3 starters, and added even more talent from the transfer portal in Drake Nugent, Myles Hinton, and LaDarius Henderson.
In the passing game, Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson are the clear top two. Wilson has been McCarthy’s primary target in scoring situations, as he’s hauled in 9 of McCarthy’s 14 passing touchdowns. Colston Loveland is a tremendous complementary piece at tight end, approaching 300 yards receiving on the season. Donovan Edwards is a far greater receiving threat out of the backfield than Blake Corum, with nearly triple the targets of Michigan’s leading rusher.
Jesse Minter took over Michigan’s defense in 2022 after spending a year in Nashville coordinating Vanderbilt’s defense. Prior to his time with the Commodores, Minter worked with former Michigan DC Mike Macdonald in Baltimore under John Harbaugh. Macdonald’s 2021 unit was excellent, and Minter picked up right where Macdonald left off.
On the defensive line, Michigan is dangerous. On the edge, Jaylen Harrell is a sack machine, leading the team with 4.5, and has forced a pair of fumbles. Josaiah Stewart, who transferred to Ann Arbor from Coastal Carolina, has added 3 sacks. Sophomore Derrick Moore has made his presence known with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble.
Linebacker Junior Colson leads the team in total tackles, but his position-mate Michael Barrett is possibly more disruptive. Barrett has 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries, along with a sack. Last week against Indiana, Barrett was the top graded linebacker in the country according to Pro Football Focus.
Michael Barrett with a sack forced fumble and recovers it 〽️ pic.twitter.com/3ZJFIuSs50— RanDynasty (@ran_dynasty) October 14, 2023
Mike Sainristil, the converted wide receiver has become possibly Michigan’s best defensive back, with a pair of interceptions on the season including one returned for a touchdown against Rutgers
Michigan’s defense is loaded with talent, and will almost certainly make Katin Houser’s life very difficult on Saturday night.
How worried should we be?
As worried as you can possibly be about a football game. Michigan is stacked from top to bottom with tremendous talent. Their disciplined, hyper efficient nature is a mirror image of Michigan State’s general sloppy carelessness.
That said, we have no idea just how good they are because of their pathetic schedule. They’ve rolled everyone, but the best opposition they’ve faced has been the Rutgers squad that MSU was en route to squashing before the 4th quarter “avalanche” buried the Spartans.
Unless Michigan is deeply rattled and plays a game so divorced from what they’ve shown so far, this won’t be competitive.
There’s some magic in rivalry games, in hostile environments after the sun goes down, but there’s only so much that magic can do.