Michigan used a simple formula to win on Saturday.
There are two elements most successful football teams have. They have a great quarterback, and they have a pass rush that can effectively get to the opposing team’s quarterback. During their 31-10 win over Indiana this past Saturday, the Wolverines put both on display in the best way. However, the game did not get off to a great start.
The first half was the worst half of football Michigan has played all season. They went into Indiana as 22.5 point favorites, but at halftime the score was tied at 10. Other than a 50-yard run by Blake Corum, Michigan’s offense looked stale and unimaginative.
Their defense also had some trouble with the up-tempo Indiana offense. This was a game where I expected them to open up the passing attack a bit more, but I was left incredibly disappointed at halftime.
However, the Wolverines made halftime adjustments and came out strong in the second half. They forced an Indiana punt and then went on a beautiful 11 play 98-yard drive that was capped off by a 29 yard touchdown pass from J.J. McCarthy to Cornelius Johnson to put them ahead 17-10.
On that drive, the offense finally found a rhythm. After that drive, the defense forced an Indiana three and out and got the ball back at the Indiana 33-yard line after a good return by A.J. Henning, followed by a personal foul penalty on Indiana.
J.J. learning on the job
On this drive, J.J. McCarthy made his first crucial mistake of the season. On 2nd and 8 from the Indiana 8-yard line, J.J. McCarthy threw an end zone interception into tight coverage. This was the type of play that could have been a turning point of the game.
The interception did not end up proving costly for Michigan. The defense’s relentless pressure led to two consecutive Indiana drives that ended in punts, one of which was keyed by a sack by Michigan’s star edge rusher Eyabi Okie. The Wolverines were able to score a touchdown on a 7 play 56 yard drive which was capped by a 9 yard touchdown pass from J.J. McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker to put Michigan up 24-10.
On Indiana’s next drive, the defense forced yet another 3 and out, which was keyed by a sack by Derrick Moore. Michigan then effectively ended the game with a 10 play 60 yard touchdown drive which was capped off by a 6 yard touchdown pass from J.J. McCarthy to Cornelius Johnson to give them a 31-10 lead. Braden McGregor then put the exclamation point on this game by sacking Indiana’s Connor Bazelack on 4th down to truly end the game. It was a fitting end.
This game was all about J.J. McCarthy and the pass rush. J.J. McCarthy played the best game of his Michigan career today. After a stale first half, the coaching staff realized that they needed to open up the passing attack and let J.J. cook. J.J. McCarthy rewarded that faith by throwing 3 second half touchdown passes.
Michigan’s Pass Rush Showing Resilience
This was J.J. McCarthy’s first game throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdown passes, and I suspect this will not be the last. McCarthy threw a terrible red zone interception with Michigan only ahead 17-10, but did not let this one mistake define him for the game. McCarthy bounced back to lead the offense on two more touchdown drives and to throw two more touchdown passes.
This pass rush also deserves a ton of credit. They finished the game with 7 sacks, but that does not begin to tell the whole story. After struggling a bit in the first half, Michigan’s defense did not allow a single point in the second half. The reason why is that the pass rush did not give Indiana’s Connor Bazelak any time to throw the football.
I give a ton of credit to the defensive coaching staff for making the right halftime adjustments, and to the pass rush for putting the plan in action. It was a dominant second half for the defense and for the Wolverines as a collective.
Photo Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
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