Michigan wouldn’t let itself be the first team to 1,000 wins without some drama.
The Wolverines almost fell for the Terps trap, but squeaked out a win over Maryland thanks to clutch plays from the defense. The 31-24 score was without a doubt the closest a contest has been all year, and Maryland had multiple chances to win late.
There was a great deal to think about in the loss. Star players got beat. The defense stepped up when it needed. And Michigan turns it eyes to Ohio State for the biggest game in college football so far this season.
Here are our five takeaways from the game:
J.J. is at less than 100%
Last week McCarthy banged up his knee, and it is clearly still bothering him.
The quarterback had a number of good throws, by also looked hesitant to rip it and threw a number of turnover worthy passes. He had bad placement on a Tyler Morris shot play in the red zone, just missed Johnson on a deep post, and struggled to throw timing routes throughout the contest.
Obviously, McCarthy needs his knee to navigate the pocket and step into his throws. Most of his success comes on driven timing routes or scramble drill improv, so operating as a pocket passer is certainly uncomfortable waters.
The extent of his injury is unknown, and it appears to be temporary. He needs to be operating with confidence and accuracy next week when the Wolverines face their arch enemy.
The play-calling needs an update
It was fun to gloat about running all over Penn State, but there simply needs to be more diversity in the play-calling.
Up only six in the third quarter with momentum heavily favoring Maryland, Michigan ran the ball three straight times up the middle and punted after failing to convert. Maryland, knowing exactly what was coming, simply ran out a five man front and put eight in the box to snuff out the run. It worked, of course.
It’s unfair to chalk up the entire offenses sluggishnes to Moore’s playcalling. He deserves some credit for gutsy conversion calls, but there is a clear lack of experience as the head coach.
I like Moore, but he simply must recognize when there is an eight man box, and when it is time to use the short game to pick up a first down.
Defense (and special teams) wins the game with splash plays
Mike Barrett and Derrick Moore combined for a touchdown, Christian Boivin blocked a punt for a safety, and Mike Sainristil snagged two clutch picks to stunt Maryland’s momentum. Without these impact plays, we are likely looking at a different result.
The pass rush also delivered at key moments. McGregor and Grant came up with huge sacks late, and Mike Barrett forced a touchdown in a one possession game.
Maryland moved the ball pretty well for a lot of the contest, so this was far from a strong performance, but big plays saved the day for Michigan.
The offense was stagnant for stretches and turned it over in the red zone, allowing Maryland to hang in the contest much later than it should have. Chalking this up as a “bad” performance from the O would be a little rich, but it was not enough to beat, say, Ohio State.
There was a lot of bad against Maryland.
Until Saturday, Michigan was a marching weapon of mass destruction that eviscerated every opponent it faced without much of a hitch. The Wolverines made a name for themselves by steamrolling lesser opponents, but Maryland exposed the cracks.
Will Johnson was beat deep. McCarthy threw a pick. The defensive line allowed chunk plays. Every strong part of Michigan’s team was bested at one point or another.
Maryland honestly looked like the better team for a large portion of the matchup. Chalk that up to injuries, Harbaugh’s absence or the trap week. It doesn’t matter. You need better performances from star players in times of need.
Injuries pile up
What comes around, goes around.
Michigan has been relatively injury free, but Saturday the Wolverines had a number of key players check out with various ailments.
McCarthy was banged up with a knee. Henderson did not play. Hinton was hurt in the third quarter. Wilson was knocked out of the game early. Barrett missed some time but returned. It is a long list of damages.
The hope, of course, is that none of these are more than temporary issues. Michigan has what some would call a huge game next week, and keeping a fully healthy squad is essential for its chances to win and get to a third consecutive Big Ten title game.