Michigan football has offensive skill players feeling good entering Ohio State week

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Free Press sports writer Michael Cohen breaks down Michigan football’s 59-18 win over Maryland and looks at players who helped or hurt their stock Saturday at Maryland Stadium:

Five up

RB Donovan Edwards: This recognition is as much about Edwards’ attitude as it is the remarkable performance he put in against the Terrapins. Playing time has been fleeting for Edwards, the former five-star recruit, during a season when running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins have emerged as the best rushing tandem in the country. It has relegated Edwards to reserve duty that has been interspersed with minor injuries. Yet he always says the right things about his role (he’s willing to wait his turn) and the players in front of him (he’s proud of what Corum and Haskins have done) and the coaching staff (he appreciates his bond with Jim Harbaugh) in what appear to be genuine moments of reflection. Then he caught 10 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown Saturday to remind Michigan fans of his on-field talent. That Edwards posted U-M’s highest single-game receiving mark by any player this season — and from the running back position — speaks to his explosiveness with the ball. It's something the coaching staff should have recognized earlier in the season when the Wolverines were aching for better contributions from wideouts Mike Sainristil, Daylen Baldwin, Roman Wilson and A.J. Henning. Edwards needs to be involved against Ohio State because he’s the type of athlete who can turn a game with one breathtaking movement.

RAINER SABIN: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan have surprised all year. Now's a chance to surprise Ohio State

Michigan Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara (12) rushes during the first half Nov. 20, 2021 against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.
Michigan Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara (12) rushes during the first half Nov. 20, 2021 against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.

QB Cade McNamara: The level of competition is worth scrutinizing, but McNamara turned in one of his steadiest games of the season. He completed 21-for-28 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an NFL passer rating of 122.3 — the third time he has eclipsed 103 since the Week 3 win over Northern Illinois. There were plenty of dinks and dunks against the Terrapins as McNamara connected with Edwards and Cornelius Johnson (four catches, 39 yards) for the catch-and-run opportunities this offense prefers, but his efficiency when pushing the ball downfield was noteworthy. McNamara completed four of his five passes that traveled at least 10 yards downfield for 133 yards and a touchdown. He was also marvelous against the blitz by completing seven passes on 10 attempts for 117 yards and two scores. The numbers would have been even better had Johnson and tight end Carter Selzer not been credited with three dropped passes. McNamara still posted his second-best completion percentage (72.4%) against a Big Ten opponent this season.

ANALYSIS: How Cade McNamara persevered again and won over critics

MICHAEL COHEN: Michigan grades vs. Maryland: Offense, special teams clicking on all cylinders

CB DJ Turner: Among the many questions facing defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald this season was whether his cornerbacks had enough talent to hang with some of the better receivers in the Big Ten. And while that question won’t truly be answered until next weekend, when the Buckeyes arrive in Ann Arbor with the nation’s best receiving corps, the upward trajectories of both Turner and Vincent Gray are encouraging for the Wolverines. Turner in particular has flashed the type of athleticism and mental toughness needed to succeed on an island. He welcomed the challenge of facing Penn State’s star wideout Jahan Dotson a week ago and wants Macdonald to know he’s ready for that type of opportunity every game. Turner was tremendous against the Terrapins by allowing just two receptions for 19 yards. He finished with his highest defensive grade (87.4) and coverage grade (89.5) of the season on Pro Football Focus and led Michigan’s defensive backs in both categories. By baiting Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa into an ill-fated throw across his body, Turner created an easy interception that resulted in a touchdown when he ran down the sideline for a 42-yard pick-six to give the Wolverines a score in all three phases. Turner will need another superb performance against the Buckeyes to give his team a chance of reaching the Big Ten title game.

WR Matt Torey: What a moment for the walk-on from Sterling Heights, Michigan. Torey caught 59 passes for 805 yards and six touchdowns during his senior year at Brother Rice to receive Division 1-2 All-State honors from the Associated Press. He joined the team at Michigan as a reserve wide receiver but never saw the field in 2019 or 2020, though he did earn Scout Team Player of the Week honors once in each season. Torey made his U-M debut against Western Michigan earlier this year and played on special teams against Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State. He made his mark during Saturday’s win over the Terrapins by surging through Maryland’s protection unit for a tremendous blocked punt in the second quarter. His block gave the Wolverines excellent field position at the UMD 42, and Michigan scored four plays later on a touchdown pass from J.J. McCarthy to Sainristil. “Monster game by the special teams,” Harbaugh said. “Matt Torey, his blocked punt early in the game really got us going. No question about that.”

QB J.J. McCarthy: This was some response by McCarthy, who never saw the field during the win over Penn State and whose offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis, gave an impassioned defense of McNamara earlier in the week. Injected into the lineup for eight snaps against Maryland, McCarthy dazzled on nearly every play. He completed all five of his passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, and carried the ball twice for 19 yards and another score. His only ho-hum moment was a handoff to Haskins that gained 12 yards. The touchdown to Sainristil was special. McCarthy lobbed a beautiful throw toward the back of the end zone where Sainristil, who has shown a knack for making difficult receptions, reached out with his left hand and hauled the ball in for a 13-yard score. McCarthy helped set up that score by gaining 19 yards on a keeper around the left side of the offensive line. He used his legs again in the fourth quarter to cap Michigan’s scoring by plunging into the end zone on a 5-yard dive. Whether McCarthy will see the field against Ohio State is unclear, but there was nothing more he could have done in the limited role he played Saturday.

THE FUTURE: Michigan's nice season doesn't guarantee Cade McNamara will start next year

One down

Edge rushers: A week after becoming the first Michigan teammates in school history to reach 10 sacks each, edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo were oddly quiet vs. Maryland. They combined for zero quarterback hits and missed several opportunities to corral Tagovailoa behind the line of scrimmage. What made their lack of production more confusing was how long Maryland’s quarterback held the ball. Tagovailoa’s average time to throw was 3.31 seconds on Saturday to smash his season-high of 2.93 seconds during a win over Illinois in September. None of Michigan’s previous Big Ten opponents came close to holding the ball as long as Tagovailoa, either: Sean Clifford — 2.72; Donaven McCulley — 2.77; Payton Thorne — 2.94; Ryan Hilinski — 2.29; Adrian Martinez — 2.74; Graham Mertz — 2.56; Noah Vedral — 2.49. Perhaps that’s why Harbaugh didn’t think his defense did a great job defending Tagovailoa, who entered Saturday averaging 310 passing yards per game, even though the final statistics were favorable for Michigan. “From where I was looking, he was playing great,” Harbaugh said. “Like I said going into the week, he’s a great player, he’s their most valuable player and we couldn’t get him on the ground. And we were doing everything we could do to that. We were approaching him like he was a running back. We were leveraging him as a running back, and he was still getting out of the pocket and making plays. He’s a real player. Throws it extremely well. I don’t know that we did as much as we wanted to limit him. And I don’t know that you can, really. So maybe we did good by limiting the production.”

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan football has offensive skill players feeling good