Next Man Up (Michigan 51, Colorado State 7)

A win.

Photo: Zoey Holmstrom

51-7 is a proper win versus an overmatched opponent. A win suitable for a defending Big Ten champion team – not a position Michigan has not been in since, well...a long time. But it's a position that certainly suits them. Especially this team, which has quickly become less of a rebuild, at least on defense, but more of a reload.

I've been thinking lately about former Michigan head coach Gary Moeller...who passed away on July 11 of this year at the age of 81. He would've been proud of this team yesterday. This felt like on of those wins he would have with those early 90's teams of his. Like in 1992 versus Houston – my first ever game when I was 12...a 61-7 thrashing of a vastly overmatched opponent. A game where both sides of the ball are just clicking. And in true Moeller fashion, one that was led by dominating defense. This game felt like that. 

[Check out our full photo gallery from the Colorado State game here.]

Of course, we all knew Colorado State had very little chance to keep this close or even sniff a possible upset. In just their second meeting all-time, Michigan was in control from the start thanks to a relentless defense that kept freshman QB Clay Millen from ever getting comfortable in (or out of) the pocket. All told, Michigan tallied 7 sacks on the day, led by senior defensive end Mike Morris who got to the QB twice. Nine other Wolverines got at least half a sack in this game. 

In an offseason where everyone wondered who could replace Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, we saw Morris, incoming transfer Eyabi Anoma, Jaylen Harrell, Mazi Smith, Kris Jenkins and Mason Graham all step up to fill that enormous void. It's early, of course, but you can be confident the defensive line is still one of the strengths of this team.

Not to be outdone, the linebackers and secondary had themselves a nice day as well, highlighted by Rod Moore's INT in the first quarter and DJ Turner's scoop n' score in the third quarter after the strip by Mike Morris, which put Michigan up 30-0. One of the things DJ spoke about at the Monday press conference earlier in the week was a greater emphasis this season for the defense to get turnovers and score points.

But the story of the day, of course, was the quarterback position. 

In the first half, when all eyes were on returning starter Cade McNamara, he struggled to get into any sort of rhythm starting off 0-4 and only completing 50% of his passes on the day. He was able to move the offense and score some points...I mean, it is Colorado State...but on their 4 first half drives over 4 plays, 3 of them ended in field goals instead of touchdowns. It wasn't that Cade did anything wrong, but he just failed to get the offense moving the way JJ McCarthy did later in the second half. 

There's just no question that JJ offers a dynamic element to this offense that Cade...just...can't. 

Cade's a good QB who can make all the passes you need. While he'll rarely just take off and run, he's calculated and goes through his progressions carefully – he'll rarely make a costly mistake. Cade led Michigan to their first Big Ten title in almost 20 years and he's a clear leader on this team. A year ago, he could do things that JJ McCarthy wasn't able to do yet. He was clearly QB1 in 2021.

On his 20-yard touchdown run on a beautifully executed zone-read at 6:15 in the 3Q, McCarthy showed you just how he can add another dimension to this offense. We'll find out next week in his start against Hawaii if he has truly taken that next step towards becoming the passer he needs to be and the leader this offense needs as Harbaugh alluded to last week.

Of course, there's still a very real possibility that both QB's will be viable options for this offense just as they were a year ago. Their skills are actually very complimentary, and as long as Harbaugh can manage the mental aspect of sharing snaps, Michigan can keep this 2-QB system going. The key is both Cade and JJ need to be on the same page. I suspect this will be a fluid situation for the first few weeks of the season.

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