BLOOMINGTON — How do you weigh expectations with reality?
Through three Big Ten games, the No. 4 Michigan football team’s offense has not been firing on all cylinders.
Sure, the Wolverines have won all three of those games, eventually finding some separation in the fourth quarter, just as they did in their 31-10 win over Indiana on Saturday. But there has not yet been a game in which the Michigan offense has looked truly elite, not for a full four quarters at least.
For a team coming into the season that was supposed to have one of the best offenses in the country, that could be a bit of an alarming notion. But after the game, sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy dispelled that, and he assured that even though the offense is a work in progress, he isn’t worried.
“I just feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface yet of our potential,” McCarthy said. “Once this offense comes together, and once we play as a cohesive unit, and we are in rhythm, we’re gonna be a very dangerous offense. But we haven’t even scratched the surface yet for that.”
That’s just the thing — McCarthy stresses that the offense is going to be a very dangerous offense. He’s seeing what so many else are, on paper the Wolverines have all the tools to be an elite offense: A star quarterback, a deep wide receiver room, a stable offensive line and one of the best running backs in the country.
Michigan should have one of the best offenses in the country, but right now, it simply doesn’t.
McCarthy put a lot of the responsibility on himself.
“There’s so many things that I can improve on and there’s so many things that I’m gonna see on the film that I can improve on,” McCarthy said. “It’s just the consistency that I’m really striving to get towards.”
This isn’t to say that McCarthy was bad on Saturday. All things considered, McCarthy actually had one of his best games against the Hoosiers with an impressive stat line to go with it: 304 yards and three touchdowns.
When McCarthy is at his best, so too is the offense.
Take for instance, the first drives of both the first and second half for Michigan. Two long touchdown drives, the first relying heavily on star running back junior Blake Corum and the second on McCarthy making plays with his arm and with his legs. In those moments, the Wolverines’ offense looked like it could buzzsaw any team standing in its way.
But those drives were mere moments, not the entire story. The rest of the tale involves a 35 minute drought without finding the endzone and being held mostly in check until the fourth quarter in which the floodgates finally broke open. It’s also important to note that Indiana does not have a good defense. The Hoosiers’ unit was ranked 107th in the country in total defense heading into Saturday’s game.
It comes down to weighing the good with the bad.
You can see the obvious growth in McCarthy’s game, especially when faced with a defense that completely sold out to stop the run and was begging him to beat it.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh certainly did.
“That’s pretty darn good,” Harbaugh said of McCarthy’s performance.
But it’s also apparent that the Wolverines’ offense hasn’t been living up to expectations yet.
For right now, it hasn’t cost them. The out-of-sync offense has simply meant that their games have been contested into the fourth quarter, but not a blemish in an unbeaten record. There’s even a clear path to improvement.
After the game, McCarthy dove into some areas he thought he could improve on. He wants to have a better command of the field, he wants to consistently make the right decisions and he wants to use his legs more — especially on third down.
On that last bullet point, McCarthy was asked a little more, to try to put to words why he wasn’t already doing that when so many view him as such a gifted athlete.
“I’m still adjusting to being able to use my legs,” McCarthy said. “It’s coming with time but like I said, that’s another part of my game and this offense that’s going to be really scary when it starts clicking.”
Realistically, what McCarthy said about his running ability can be applied to the offense as a whole. As of right now, it hasn’t started clicking. And instead of the question being, “How high can this offense climb?” It should be:
When will it, if ever, click?