It’s time to panic.
If you want to, that is.
The No. 4 Michigan football team certainly gave some cause for concern in Saturday’s 34-27 scare against Maryland. The game saw the Wolverines trail for the first time this season. Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy of Nazareth (Academy) wasn’t the next coming. And the defense showed plenty of holes against the Terrapin offense.
If you want to take these things and run with them, go ahead. But there’s a different perspective to watching that game that you can take — one of learning and tact.
So let’s learn, starting with the offense.
McCarthy isn’t always going to be the unstoppable prodigy that the fanbase wants him to be. He showed that he’s human, pairing mistakes with his seemingly-inhuman feats. Notably, McCarthy overthrew open receivers on deep routes thrice and underthrew sophomore receiver Andrel Anthony on a route of the same ilk. That’s on top of fumbling the ball twice and launching an ill-advised near-interception in the endzone on a pass intended for fifth-year receiver Ronnie Bell.
“It definitely wasn’t my best performance,” McCarthy said Saturday. “I want some things back that happened out there.”
Next to him at the podium, junior running back Blake Corum chuckled before adding, under his breath: “I want some back, too.”
It’s a bit of an amusing comment coming from the player that just rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns, easily passing the eye test as the best player in the Big House on Saturday. But it’s also a testament to the optimist’s point of view of the Wolverines.
They’re touting a potential Heisman-caliber running back next to a high-upside quarterback and a talented receiver room. And Michigan isn’t even healthy at the moment. Sophomore running back Donovan Edwards will likely return soon, adding an element to both the pass and run game, and the offensive line is still recovering from its piecemeal solution to an injury-riddled start to the season.
Speaking of which, the offensive line — against better competition — took a leap forward in terms of chemistry, pass protection and run blocking.
“(We can) talk about how many yards I put up but the o-line killed it today,” Corum said. “They make my job easy. They allowed me to get to the second level defenders real quick.”
So there were positives, even when the Wolverines’ offense floundered at times. And the only way to find out whether the good or bad will rise to the top is to wait and see.
The same holds for the defense.
Michigan’s defense looked suspect throughout the game Saturday, allowing 27 points and nearly 400 total yards. Most concerningly, the Wolverines’ pass rush often appeared weak, and seemed nonexistent at times. That allowed Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to deliver through the air, going through his reads with time to spare and sometimes turning up field to make a play with his legs.
“We’re getting past the quarterback a few too many times,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And there (Tagovailoa) proved to be really slippery and good. We had some shots to get him back, get him on the ground, but he was tough. It’s tough to get him on the ground.”
Beyond that, the Wolverines’ defensive backs were inconsistent. Sometimes, they lost their man and gave up easy receptions. But alternatively, they came up with two improbable interceptions at critical times to turn the tide of the game.
Michigan’s defense showed its volatility on full display: looking paper thin on some drives and drawing whispers of last year’s competent squad on others. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing — a defense burgeoning with potential or marred by inconsistencies — depending on how you look at it.
The last thing is that Maryland might be a fully competent team, it’s just too early in the college football season to know for sure. Many programs have already lost to teams they “shouldn’t have,” and only 20 undefeated teams in FBS remain, so Michigan being one of them is a feat that should not be taken lightly.
And again, don’t be too rash to judge — book, cover, that whole saying, you get it. Remember the Wolverines’ game against Rutgers last year? The unconvincing early-season 20-14 win led to pundits and fans alike writing Michigan off all together. That didn’t hold up well.
So while your mind is racing about whether the Wolverines can reach the same heights they did a season ago, remember to put everything in perspective.
There’s plenty to criticize, and there’s plenty to worry about. So if you want to spend the next week — or more — thinking about that, feel free. But consider the alternative: waiting, watching Michigan’s game next week, learning more about what this team actually is and saving yourself some mental turmoil in the process.
Or not. It’s up to you.