Julia Schachinger/Daily. Buy this photo.

When the Michigan football team takes the field under the lights Saturday night against Hawaii, it will do so with a new starting quarterback. 

Sophomore J.J. McCarthy — the uber-talented former five-star recruit — is slated for his first collegiate start as the quarterback competition between him and senior Cade McNamara rages on. And while the intrigue to Saturday’s game certainly starts with McCarthy, there are other areas to keep an eye on, too. 

Here are three things to watch for in Michigan’s Week Two contest. 

How will the offensive line fare? 

Graduate offensive tackle Ryan Hayes started all 14 games last year, but his durability betrayed him before this season even started. 

Hayes, who projects as the team’s starting left tackle, missed last week’s game with an injury. In his place, senior Karsen Barnhart drew the start; Barnhart, though, left the contest with an ankle injury that will sideline him for several weeks. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Harbaugh said Monday that he expects Hayes back this week, though it’s worth monitoring how he looks. 

As for the rest of the offensive line, the unit played well as a whole against Colorado State. Harbaugh praised junior guard Zak Zinter and senior offensive lineman Trevor Keegan, noting that the pair notched the highest grades, with Keegan earning the game ball. Graduate transfer Olu Oluwatimi also slid in seamlessly at center, filling the void left behind by Andrew Vastardis

As this year’s unit looks to replicate the success of last year’s Joe Moore Award-winning squad, the five linemen will utilize a soft non-conference slate to mesh. Senior Trente Jones drew his first collegiate start, doing so at right tackle; Oluwatimi, despite drawing rave reviews, is still getting acquainted with a new set of teammates. And, of all units, that chemistry and comfort is especially important for the offensive line. 

It’s also worth noting that, despite the switch to a more run-oriented quarterback in McCarthy, multiple offensive linemen have maintained that nothing changes in terms of blocking schemes. Whether it’s McCarthy or McNamara under center, their job remains the same. 

An expanded role for CJ Stokes

It’s always difficult to differentiate fact from fiction when it comes to fall camp buzz, but perhaps rumors of Stokes’s prowess merit more attention. 

The freshman running back, a three-star recruit out of high school, impressed in the season opener with six carries for 35 yards. Though Michigan’s running back room is headlined by the one-two punch of junior Blake Corum and sophomore Donovan Edwards, perhaps there is a role for Stokes, too. 

“I told him (in the) days leading up to the game, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to be this game or the next, but you’re going to be one of those freshmen that everybody’s talking about,’ ” Harbaugh said Monday. “He’s just that good.”

Wednesday, Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart gushed over Stokes, noting that he embodies the Wolverines’ general recruiting philosophy: Not to recruit stars, but talent. Early on, Stokes has indicated that he has plenty of that. 

“He ran through people,” Hart said. “He’s a kid who has a strong mind, who’s confident in himself and not afraid of competition.” 

In a crowded and talented backfield, those attributes bode well. For Stokes, it’s so far, so good. 

Can Michigan have another crisp game? 

Sure, Colorado State did not pose a serious challenge. Nonetheless, there’s something to be said about how prepared Michigan looked. The Wolverines committed just one penalty, avoiding the sort of bone-headed mistakes that are often prevalent early in the season. 

“It was a very clean game,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said Wednesday. “No penalties up front. Sometimes, in game one, you get guys who are excited and they jump offsides. There were a lot of hard counts in the game, and I think our guys handled that very, very well.” 

That is both a testament to the players and the coaching staff; with Elston’s unit, specifically, the lack of penalties is all the more impressive considering the rotation of 10-12 players with constant substitutions.

That applies to areas unseen, too. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, in his first game anchoring Michigan’s defense, called an admirable game, enabling that crispness. Can he keep it up? 

“The headsets were clean, smooth,” Harbaugh said, lauding Minter. “The operations were clean, smooth in all three phases… just the whole operation, signaling, communication. A-plus-plus.” 

On the surface, Michigan should have no issues replicating last week’s success against Hawaii. In terms of what the Wolverines can derive from playing one of the worst teams in the FBS, Harbaugh laid it out very succinctly: 

“We’re just trying to get as good at football as we can, as fast as we can,” he said. “You always respect your opponent. You take nothing for granted. And also, we’re going to need to improve. We have to improve. I saw some darn good football teams playing after our game, watching them on TV. Teams like Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame. A lot of good football teams out there playing good, so we’ve gotta get better, better, better, better and better.” 

Against Hawaii, Michigan will have the opportunity to do just that.