It has been getting a little redundant writing about Michigan during the first three weeks of the season and the Wolverines’ pummeling of their nonconference opponents.
There’s been a lot of, yeah, the No. 4 Wolverines lead the Nation in scoring, averaging 55.3 points a game but look who they’ve played? And that’s fair and accurate. After all, Colorado State, Hawaii and Connecticut have not offered much opposition. It’s also fair to note the Wolverines dominated teams they were supposed to dominate while emptying the bench and giving playing experience to players who don’t see the field much or at all.
The Big Ten season begins for them Saturday against Maryland at Michigan Stadium, and things should start to get a bit more interesting. Until then, let’s go through some mail.
► Question: When will we see Donovan Edwards back in the field? — @jfeahenyRealtor
► Answer: Edwards has been out since he was seen limping just before Halftime of the Hawaii game and did not play last Saturday, although he was on the sideline and extremely engaged cheering on his teammates. In the meantime, Blake Corum has been dominant, averaging about seven yards a carry and has scored seven touchdowns. Jim Harbaugh gave a convoluted response when asked about Edwards during his radio show Monday night, and hasn’t offered much when asked in news conferences. It’s always fun to read the Harbaugh tea leaves because the interpretations are varied. My hunch is Edwards is healthy enough to play against the Terps, but this is a game plan that should be heavy on the pass game, so why have him endure the wear and tear when another week of rest is a better option?
► Q: What do we make of the intermittent OL lapses against inferior opponents. The OL was touted as perhaps better than last year. Is it just growing pains? — @RajLakra
► Q: What sort of responses have been given to questions related to shoring up the concerning pass protection? — @jthomasmartin
► A: Raj and Jeff, decided to combine your questions since they’re related. It’s been tough to really evaluate this group because of a couple of things — injuries on the left side have required shuffling players, and they haven’t played a full game.
Still, you’re right about the children, and those have been most notable on the right side. Trente Jones is a new starter at right tackle this season and has given up two sacks. This nonconference has been ideal for him to get experience as a starter, but he has to be better and has the athleticism to raise the level of his game. Veteran right guard Zak Zinter also has allowed a sack, but maybe that’s to be filed under the, you can’t always be perfect category.
The thing is, the Offensive line has allowed five sacks in three games and is 59th nationally and ranked seventh in the Big Ten in sacks allowed. This is not great if the group wants to successfully defend the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s top line.
Center Olu Oluwatimi, the transfer from Virginia, has been as good as advertised, and you’ve got to believe things will settle on the left side. Left tackle Ryan Hayes missed his start in the season opener for precautionary reasons and Karsen Barnhart, who had competed with Jones for the right tackle starting job, filled in, suffered an ankle injury and has been out since. Left guard Trevor Keegan, who initially bumped out to left tackle in that first game, has had some apparent nagging arm issue and hasn’t been fully available the last two games. Harbaugh is optimistic Keegan will be ready for the Maryland game. He also pointed out the line has missed on some one-on-one matchups and the players are working on that. But to your point, everyone fully expected this line to be better than last year, and perhaps the Big Ten season and playing complete games, will shed more light evaluating this group.
► Q: Who among the first teamers still has room to surprise us in the B1G schedule? (My gut says Andrel Anthony is just lurking there, waiting for a moment, but I’m curious what you think.) — @hooverstreet
► A: Anthony absolutely was my first thought, but since there are a couple of questions below about him, let me go in a different direction here. Before the season, Erick All was my pick for the player who will have a standout season, and I still think that. There was all that talk before the season about All and Luke Schoonmaker being the top tight ends in the country, and both should be increasingly impactful as the season continues. On defense, I keep thinking Jaylen Harrell will be the name that stands out. He’s already registered eight tackles, Assisted on a sack and has a pass breakup. There’s more to come for those players (and for Anthony).
► Q: Who is the official backup to JJ? — @dveteran97
► A: That was my immediate question last Saturday after Cade McNamara suffered a leg injury, and for whatever reason, Harbaugh doesn’t feel like he needs to offer a definitive answer. No backup quarterback controversy here, he said, and of course there isn’t. He likes the pool of options with Davis Warren, Alan Bowman and freshman Alex Orji, but if you’re looking to keep it a seamless transition from JJ McCarthy, it seems Warren would be the first option. The bad news is Michigan is in this situation to determine a backup other than McNamara, who is not out for good but will miss some time. Having McNamara’s wealth of experience should not be overlooked or undervalued. The good news is that the other three quarterbacks all earned playing experience in this lopsided nonconference schedule.
► Q: Why isn’t Andrel Anthony getting any targets? — @Maizeblue4life
► Q: This was going to be my question too — @bfenwick1970
► A: It’s been my question, too. Since the first game my thinking was, how about some opportunities for Anthony? He certainly has had game reps, roughly 70 snaps through three games, but you’re right, the small sample size of times he’s been targeted has been puzzling — that goes for All and Roman Wilson, as well.
Perhaps it’s the fact the Wolverines have played so many players during the first three games. Perhaps it’s because they have barely opened the playbook. Still, Anthony has shown up in terms of blocking, and Harbaugh mentioned him Monday as one of four, including Ronnie Bell, Cornelius Johnson, and Wilson, who have stood out as the best blocking receivers. Receivers, though, prefer to be known for catching the ball. Gio El-Hadi, the redshirt freshman Offensive lineman who has seen playing time at left guard due to injuries, did say something interesting when asked Monday what to expect from this team in the Big Ten. “We have a lot of threats on this team,” he said. “Andrel hasn’t seen as much action as last year. Just wait for him, especially now that we’re seeing bigger teams. They’ll be targeting Ronnie, Roman (Wilson), everybody, so just keep watching.”
We’ll keep watching, and thanks for the questions.