ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Last week’s excitement for the Michigan football opener has been replaced by the buzz of a new starting quarterback, as the Wolverines prepare for what should be another blowout victory.
Michigan has never been more heavily favored in the history of its program. As it stands, oddsmakers have Hawaii as a 52-point underdog Saturday in Ann Arbor.
With a mismatch so great, what would a successful game look like?
Leave no doubt
Most importantly, Michigan needs to do what it did last week: Dominate an inferior opponent from start to finish.
Hawaii won six games last season, but the first two weeks of 2022 have been disastrous for first-year head coach Timmy Chang. His Rainbow Warriors lost to Vanderbilt by 53 points in their opener and then followed up with a 32-point loss against Western Kentucky.
Michigan crushed Colorado State, 51-7, to begin the season, and that was validating enough for AP voters to move the Maize and Blue from No. 8 to No. 4. Since the schedule is a bit weak this year, Michigan can’t afford a hiccup in these easy non-conference games.
It doesn’t really matter if Michigan covers the spread (except for millions of bettors), but in terms of perception, it’s best not to leave any doubt.
JJ McCarthy’s ball security
Fans are expecting big things from J.J. McCarthy in his first career college start. Visions of huge yardage totals and multiple touchdowns are dancing in everyone’s heads.
But the real test for the true sophomore will be how well he takes care of the football. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t want a quarterback who throws three touchdown passes and two interceptions. He wants to avoid turnovers, win the field position battle, and punt at the end of non-scoring drives.
We’ve all seen the electric arm and explosive speed. The only question remaining is whether McCarthy can manage the offense as effectively as Cade McNamara has over the past year and a half.
Whether McCarthy plays well or poorly, Michigan needs to get this quarterback situation sorted out. McNamara is obviously frustrated by how it’s unfolding, and it’s in everybody’s best interests for Harbaugh to make a decision.
Give receivers some love
Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are going to finish the season with hundreds of touches. Michigan should really use the next two weeks to try to get its receivers more involved.
Depth at wide receiver was one of the main reasons for optimism heading into this season, but nobody had more than two catches in the opener because 15 different players caught a pass.
In the age of the transfer portal, it’s critical to make young players feel involved. So throwing one five-yard out to Andrel Anthony and targeting Darrius Clemons one time in order to get C.J. Stokes a few extra carries isn’t necessarily the most sustainable plan long-term.
If McCarthy is going to be the starter going forward, this is a chance for him to develop a rhythm with the receivers who will be on the field most often in the more competitive games.
Keep offensive line intact
Michigan played without star left tackle Ryan Hayes against Colorado State, but Harbaugh said he expected him back this week.
The offensive line looked fine without Hayes, but for Michigan to play at a championship level, it needs that unit to be fully healthy. Olusegun Oluwatimi transferred in to join returning starters Hayes, Trevor Keegan, and Zak Zinter, as well as Trente Jones. That’s the backbone of this offense.
Staying healthy in the trenches helped Michigan win the Big Ten last season. The Wolverines hope Saturday will offer the first glimpse of what the group looks like the rest of the year.
D.J. Turner, Gemon Green, and Michigan’s entire secondary emphasized forcing more turnovers this season, and they’re off to a good start thanks to an interception and a fumble recovery against Colorado State.
Saturday is an opportunity to keep that trend going. Hawaii turned the ball over six times against Western Kentucky, including five interceptions. Starting running back Dedrick Parson also lost a pair of fumbles in the opener against Vanderbilt.
Overall, Hawaii has fumbled the ball five times (lost three of them) and thrown five interceptions in two games. If Michigan can’t force turnovers this weekend, it’ll be much tougher to do so in Big Ten play.
If all goes according to plan, Week 2 is just another tuneup game for Michigan as it prepares to defend a Big Ten title. As long as the Wolverines don’t struggle -- like Iowa last week against South Dakota State, for example -- they should remain among the top five teams in the nation.
Winning and staying healthy are most important, but the glaring side plot is whether McCarthy can play well enough to finally bring this quarterback battle to a close. The best-case scenario for Michigan is that he takes the job and never looks back. The worst-case is he puts together a middling performance and this controversy drags into Big Ten play.
Night games in Ann Arbor always have a little extra juice, so Michigan fans should be in for a treat.