What have we actually learned about Michigan football after 2 blowout wins?

Wolverines blow past Colorado State, Hawaii

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and J.J. McCarthy #9 of the Michigan Wolverines share a moment before a college football game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Aaron J. Thornton, 2022 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Is there anything we can say for sure about the Michigan football team after two blowout wins over terrible teams?

The Wolverines impressed in the Colorado State and Hawaii games, winning by a total score of 107-17. But in their non-Michigan games, those two teams have gone 0-3, losing by a combined 100 points.

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Michigan’s season will be defined by the Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, and Iowa matchups. With that in mind, have we learned anything in these de facto scrimmages that will hold up against the Big Ten’s best?

Special quarterback talent

J.J. McCarthy looked incredible in his first college start, completing 11 of 12 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns. He went 4-of-4 in the opener, and the only incompletion against Hawaii came on a dropped pass.

As Jim Harbaugh said in his postgame presser, Michigan’s new QB1 has been nearly perfect.

The McCarthy hype train was already careening down the tracks before he lit up the Rainbow Warriors, and many Michigan fans have since anointed him the best quarterback of the Harbaugh era.

He might turn out to be just that. The talent is obviously there, and his performance Saturday night was eye-popping. Not only did McCarthy connect on deep passes to Roman Wilson, Cornelius Johnson, and Donovan Edwards, he also looked comfortable in the run-pass option.

McCarthy’s mobility has yielded 66 yards and a touchdown already this season, but perhaps more importantly, it makes teams hesitant to bring pressure. It’s no coincidence that Hawaii defenders picked up their first two sacks as soon as Cade McNamara entered.

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Even with all that in mind, it might be best not to overreact to one game against a team that gave up more than 1,000 combined yards to Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky.

McCarthy’s Heisman Trophy odds soaring to fifth-best in the nation after Saturday’s performance? That’s an overreaction. Sports books see a chance to cash in on Michigan fans’ excitement.

There’s a chance McCarthy turns into a star, but first, I want to wait and see how he handles Big Ten competition. The road game against Iowa’s elite defense will be the perfect test.

  • What we actually know: McCarthy has the talent to be an elite quarterback.

Best wide receiver

Last season, when Michigan went into Camp Randall and dominated Wisconsin, one player in particular stuck out.

Wilson didn’t have a touchdown. He didn’t even reach 100 yards. But the rest of the season, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he just might have been Michigan’s best wide receiver.

Two weeks into 2022, that’s hardly even a debate. Wilson has touched the ball only four times and already has three touchdowns to show for it. He caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from McNamara in the opener and then torched his defender for a 42-yard score against his hometown team in Week 2.

He also took a reverse pitch from McCarthy 21 yards to the house for his first rushing touchdown.

Wilson’s elite speed made him a home run threat the moment he stepped onto Michigan’s campus, but now, with a quarterback who likes to push the ball downfield, he has a chance to unlock his full potential.

Ronnie Bell leads the team with seven catches, but Wilson’s combination of reliable hands and big-play potential make him the best receiver on the team. That’s right, I said it!

  • What we actually know: Roman Wilson is Michigan’s best wide receiver.

Surprising pass rush

As much as the coaches talked up Mike Morris, Kris Jenkins, Jaylen Harrell, and Braiden McGregor this offseason, I was skeptical about Michigan’s pass rush rebounding from the losses of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.

How many times have we heard about players having great spring and fall camps only to watch them disappear as soon as the season begins? That hasn’t been the case along the defensive line this year -- at least not so far.

With the obvious caveat that Colorado State and Hawaii stink, some of the concerns about this pass rush have already been addressed. The Wolverines racked up eight sacks in the first two games, led by the four veterans above, as well as a handful of new faces.

Eyabi Anoma has earned significant playing time just weeks after transferring to Michigan. True freshman Mason Graham is causing problems on the interior. Oh yeah, and Mazi Smith looks like Michigan’s most disruptive defensive tackle since Maurice Hurst.

Much like teams were forced to do a year ago, Hawaii stuck to short passes and ran the ball 32 times to combat the Michigan pass rush. If there isn’t a major drop-off for the line when the competition improves, the defense will be better than expected.

  • What we actually know: Michigan has no problem getting pressure against bad offensive lines.

Trouble forcing turnovers

The greatest disappointment for Michigan’s defense against Hawaii was its inability to force a single turnover.

Hawaii threw five interceptions and lost three fumbles in its first two games, but even after a rainstorm that soaked the turf and delayed the game by an hour, Michigan failed to take the ball away from the Rainbow Warriors.

The Wolverines pointed to turnovers as a way to make up for the loss of so many defensive starters. But so far, that hasn’t been a strength.

Michigan picked off one pass and returned a fumble for a touchdown after a strip sack against Colorado State. But the Rams turned around the following week and coughed up the ball four times against Middle Tennessee.

If Jesse Minter’s defense isn’t taking the ball away from two of the worst teams in the nation, it’s unlikely to do so in Big Ten play.

  • What we actually know: The absence of big plays is still a weakness on defense.

Michigan seems different

There’s nothing new about Michigan getting off to a hot start in September. In fact, Harbaugh has never lost a non-conference home game at Michigan. But coming off a Big Ten championship, there’s a different feel surrounding this year’s team.

Michigan has a quiet confidence, a businesslike approach to these early games. It’s similar to last year, except now it’s permeated throughout the fan base because of the credibility the Wolverines earned in 2021.

Nobody is waiting for the other shoe to drop or worrying about upcoming matchups. Unlike in past seasons, these Wolverines have already proved themselves, so they’re content to show up and pound the opponents put in front of them.

Adversity will surely come knocking at some point, but for now, Michigan feels like as sure a bet as any team not named Alabama, Georgia, or Ohio State.


About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.