5 positives, 4 negatives, and 3 questions after Michigan football’s win over Bowling Green

Wolverines finish non-conference season with uninspiring victory

Finn Hogan #11 of the Bowling Green Falcons is tackled by a group of Michigan Wolverines defenders in the fourth quarter of a game at Michigan Stadium on September 16, 2023 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Mike Mulholland, 2023 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich.Michigan football finished off the non-conference season with a blowout win over Bowling Green, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.

Unlike the first two games of the season, when the Wolverines jumped out to huge leads over East Carolina and UNLV before taking their feet off the gas, the Bowling Green game actually unearthed some possible concerns.

It was much harder to find negatives last week than it was after Saturday night. Here are my takeaways.

Positive: Blake Corum

Right off the bat, let’s just acknowledge that it looks like Blake Corum is back.

Michigan’s running game as a whole got off to a slow start this season, and Corum didn’t surpass 80 yards in either of the first two weeks.

But he looked great on Saturday night, racking up 101 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Nine of his 12 carries either went for a touchdown, a first down, or a gain of at least six yards.

Negative: Ball security

I think this one’s pretty self-explanatory.

For the first time this season, the Michigan team that lost to TCU in the playoff showed up, turning the ball over, making mistakes, and letting a lesser team hang around.

J.J. McCarthy threw three interceptions, Max Bredeson lost a fumble on a kickoff, and Braiden McGregor nearly lost another one on the following kick.

It was an ugly display of ball security. Hopefully the Wolverines got that out of their system, because Big Ten teams will make them pay.

Positive: Defensive takeaways

On the other hand, it was encouraging to see the defense force three turnovers of its own.

By far the most important was the interception by Kris Jenkins right after halftime. Michigan had just gone three-and-out, and Bowling Green was still within eight points. But on the first play of the Falcons’ drive, Jenkins identified and picked off a screen pass that set up an easy Corum touchdown.

Quinten Johnson also got in on the fun with an interception, and Michael Barrett recovered a fumble.

As good as Michigan has been defensively -- the first string still hasn’t given up a touchdown -- it was lagging in the turnover department. Saturday night flashed its big-play potential.

Negative: JJ McCarthy’s decision-making

The McCarthy we saw on Saturday night was unrecognizable from the McCarthy who was nearly perfect the first two games.

He made a terrible decision and threw the ball into coverage on Michigan’s second drive, and it was picked off in the end zone. The very next possession, he badly under-threw Cornelius Johnson for another interception.

His third pick came as he was fleeing pressure, and he should have thrown the ball away and lived to see another down.

It wasn’t just the interceptions, though. McCarthy also missed a wide open Tyler Morris on a pass that would have gone to the house. Even his 50-yard touchdown pass to Johnson was a questionable decision -- he had Roman Wilson running wide open and chose instead to throw into coverage. Michigan was fortunate the tipped ball fell right into Johnson’s arms.

McCarthy has earned the benefit of the doubt, but Saturday’s performance was concerning. Those types of decisions are what led to two pick-sixes for TCU in the playoff last season, and another game like this could end Michigan’s quest to get back to that stage.

Positive: Tyler Morris returning punts

He only officially returned one punt on Saturday night, but I really liked what I saw from Morris in that role.

His one return went for 22 yards, which is excellent, but it was Morris’ decision-making that really stood out. Returning punts is just as much about split-second decision making as it is about trying to rip off huge returns.

Twice Morris made the right decision on tricky punts. He fielded one that took a high bounce in front of him and definitely would have been downed inside Michigan’s own 10-yard line, and another time, he backed off and let the ball bounce out of bounds without taking an unnecessary risk.

Especially on a night when Michigan made so many careless mistakes with the football, it was good to see Morris bring some stability to the punt return game.

Negative: Persisting secondary injuries

I’ll say it again: Nobody seems overly concerned about Will Johnson and Rod Moore, but until they actually return and play a full game, this should be on everyone’s radar.

Next week, Michigan will host a Rutgers team that’s won its first three games by a combined score of 95-30. The Wolverines will be a heavy favorite, but that was also the case two years ago, when Rutgers came into the Big House and had the ball down seven points in the final minutes, and last year, when Rutgers led Michigan at halftime.

Johnson and Moore are two of Michigan’s best players, and the sooner they’re back and up to full speed, the better, because the schedule is about to get much tougher.

Positive: Tommy Doman

Nobody ever wants to talk about the punter because even when he does well, everyone is disappointed because their team just had to punt.

But so far, Doman has been a weapon for Michigan, and a clear upgrade at the position from a year ago. He’s only punted eight times, but for an impressive average of 45.8 yards.

On Saturday night, Doman punted three times with a long of 53 yards, an average of 46.3 yards, and two pinned inside the 20-yard line. His punt right after halftime put Bowling Green on its own 15-yard line and set up the interception-touchdown sequence that iced the game for good.

Negative: Execution around halftime

Speaking of halftime, the drives right before and right after the break can often be the most important moments of a football game. On Saturday, Michigan got the ball back with 1:51 remaining in the second quarter and a 14-6 lead.

The offensive execution was disappointing. After a three-yard run and an incomplete pass, McCarthy was sacked for the first time all season. Michigan was forced to punt.

Then, after halftime, it was more of the same: two-yard run, two-yard pass, four-yard scramble, punt.

Instead of potentially scoring twice to completely put the game away, Michigan punted the ball back to Bowling Green with the score still within one possession.

Positive: Rush defense

The second half of Saturday’s game had a strange feel. Multiple Bowling Green players were taken off the field on stretchers, and there was a lot of clock-milking by the teams afterward. It really felt like both sides just wanted to get to the finish line.

In the end, Bowling Green rushed the ball 36 times and threw only 21 passes, even though the offense was much more successful through the air.

Michigan held the Falcons to 2.2 yards per rush, including an average of 3.2 yards from PaSean Wimberly, who led them in carries.

When Michigan knew a run was coming, the defense swarmed, racking up 10 tackles for loss. That’s a big reason the game never felt in doubt despite the turnovers and offensive inconsistencies.

Question: Was Michigan just bored?

It’s worth wondering how much of Michigan’s performance on Saturday was due to the schedule. When you’re the No. 2 team in the country and most of your players have participated in Big Ten titles and playoff games, going back-to-back-to-back against awful opponents might not be best for motivation.

That’s not necessarily an excuse, but it is human nature. Maybe playing a Big Ten team will give the Wolverines a spark next week.

Question: What does the offense look like against a real team?

Rutgers might not be a powerhouse, but it does have a strong defense. Through three games, Northwestern, Temple, and Virginia Tech have managed to combine for just 30 points. Virginia Tech put up the most total yards, with 319.

Compared to what Michigan has seen so far, next week will be a much tougher test.

Question: How much will Harbaugh’s return help Michigan?

Jim Harbaugh will finally return to the sideline next weekend, and that should help Michigan look a little more cohesive. It can’t be easy having four different head coaches running the show in three games.

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.