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HomeCruiseMichigan-ECU initial thoughts: J.J. McCarthy starts fast, Wolverines cruise without Harbaugh

Michigan-ECU initial thoughts: J.J. McCarthy starts fast, Wolverines cruise without Harbaugh

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Somewhere, Jim Harbaugh must have been smiling. No. 2 Michigan rolled over East Carolina 30-3 on Saturday with defensive coordinator Jesse Minter standing in as head coach while Harbaugh served the first of a three-game suspension. Below are five initial takeaways.
Check back for more coverage of Michigan’s opening win and follow everything happening in Week 1 in college football here.
McCarthy starts fast
Michigan coaches and players talked throughout the preseason about a desire to be more balanced. The Wolverines backed it up in their first game by putting the ball in J.J. McCarthy’s hands and letting him go to work.
The junior quarterback completed 26-of-30 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns, all to Roman Wilson. East Carolina played with a single high safety for much of the day, and Michigan responded with a healthy dose of play-action. McCarthy’s first two touchdowns were throws on the run, and his third was a pinpoint pass lofted between two defenders in the end zone. Aside from a fumble at the goal line late in the third quarter, there isn’t a lot for McCarthy to clean up coming out of Week 1.
Big year on tap for Wilson?
Wilson picked up where he left off in the Fiesta Bowl with six catches for 78 yards and three touchdowns. The senior wide receiver has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons, but when he’s healthy, he’s one of Michigan’s most dangerous playmakers.
Saturday provided a glimpse of the type of season that could await if Wilson can stay healthy. His chemistry with McCarthy is obvious; twice, McCarthy escaped the pocket and found Wilson wide-open in the end zone. That’s a connection we’ll be seeing a lot of this season.
“That man right there is one of the most special players in the country,” McCarthy said. “I’ll say it right here, right now. There’s not many DBs or corners or safeties that can guard that guy.”
Work to do on the ground
If there’s one area of concern, it was the lack of explosive plays in the running game. Michigan ran for 122 yards, including 73 for Blake Corum and 37 for Donovan Edwards.
In his first game after knee surgery, Corum looked like he was still getting his burst back. Edwards didn’t find many creases, and Michigan’s new-look offensive line wasn’t able to push ECU off the ball. That was partly a function of ECU’s defensive game plan, but it’s clear Michigan’s running game is still getting warmed up.
The Wolverines expected ECU to focus on crashing gaps to stop the run, and that’s exactly what happened. The Pirates didn’t deviate from that game plan, even as McCarthy continued to find open receivers. Averaging 3.9 yards per carry wasn’t a typical Michigan performance, but the Wolverines have talked about the importance of making teams pay for committing extra defenders to stop the run, and they did that Saturday.
“Everyone saw what we did last year,” McCarthy said. “We were smashing, pounding the football, doing our thing. Teams are going to prepare for that. Especially ECU, they spent all offseason trying to stop that. It was just an opportunity for us as a pass game to capitalize.”
Defense dominates despite injuries
Michigan was without cornerback Will Johnson and safety Rod Moore, two key members of its secondary. Even so, the Wolverines were pitching a shutout until the final seconds and limited East Carolina to 235 yards, including 132 through the air.
Keshaun Harris and UMass transfer Josh Wallace were the starters at cornerback, with Keon Sabb starting in place of Moore at safety. Johnson, who had offseason knee surgery, warmed up with defense and looked close to making his return. Though Amorion Walker has yet to come back from his injury, the combination of Johnson, Wallace and Harris should give Michigan stability at corner.
The Wolverines didn’t have a sack, but they got pressure on ECU’s quarterbacks and gave up very little in the downfield passing game. All in all, it was a solid start for the defense.
Coaching shuffle goes smoothly
Minter gets high marks for calling Michigan’s defense and overseeing a smooth operation as Michigan’s acting head coach. Quarterbacks coach Kirk Campbell called a good game, too, especially through the air.
Michigan’s staff will have to adjust again next week against UNLV as offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore returns from his one-game suspension and Jay Harbaugh and Mike Hart share head coaching duties. For the first game without Jim Harbaugh on the sideline, this was a crisp all-around performance.
(Photo of J.J. McCarthy: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)



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