Heading into 2023, Michigan football has an excellent problem on its hands: the Wolverines boast three dangerous weapons out of the backfield and a scary good offensive line to match.
How is this an issue, you ask? Michigan must now decide how to run its offense best, whether through the air or on the ground. Under center will be rising junior JJ McCarthy — a proven threat as a passer and runner.
Behind McCarthy will be the best running back duo in college football: rising junior Donovan Edwards and rising senior Blake Corum — a terrifying sight for Big Ten defenses.
Why not just run the offense the same as 2022?
Last season, we saw a similar offensive set as in 2021: pass when you need to and run the ball until your opposition breaks. In fairness to Michigan’s play callers, this offensive scheme has worked for the better part of Harbaugh’s tenure in Ann Arbor — especially over the past two seasons.
The issue now is that Michigan’s run-first system was built for a game-managing quarterback like Cade McNamara; in fact, the Wolverines largely implemented this set between 2020 and 2021 when there was a noticeable question mark at the quarterback position.
This system was at its best over the past two years because it was built for a slow quarterback that could not take over a game. Last season, we saw McCarthy occasionally stumble and fail to find rhythm in this scheme despite the offense still seeing great success.
Michigan’s offensive gameplan from the past two seasons worked great for the Wolverines in Big Ten play — Michigan is 19-1 in conference play since 2021 — yet in nonconference games (College Football Playoff and bowl games), the offense could not find a rhythm.
The only time we saw the Wolverines’ offense look good against a Playoff opponent was when Michigan football allowed JJ McCarthy to open up the playbook and use his athletic abilities, whether in the air or on the ground.
Michigan football must find balance
Before anyone gets upset, I know that Michigan’s run-first strategy brought two Big Ten Championships to Ann Arbor. I am not saying that the Wolverines need to abandon the run game; I am saying the opposite.
Michigan’s ground game will improve as its passing game improves. Why? Because the opposing defenses won’t be allowed to stack the box. Throughout the past two years, we have seen the opposite — Michigan’s passing game (especially off of play-action) has thrived due to its opposition selling out to stop the run.
Any play caller worth Michigan’s time could utilize this to their advantage. If the Wolverines can establish an actual passing attack, opposing teams would not know what to do to stop Michigan. Right when you think Michigan will connect on another deep ball, running back Blake Corum breaks off a huge, game-changing run as the Wolverines’ offensive line terrorizes the defense’s “dime” defense.
Edwards, McCarthy, Corum: a deadly trio
To me, the scariest part about Michigan’s offense in 2023 is the trio of Donovan Edwards, JJ McCarthy, and Blake Corum behind Michigan’s stingy offensive line. This trio will be the foundation of what could end up being a National Championship berth this fall.
Figuring out how to use them equally will be Michigan’s most significant issue; here is what each of them bring to the table.
Donovan Edwards: Not a human being ✅ pic.twitter.com/O5SVzztkHU
— 〽️att Hartwell (@MaizeCrusader) December 6, 2022
Throughout history, we have seen some great running backs in the Maize and Blue, though I believe Donovan Edwards has the potential to be one of the best. Edwards’ massive frame is a scary sight in itself, and he combines more speed than Blake Corum and the shiftiness to match.
When Corum went out due to injury for the Ohio State and Purdue games, Donovan Edwards showed Wolverine fans what he could do. Against the Buckeyes, Edwards ran for over 220 yards in his first official start; the weekend after, Edwards went for 185 yards and won player of the game in Michigan’s Big Ten Championship win.
If that was not enough, Edwards frequently lined up as a receiver and is possibly a top-3 pass-catcher on the Wolverines’ roster. Edwards uses his massive frame as an impactful blocker and even threw a 75-yard touchdown pass in the 2021 Big Ten Championship game. When you hear the phrase “do-it-all player,” think of Michigan’s Donovan Edwards.
BLAKE CORUM IS GONEEEEEEEE?
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 15, 2022
Blake Corum — Michigan’s 2022 Heisman Trophey-contending running back — recently announced that he will be returning for one more season in the Maize and Blue. This is excellent news for Michigan football; Corum’s presence on and off the football field is essential to Michigan’s success.
Blake Corum is likely the best college running back in the country now — his shiftiness and tough running are going to be an asset for the Wolverines as they pursue another Big Ten title this year.
Corum was snubbed for the Heisman last year — a year in which he averaged nearly 6.0 yards per carry, racked up over 1,500 total yards, and almost 20 touchdowns, all said and done through 10.5 games. Now, Corum will look for some revenge as he wraps up his college career.
7 Days till U〽️ Football is BACK!!!
No. 7 on our list is JJ McCarthy with a 69-yd TD BOMB to Daylen Baldwin pic.twitter.com/GQDDpRk0Hg
— MaizeandGoBlue (@maizeandgoblue) August 27, 2022
Michigan’s rising junior quarterback, JJ McCarthy, could be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. With a suitable offensive scheme, he could break the Wolverines’ single-season passing yards and passing touchdowns records (3,331/25).
Last November, McCarthy took over Michigan’s offense and modernized it after Blake Corum’s injury hindered the running game. In 2023, the Wolverines should gameplan around McCarthy’s arm and the receiving abilities of its dynamic running back duo.
I am not sure that JJ will be a Heisman contender at Michigan — primarily because Michigan will always love to run the ball more than anything — but in 2023, I have high expectations. The talent and experience are there; it’s time to show it on the field and lead Michigan football back to the promised land.
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