Michigan football: 6-0 feels great, but change is needed

(Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images) /

Michigan football is 6-0 for the first time since 2016, Jim Harbaugh’s second season as the head coach, but that season didn’t end the way anyone wanted.

In 2016, Michigan was 9-0 before losing on a last-second field goal to Iowa. Two weeks later, they lost to Ohio State in double-overtime. To top it all off, the Wolverines lost to Florida State in the bowl game.

After starting 9-0, Michigan ended the 2016 season 1-3 in their final four games, the season’s biggest games.

How does that compare to 2021 Michigan football?

Michigan has played some big games; beating Wisconsin on the road was not an easy task, and Saturday night in Lincoln wasn’t easy either. No matter who you are, winning on the road in college football isn’t easy; just ask Nick Saban right now.

But for the Wolverines, the biggest games of their season are still yet to be played. Those games appear to be against Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. That is very similar to the 2016 season, where the season’s biggest games were late in the year.

Where has Michigan football looked good in 2021?

The biggest reason Michigan has had success is due to the run game. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum have run all of the maize and blue’s opponents. They had some struggles at times against Wisconsin and Rutgers but prevailed in the end.

Another big reason the Wolverines are 6-0 is the defensive line. Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, and Chris Hinton have been making a significant impact thus far. The defensive line is not only stopping other teams from running the ball but has enforced their will on opposing quarterbacks.

What needs to change for Michigan football?

I understand the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” saying, but Michigan football almost got broken against Nebraska on Saturday night.

Nebraska exposed the Michigan defense in the second half; they were able to find a way to get guys open downfield, making it easy for Adrian Martinez to move the ball down the field.

When Martinez wasn’t lofting passes in the second half, he rolled outside the pocket and took off for positive yards. A running quarterback has always hurt Michigan in the past, and that problem still exists.

Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has impressed me this season with his ability to dial up different blitzes and has had a great scheme. What I like about him is the fact that he makes adjustments.

But against Nebraska, he either didn’t make in-game adjustments in the second half, or if he did, they didn’t work. I am not saying he needs to change anything up, but Michigan’s defense has lots of room to get better.

On the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line and running backs have held up their end of the bargain outside of a few false start penalties.

Quarterback Cade McNamara is what needs to change on offense. McNamara is a game manager, he commands the offense, and his job is to not turn the ball over and make the easy throws. But to be honest, he is not doing that.

Against Nebraska, McNamara threw his first interception of the season, but that is not why he needs to take a seat. He simply can’t make the simple, easy throws consistently. The short-out route throws are skipped to the receiver or thrown so far outside the receiver is in full extension mode just to get a hand on it.

On deep throws down the field, McNamara overthrows or under-throws the ball. He was “right on the money” one time this season, the flea-flicker against Wisconsin. The phenomenal catch by Mike Sainristil last night shouldn’t have happened; he was wide open, McNamara needs to hit him in stride for an easy touchdown. Michigan settled for a field goal that drive.

I am not trying to say backup quarterback J.J. McCarthy would immediately make Michigan the number one team in the country, he might, but he might not. What I am saying is that in order to win the biggest games of the season, McNamara can’t be the guy you’re asking to win those games.

J.J. McCarthy gives Michigan football the best chance to go 3-0 against Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State.

I understand changing your quarterback when you’re undefeated is a hard thing to do, but the best teams in the country do it. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley did it Saturday against Texas, benching Spencer Rattler for a true freshman 5-star. We all remember Nick Saban pulling Jalen Hurts in the national championships game for a true freshman, and both coaches won.

At the end of the day, Michigan football is still to face the most challenging part of their schedule, and with Cade McNamara at quarterback and a possibly exposed defense, the Wolverines will end the 2021 season just like the 2016 season.

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