'We're in a good spot': Michigan mauls UConn with Big Ten play on tap
Ann Arbor — The nonconference schedule is not supposed to mean noncompetitive, but that’s how things have worked out for Michigan this season in terms of its opponents the first three weeks.
Michigan built a 38-0 lead at halftime against battered Connecticut, a team that has suffered injuries to a number of key players. Behind running back Blake Corum’s five touchdowns and a punt return for a score by A.J. Henning, the No. 4 Wolverines remained undefeated with a 59-0 win on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. Michigan has outscored its nonconference opponents 103-0 in the first half and 166-17 overall.
There are a few ways to look at the lopsided nature of these first three games. The Wolverines have broken in new starting quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who won the job after his performance in the opener, they have used the blowouts to get players on the field who might not have had the chance to get game reps, and they’ve gained confidence flexing their muscles and learning to focus in games they should dominate.
There were 101 players, including eight quarterbacks, who played against the Huskies. During a typical Big Ten game, about 65 play.
You can also legitimately wonder just how good this team is as the Big Ten season is about to begin next week, when Maryland and its high-octane offense come to the Big House.
“We'll find out, right?” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “We definitely come out of this one with some things to work on. But just the improvement, seen it so many different areas of our team even from Game 1 to Game 3. Guys are hungry to play — starters, backups, guys on the third string, scratch and claw and fighting to get better and to play and contribute.
“It’s a fun team to coach.”
Connecticut had 110 total yards of offense and was 2-for-14 on third down. The Huskies had six first downs, including two in the second half, and were held to 86 rushing yards.
“I like our intensity,” defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said of the defense. “I like the juice we bring to the game on all aspects. I like how we're able to stop the run. That's one of our biggest things, canceling a run, so we can be able to do more stuff on pass and open that up.”
It was Michigan’s first shutout since facing Rutgers in 2019. It was something Jenkins said the defense was working toward.
“Oh, we were really focused,” Jenkins said of getting a shutout. “That was the biggest goal, honestly, for all past three games, and honestly for the rest of the season. Just seeing how dominant of a force we could be on defense no matter what team it is or what competition, so we're gonna continue that.”
Corum tied a single-game program record shared by Ron Johnson (1968) and Hassan Haskins, who had five touchdowns against Ohio State last season. Donovan Edwards, part of the one-two punch at running back, was not in uniform for the game and was sidelined because of an unspecified injury suffered last week against Hawaii.
McCarthy, making his second start after competing with returning starter Cade McNamara, was 15-of-18 passing for 214 yards against the Huskies. He played almost the entire first half and one series in the third quarter.
McNamara came in with 24 seconds left in the first half, took a sack and then a big hit on an 18-yard completion to Ronnie Bell. McNamara suffered a leg injury, according to Harbaugh, who doesn’t believe it to be season-ending but anticipates McNamara will miss several games.
Through three games, including two starts, McCarthy is 30-of-34 passing for 473 yards and three touchdowns. He praised the efficiency of the offense in the first half and blamed himself for a three-and-out on the Wolverines’ second possession.
Since being officially named the starter after last week’s game against Hawaii, McCarthy said he has already learned plenty in terms of approaching the game.
“The fact of whatever happened that last game, you have to put in the past,” McCarthy said. “You have to forget about it. It's a new week, new process, new preparation. So definitely just being able to accept what happened, whether it's good or bad. And sometimes with those good games, you want to hold on to them throughout the week and all that, but no, you can't. You’ve got to throw it in the ocean, and you’ve got to move on next week.”
Henning scored on a 61-yard punt return, freshman quarterback Alex Orji scored on a 10-yard run, backup quarterback Alan Bowman connected with tailback Leon Franklin for a 20-yard score, and Jake Moody added a 26-yard field goal to complete the scoring.
Michigan's defensive players have talked since the preseason about generating more turnovers, and they had a couple near-miss interceptions in the first half. George Rooks gave them a spark with a recovered fumble in the first quarter.
And on special teams, it wasn’t just Henning’s return that was notable. Caden Kolesar blocked a punt that was picked up by Kalel Mullings and advanced to UConn’s 18-yard line. Corum scored his third touchdown on that drive. And Brad Robbins was credited with a 62-yard punt that was downed on the Huskies’ 4-yard line.
Michigan opens Big Ten play next Saturday against Maryland at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines’ fourth straight home game. The Terrapins have a prolific offense and will offer Michigan’s defense its first real test of the season. Michigan then has back-to-back road games against Iowa and Indiana.
“I think we know that we're in a good spot right now, but we still got a lot of stuff to work on,” said Jenkins, who had five tackles. “As the season continues, and as the schedule continues to get harder, we know there's still stuff to work on all across the board, so we're in a good position right now.”