Michigan football finishes nonconference slate with 59-0 dismantling of UConn
Among the mantras espoused by Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh is the idea that teams must always respect their opponents. Weekly preparation should never change because looking ahead to other parts of the schedule siphons attention away from the present.
But there were moments in the past few weeks when players still referred to U-M’s nonconference schedule as a series of “warmup games.” There’s only so much Harbaugh and his coaching staff can do to convince the Wolverines they’ll be threatened by opponents getting paid millions to visit Michigan Stadium and get pummeled.
On Saturday, Michigan completed its exhibition slate — er, nonconference slate — in the same way it began two weeks ago: A relentless dismembering of an overmatched opponent. Tailback Blake Corum scored five touchdowns, punt returner A.J. Henning brought one all the way back for a score and the Wolverines limited opposing quarterback Zion Turner to four completions and 17 passing yards in a farcical 59-0 win over Connecticut.
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Harbaugh’s team feasted on programs beginning new regimes under first-year head coaches in Colorado State, Hawaii and Connecticut. The Wolverines won those games by a combined score of 166-17 and have yet to allow a point in the first half. Settling the quarterback competition between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, who completed 15 of 18 passes for 214 yards on Saturday, was the only noteworthy development in the last three weeks aside from Michigan’s bill of health.
Now the warmup games are finally over, and Big Ten play begins next week.
"I don’t know how good we are," Corum said. "I feel like we look good. But we haven’t faced no adversity yet, you know what I’m saying? So I really don’t know how good we’re going to be. I feel like we’re going to be great. But I can’t tell you."
Special teams showcase
For as obvious as the talent disparity was on offense and defense, the largest gulf between Michigan and UConn might have been on special teams, where the Wolverines continue to reinforce their standing among the best in the country.
Led by special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh, whose group ranked No. 1 in the nation last season, Michigan bullied the Huskies to dominate field position and put points on the board. The Wolverines had an average starting position of their own 45-yard line in the first quarter and their own 49-yard line in the second. Far different than the Huskies, who started at their own 23-yard line and own 20-yard line, respectively.
The onslaught began in the second quarter when U-M's Caden Kolesar knifed into the backfield and reached punter George Caratan so quickly that he blocked the punt with his midsection rather than his hands. Kolesar’s block gave U-M the ball at the Connecticut 18-yard line, and three plays later Corum plunged into the end zone for a three-touchdown lead.
Things went poorly for UConn even when Caratan had time to release the ball cleanly. An excellent play by cover man Rod Moore pinned the Huskies at their own 4 following a 62-yard punt from Brad Robbins. And when Connecticut’s offense went three-and-out, Caratan was forced to punt from his own goal line.
Henning fielded a 48-yard kick on the Michigan half with plenty of space to his left. He slithered through the tackles of two Connecticut defenders immediately after catching the punt and exploded into the open field.
A key downfield block from edge rusher Julius Welschof cleared the last impediment between Henning and the end zone for what finished as a 61-yard score.
"It’s very rare to get a block and a return for a touchdown," Harbaugh said. "I can’t remember that happening too often in any game I’ve ever watched. But just spectacular."
Five of a kind
On his second carry of the game, Corum veered around the left side of Michigan’s offensive line with nothing but green turf in front of him. Tight end Luke Schoonmaker sealed the edge after crossing the formation as a lead blocker and wideout Andrel Anthony impeded the only other defender with a chance of a tackle.
With his path cleared, Corum darted outside the numbers and tightroped his way to the end zone for a 20-yard score. Connecticut’s defense barely laid a hand on him.
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The early touchdown foretold an explosive day for Michigan’s No. 1 tailback while his primary running mate, Donovan Edwards, missed the game with a right leg injury. Corum needed just 12 carries to gain 71 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and reach the end zone five times — matching the touchdown tally of former U-M running back Hassan Haskins in last year’s triumph over Ohio State.
From there, Corum became the focal point of an offense that moved the ball in chunks and capitalized on U-M’s perpetual advantage in field position. Each of his next three touchdowns were 1-yard dives that further eroded the willpower of an undermanned defense. He capped his afternoon with an 11-yard scamper that extended the lead to 45 late in the third quarter.
Corum has seven rushing touchdowns through the first three games for the second consecutive season.
"I’ll tell you that by the look of things," Corum said, "the sky is the limit for this offense."
Michigan played without Edwards (right leg), offensive tackle Karsen Barnhart (ankle) and inside linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green (soft-tissue injury).
Edwards dropped out of last week’s game in the second quarter and did not return. His status entering Saturday’s game was unclear after Harbaugh told reporters there was no update earlier this week. Edwards wore a sweatsuit on the sideline and did not appear to have any kind of extra protection on his right leg.
"His status would be questionable or probable for next week," Harbaugh said. "Call it questionable to be on the safe side. He’s doing good. He’s feeling better."
Barnhart and Hill-Green were believed to be trending toward returns this week. On the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show, Harbaugh said both players were somewhere between questionable and probable for Week 3. Neither player was in uniform Saturday.
Backup quarterback Cade McNamara, who was cheered when he took the field Saturday, seven days after getting booed in the same stadium, suffered an injury during Michigan’s final possession of the second quarter. McNamara was sacked on first down and then absorbed a vicious hit from two UConn defenders as he released a pass on the next snap. McNamara hobbled to the line of scrimmage to spike the football before doubling over in pain on his way to the sideline.
Harbaugh said McNamara will be sidelined for several weeks. Backups Davis Warren, Alan Bowman and Alex Orji are in contention for the No. 2 spot behind McCarthy.
"I think (McNamara's) foot was caught in the ground and he got hit from the side of the leg," Harbaugh said. "Probably gonna be out for a few weeks. Not gonna be a season-ending thing, I don’t think, but he’ll miss some time."
Left tackle Trevor Keegan (upper-body injury) dropped out in the first quarter and was replaced by Giovanni El-Hadi. Keegan was evaluated in the medical tent and remained in uniform but never reentered the game. Harbaugh did not have an update on Keegan's injury.