College Football
How good is No. 4 Michigan? Even at 6-0, Wolverines are still tough to pin down
College Football

How good is No. 4 Michigan? Even at 6-0, Wolverines are still tough to pin down

Updated Oct. 9, 2022 1:25 a.m. ET

By Bryan Fischer
FOX Sports College Football Writer

Michigan football is undefeated, bowl-eligible just a week into October and in the thick of the College Football Playoff race at No. 4 in the polls.

All are marks of an easily labeled good team nearing the midway mark of the season and one surely to be taken seriously by every opponent left on the docket.

Highlights: Michigan tops Indiana

J.J. McCarthy passed for 304 yards and three touchdowns as the Wolverines improved to 6-0 ahead of a big game vs. Penn State next week.

Yet in the wake of a third consecutive lackluster victory in conference play, it’s fair to ask who these Wolverines truly are: the real deal or beneficiaries of playing limited opposition? The sleepy effort in a victory over Indiana on Saturday, by the all-too-deceiving score of 31-10, underscored that for whatever metrics you’re using or however hard you lean into the eye test, this isn’t a team that is easy to know.

You can partially explain some lack of production to the unexpected circumstances surrounding Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart. The former star in Ann Arbor, who coached for the Hoosiers prior to returning to his alma mater in January 2021, collapsed on the sideline with 4:54 left in the first quarter.

The team gathered around as medical personnel rushed to his aid, but the entire maize and blue crew were visibly upset and shaken at seeing one of their coaches in such distress. 

It was later determined that Hart had a seizure and needed to be carted off the field. He was taken to the hospital and seemed to be doing well enough to tell head coach Jim Harbaugh at halftime that he was with the team in spirit — and to go out and win it after the two Big Ten East foes entered the break tied at 10.

The Wolverines did indeed play a bit more inspired during the second half, but it was still a win full of things to nitpick as bigger challengers enter the picture in the coming weeks.

Tailback Blake Corum continued to show why he should be taken seriously as a threat to make it to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony on a 50-yard scamper to the 1-inch line on the fourth play of the game. Though he punched it into the end zone on that same drive, Corum managed just 74 yards the rest of the afternoon (on 24 carries) and was largely bottled up by an IU unit that was ranked 71st nationally in rushing defense.

The lack of push up front led to more being put on young quarterback J.J. McCarthy. He notched his first 300-plus yard passing game of the season (304 total, three touchdowns) but also threw his first interception in 2022 and was far more focused on intermediate routes (8.4 yards per attempt) in lieu of taking some shots to open things up.

It didn’t help that Michigan wide receivers failed to create separation with consistency and needed some heroic runs after the catch by Ronnie Bell (121 yards) to really advance the ball on a day in which the offense needed nearly six yards to move the sticks on every third-down attempt. 

Penalties, too, were an issue for the Fighting Harbaughs amid a rash of mental mistakes in a road environment that isn't exactly hostile. Ten flags for 85 yards are enough to drive a coach up the wall. It’s also enough to result in a loss against an opponent with more of a pulse.

J.J. McCarthy finds Luke Schoonmaker

Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy connected with Luke Schoonmaker for a 9-yard yard touchdown against Indiana on Saturday.

No offense to Indiana, but Michigan will have to step up its game tenfold with No. 10 Penn State rolling into the Big House for "Big Noon Kickoff" next Saturday. Expecting Sean Clifford to take seven sacks or throw for just 203 yards on 49 attempts, as Connor Bazelak did, would be a fool’s errand. 

Even No. 3 Ohio State has to be raising an eyebrow at the effort from their biggest rival some seven weeks out from a rematch for the ages.

Some of the ineffectiveness of the Indiana attack can be attributed to Michigan, of course, but even in limiting the Hoosiers to just 222 total yards and pitching a shutout in the second half, there were several things that need to be tightened up. Michigan allowed four plays of more than 15 yards and gave away two third-down conversions by penalty. 

That simply may not be enough with the team’s biggest test to date coming up and an always pesky rivalry game against Michigan State just before Halloween to close out the month. Michigan has so far been perfectly good between the lines, but the results of the past few weeks give hesitation to labeling them great, despite the ranking next to the name.

Last week it was Iowa who kept hanging around until deep into the fourth quarter despite having no offensive threat. The week prior it was Maryland who was the pest down to the end.

The dichotomy between those close conference tests and a non-league slate of FBS bottom-feeders featuring the likes of Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn has been stark.

Six weeks into the season, you would think you’d have a decent idea about a team’s floor and a team’s ceiling, but the Wolverines have bucked the conventional wisdom and instead become a mystery on display every Saturday afternoon.

The silver lining? Such things don’t matter if you just keep winning. Michigan is 6-0 to start the season for a second straight season and taking care of business in the only metric that truly matters for everyone from the fan base to the CFP Selection Committee. 

Look closer, though, and it's clear we won't get a handle on just how capable these Wolverines are until they line up against Penn State and other heavy-hitters.

Read more:

College football rankings: Ohio State tightens grip on No. 1

- Heisman Watch: C.J. Stroud dominates with six-TD outing

- Michigan pulls away to win an emotional game after assistant collapses

- Red River Showdown: With Quinn Ewers back, Texas routs Oklahoma

- College football top plays: All the best from a wild Week 6

- Dorian Thompson-Robinson leads UCLA to big win over Utah

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.


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