A recurring question regardless of Michigan’s success running the ball, will this be the year the Michigan passing game breaks open?
Ann Arbor has been obsessed with the quarterback position and the Wolverines’ passing attack since Jim Harbaugh’s arrival, even more so in modern college football where teams are passing more than ever. However, while some programs such as Wisconsin are rejecting their conservative Big Ten roots and adopting an air raid offense, Michigan has bucked the trend, creating an offense that starts behind a dominant offensive line. and bends his opponent’s will by playing the ball. ,
It’s hard to argue with strategy. Wins at back-to-back rival Ohio State, back-to-back Big Ten Championships and back-to-back College Football Playoff berths. Again, coached by Sharon Moore behind the best offensive line in the country.
Moore, the leader of an offensive line resurgence, took over the Michigan offense in 2023 as sole offensive coordinator.
Michigan returns a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, including its starting quarterback JJ McCarthy and one of its top receiving targets, Cornelius Johnson. on a recent appearance in the trenchesJohnson talked about the untapped potential of the Michigan offense and passing game.
“It’s something we want to add early and often,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s the first game of the season until the end of the season, we want to be able to hit all of our shots and have good timing on all of our routes.”
The point Johnson is making is worth pointing out. You could argue, Michigan DID open up the passing game last season, it just didn’t execute. Michigan struggled out of the gate in the Big Ten schedule, with McCarthy going 1 for 8 on passes of 20 yards or more versus Maryland. a trend that would continue through most of the season, with McCarthy only hitting 21.8% of deep throws heading to Columbus.
Last year, Johnson said Michigan is only looking ahead.
“Maybe there could have been a few different factors last year, it’s something we’re not really focused on.” The Wolverines dialed up deep pass plays at the right times, the biggest issue seemed to be receivers taking the wrong routes, McCarthy overthrew the receivers, and fell.
“It really comes down to basic execution and belief, knowing who are going where and trusting those people. Knowing that they are the ones who will be able to get it done.”
Johnson is not wrong. The question isn’t really about whether the offense will see any identity change with Moore alone at the wheel, it may not even be a question. Michigan isn’t going to give up the identity that helped it beat Ohio State to win the Big Ten, it just needs to execute better. In fact, last season Michigan began turning a corner in the passing game against the Buckeyes when it came to defeating Ohio State.
McCarthy met the challenge to go deep with Ohio State daring Michigan and was 3 for 7 for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns against Ohio State, one of the big touchdowns coming from a wide-open Johnson. It was a game to remember for Johnson, with 4 receptions for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way. You’re right, of course, when you look around you see those big stage games, it kicks a bit more.”
McCarthy would continue to excel with the deep passing, finishing the stretch with 438 yards and 5 touchdowns on deep passes against Ohio State, Purdue and TCU.
Johnson is Michigan’s most experienced receiver, leading in every statistical category, and is now in his 5th season in Ann Arbor. Johnson knows he can only control what he can control, and he’s focused on being the best he can be in 2023, but he also understands the natural leadership role he must take on.
“For me to be the best leader I can be, I value it to show through my plays but also to take the guys under me. Say, for example, walk out of practice and go do some extra work with the quarterback.” Or maybe get some extra catches or maybe even go out there and get another lift after hours. Bring someone with you. Bring a young man with you.”
Michigan’s passing game could reach a new level in 2023. Be that as it may or not, it starts with Cornelius Johnson on and off the field.
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