Michigan Wolverines Football: Midseason Michigan Superlatives: MVP, Breakout Players, Best Play, More
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Midseason Michigan Superlatives: MVP, Breakout Players, Best Play, More

Michigan Wolverines football is a perfect 6-0 halfway through the season, with a bye this weekend before returning to action Oct. 23 against Northwestern. Since it's the midway point of the campaign, we've decided to hand out some superlatives for the Wolverines' first six games.

RELATED: Midseason Report Card: Grading Michigan's Offensive Position Groups

RELATED: Midseason Report Card: Grading Michigan's Defensive Position Groups

Michigan Wolverines football Blake Corum
Michigan Wolverines football running back Blake Corum has 607 rushing yards this season. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Most Valuable Player

We've virtually run out of adjectives to describe the way junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is performing this season, and so have national analysts, who have called him "unblockable" and perhaps the best player in the country.

A team captain, Hutchinson leads the Big Ten with 5.5 sacks and has notched 30 quarterback pressures according to PFF, while also being stout in the run game with a 86.2 rating in that category.

The attention on the midseason All-American from opposing offenses is allowing others along the front seven to enjoy break out campaigns.

Best Passing Play

Michigan Wolverines football Cornelius Johnson
Cornelius Johnson leads Michigan Wolverines football in receptions and receiving yards. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

In Michigan's 63-10 rout of Northern Illinois Sept. 18, redshirt freshman quarterback Cade McNamara dropped back to pass with 2:06 to go before halftime when sophomore wide receiver Cornelius Johnson, lined up at the top of the numbers on the offensive right on his own 13-yard line, was in single coverage with NIU freshman cornerback Eric Rogers, who fell for a double move. Johnson came free, and McNamara found him in stride at midfield, before he turned on the jets to outrun two Huskie defenders to the end zone for six points.

The 87-yard score stood as the third-longest touchdown pass in program history and longest in 10 years. The longest passing touchdown in U-M history was from Ryan Mallett to Mario Manningham against Wisconsin in 2007, while the second-longest was a 90-yard strike from Todd Collins to Derrick Alexander versus Illinois in 1993.

Best Running Play

Sept. 11 against Washington, one play after Michigan converted a first down via a fake punt run, second-year freshman running back Blake Corum made Washington pay. Lined up to the right of McNamara in the shotgun, the speedster took a handoff going left, stuck his foot in the ground and dashed through a seam, breaking free down the left sideline and winding up in the end zone for a 67-yard score to give the Maize and Blue a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The runner-up here goes to redshirt sophomore running back Hassan Haskins, who ripped off a 50-yard run that included a hurdle over a defender that helped set up a fourth-quarter, game-tying field goal Oct. 9 at Nebraska.

Most Crucial Play

There have been plenty of highlights in the first half of the season, but the most crucial play so far came from safety Brad Hawkins at Nebraska Oct. 9.

With the game tied at 29 with under two minutes remaining, Nebraska junior quarterback Adrian Martinez had picked up the first down and was fighting with everything he had to pick up hard-earned yards, before Hawkins dislodged the ball and recovered the fumble off the ground all in one motion. He returned it to the Nebraska 15 yard line, which set up a game-winning field goal.

Best Interception

In the Nebraska victory, Michigan sophomore safety Daxton Hill broke up a pass in the middle of the field and hit the ground hard after doing so, but kept tracking the ball and then came up with a catch to intercept Martinez. The play reminded us of Julian Edelman in the New England Patriots' Super Bowl LI victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

The Nebraska faithful inside the stadium were sure Hill didn't come down with the ball before it hit the ground, but the replay on the in-stadium video board quieted the fans down as they saw just how outstanding a play it was in the early second quarter.

Biggest Hit

Hill also landed what could stand as the hardest hit by any Michigan player for years. In the Wolverines' 38-17 win over Wisconsin Oct. 2, Hill blitzed off the right side of the defensive formation, with no Badgers picking him up, and was able to get a clean lick on sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz, who left the game at that point with a chest injury and did not return.

The fact that Hill, one of the fastest players in the Big Ten, was at top speed before lowering his shoulder provided for a ton of force behind the blow.

Top Moment That Wasn't A Play

There's been a lot of talk about a 'different' energy and vibe inside the Michigan program this season, after the squad posted a 2-4 record a year ago. There have been many positive signs — none more than starting the season with six-straight wins — including the way the team didn't flinch at Wisconsin and took over Camp Randall Stadium as its own.

In 2019, Michigan was down by 27 points when 'Jump Around' came on at Camp Randall at the end of the third stanza, as is tradition. And the Wolverines didn't forget it. They didn't have much to get excited about then, but certainly did so Oct. 2, joining in on the festivities and providing more juice than the Wisconsin sideline (and perhaps the student section).

Breakout Player On Offense

After accumulating 77 rushing yards and two touchdowns last season, showing some flashes of what might come, Corum took a huge leap forward in his second season. Some credit goes to first-year running backs coach Mike Hart, and a lot goes to Corum's ridiculous workout regiment over the offseason.

The backup to Haskins, Corum has rushed for 607 yards and eight touchdowns on 96 carries, while nabbing 14 catches for 102 yards and one score. Also serving as the team's kick returner, he has registered 160 all-purpose yards per game, which ranks third in the nation.

His speed has added a completely different element to the Michigan offense.

Breakout Player On Defense

Michigan Wolverines football David Ojabo
Michigan Wolverines football defensive end David Ojabo has 4.5 sacks. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Before the season, we wrote about the huge shoes Kwity Paye (first-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts) left to fill at the defensive end spot opposite of Hutchinson. We named a few names of candidates that could replace him and hope to be even half as productive, one of them being redshirt freshman outside linebacker David Ojabo, who has flourished in his third season.

Ojabo's 4.5 sacks rank fourth in the Big Ten, and he's generated 14 quarterback pressures according to PFF, with an 83.3 overall rating (third on the defense). He's added two quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

While opposing offense do everything they can to take away Hutchinson — even that isn't working — somebody else had to step up, and Ojabo has.

Biggest Impact Freshman On Offense

Michigan Wolverines football J.J. McCarthy
Michigan Wolverines football quarterback J.J. McCarthy was a four-star recruit. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy's 10 snaps per game are more than most backups around the country have received. He can thank the Wolverines' starters for getting out to big leads in several games for a lot of his playing time, but he's also carved out a role for himself. The last two weeks — road tilts at Wisconsin and Nebraska — McCarthy has gotten with the contest still in doubt, serving primarily as a read-option running quarterback.

He scored on a quarterback sneak against the Badgers, and rushed three times for 10 yards against Nebraska, picking up a key first down. For the year, he's completed 9 of 14 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

It appears his role will only grow.

Biggest Impact Freshman On Defense

Freshman linebacker Junior Colson is getting better by the week, and his role appears to be growing by the game, just like McCarthy. He's now steadily rotating with second-year freshman linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green, the starter the the weak-side spot, having taken 144 snaps for the season.

Colson is tied for fifth on the team with 20 tackles, and recovered a fumble to seal the game against Rutgers. He's the only first-year player to have gotten significant playing time this season.

Most Clutch Performance

Junior kicker Jake Moody has made a lot of kicks (29) in his college career, none more clutch than his 39-yard game-winning field goal at Nebraska with 1:24 to go on the clock. His second-most clutch kick came less than two minutes before, when he nailed a 31-yarder to tie the game. He went 4 of 4 on the night, and the Wolverines wouldn't have won without him.

Most Significant Injury

Michigan Wolverines football Ronnie Bell
Michigan Wolverines football wide receiver Ronnie Bell is out for the season. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

In the first half of Michigan's 47-14 season-opening win over Western Michigan Sept. 4, junior wide receiver Ronnie Bell caught a 76-yard touchdown reception and returned a punt 31 yards deep into WMU territory. But immediately following the return, he went down with a season-ending ACL injury.

Bell led the club in receiving yards in both 2019 and 2020, and appeared to have taken his game to another level heading into this season. He has the chance to return for two more seasons, with 2020 being a free year and him not exceeding the four-game redshirt limit this year.

Without Bell, the Wolverines' wide receivers have been just solid but not great. Michigan's pass-catchers rank 62nd nationally, according to PFF, while struggling to create separation at times. In addition, they've come down with just 81 of the 104 catchable passes thrown their way, according to Sports Info Solutions, with eight drops.

None of the receivers outside of Bell have posted an above average PFF grade (64.0 or higher) in the run-blocking category.


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