ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan has had a run-heavy offense under Jim Harbaugh that has led to a lot of success the last two seasons, including finally beat rival Ohio State and consecutive Big Ten championships.
In playoff losses to Georgia and TCU, though, the Wolverines’ passing game didn’t deliver.
This year, the college football program with the most victories is trying to win a new way with a scheme that relies more on a potentially potent passing game.
The second-ranked Wolverines (1-0) provided a glimpse of their plan to attack through the air in a 30-3 win over East Carolina, which loaded up the box and dared J.J. McCarthy to throw.
“If teams want to do that, please, we’ll keep throwing,” All-America running back Blake Corum said. “Teams will have to back up sooner or later.”
McCarthy completed 15 straight passes — the longest streak by a Harbaugh-coached quarterback at the school — in the first half. He finished with the second-highest completion percentage by any Michigan quarterback, connecting on 26 of 30 passes for 280 yards with three touchdowns to Roman Wilson.
“Their quarterback is a special player," UNLV coach Barry Odom said.
The Rebels (1-0) visit Michigan on Saturday also hoping to slow down the Wolverines' ground game. Odom knows his team is facing a balanced scheme.
“They're explosive on offense,” Odom said. “They've got the skill and the scheme to stress you in every area.”
UNLV receiver Ricky White had quite a game in his last visit to the Big House. He caught eight passes for 196 yards and a touchdown, helping Michigan State beat Michigan in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
“I'm very excited,” White said. “It's a great environment.”
Michigan Stadium will look and sound a lot different than it did during White's breakout performance because the pandemic meant only family and friends were allowed inside watch the game instead of about 110,000 fans.
White did not play in 2021 and after transferring, he had 51 catches for 619 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Rebels. The Rebels' plan at Michigan does not include trying to ensure White has a repeat performance.
“He's got enough talent and skill that that the plays will come to him,” Odom said.
Michigan is a national championship contender, earning its highest preseason ranking since 1991, with a lot of experience and talent on both sides of the ball.
“If they have a weakness, I haven't found it yet,” Odom said.
The Wolverines will be without Harbaugh on game day as he serves the second game of a school-imposed, three-game suspension for breaking NCAA recruting rules.
Jay Harbaugh, special teams coordinator and safeties coach, will fill his father's role in the first half. Running backs coach and former Michigan star Mike Hart will lead the team after halftime.
“There’s no offenses, no defenses, it’s a we-fense,” Harbaugh said when asked about head coaching responsibilities during a game.
Jim Harbaugh watched the opener with offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who was suspended by the school for opener due to violating NCAA rules.
McCarthy wore a “Free Harbaugh” shirt before and after the game. He walked alongside his teammates in a single-file formation as each player raised an arm over their head in tributes to their coach.
“I felt the love,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh said defensive backs Will Johnson and Rod Moore might play against UNLV after both missed the opener.
In Odom's debut, the Rebels beat Bryant 44-14 after Vincent Davis Jr. scored on a 69-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.