ANN ARBOR, Mich. – J.J. McCarthy walked alongside his teammates in a single-file formation as each player raised an arm over their head, letting suspended Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh know his players were thinking about him.
“That was definitely a tribute to coach Harbaugh,” McCarthy said after throwing three touchdown passes to Roman Wilson to help the second-ranked Wolverines rout East Carolina 30-3 on Saturday. "That was pretty cool to do that."
McCarthy showed up at Michigan Stadium wearing a blue shirt backward, writing “FREE” in black on white athletic tape and placing it on his chest above Harbaugh's name. He put the shirt back on after the game.
“I just want my coach back,” McCarthy said. “It’s as simple as that.”
McCarthy probably made his coach proud, completing 26 of 30 passes for 280 yards and throwing a touchdown pass to Wilson in each of the first three quarters. He completed 15 straight passes in the first half, the longest streak by a Michigan quarterback since 2015, according to Sportsradar.
McCarthy said he felt much different than he did a year ago when he was coming off a shoulder injury and competing with Cade McNamara to be the team's starting quarterback.
“This one felt effortless," he said.
All-America running back Blake Corum, coming off knee surgery, ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He showed his speed is back on 37- and 21-yard runs.
“It felt great being back out there, making some cuts and some long runs,” Corum said. “That was my first time, honestly, getting hit since the Ohio State game.”
The Pirates (0-1) were overmatched as expected against a team with national championship aspirations that's coming off two straight Big Ten titles and trips to the College Football Playoff.
Mason Garcia was 11-of-18 passing for 80 yards and had a deflected pass picked off by Mike Sainristil. Garcia shared time with Alex Flinn, who was 6 of 11 for 52 yards.
“Mason made some mistakes early,” coach Mike Houston said. “Alex played really well in the second quarter. Alex made some mistakes in the third quarter, and I was really excited about how Mason finished the ballgame.”
The Pirates avoided a shutout with Andrew Conrad's 33-yard field goal as time expired.
Harbaugh’s game-day roll was filled by defensive coordinator Jesse Minter. Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore also missed the game, suspended by the school for one game due to violating unspecified NCAA rules.
McCarthy said he believed Harbaugh watched the game at Moore's house.
Harbaugh was able to coach the team during the week, and helped the staff with the game plan.
“When I saw him last night, it really really hit me that it's really going down,” Minter said.
Michigan had its highest preseason ranking since it was also No. 2 in 1991, and likely will keep the spot in the AP Top 25.
“They look like what the preseason ranking is,” Houston said.
HE SAID IT
Michigan seemed to get a break on McCarthy's first touchdown pass when he appeared to be past the line of scrimmage and the call on the field stood after review.
“I guess his back, right toenail was still behind the line,” Houston said.
ECU: The Pirates refused to say who would start at quarterback and they may not know who will take the first snap next week because both struggled.
UM: To beat top teams, the Wolverines know they have to pass more effectively than they did a year ago and they're off to a good start toward that goal.
ECU: Hosts Marshall on Saturday.
UM: Hosts UNLV on Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll