ANN ARBOR, MI — The value of a seasoned quarterback was apparent as returning starter J.J. McCarthy led No. 2 Michigan to a 30-3 win over visiting East Carolina in the season opener for both teams Saturday before a crowd of 109,480, the largest ever to see the Pirates play.
McCarthy completed 26 of 30 passes for 280 yards with three touchdowns. All three of the scoring tosses were to Roman Wilson. McCarthy set a school record for completion percentage with a minimum of 25 attempts, 87 percent.
“I think he’s really good,” said ECU coach Mike Houston of McCarthy. “I think they have some really good receivers.”
McCarthy exploited some breakdowns in coverage.
“We had some mistakes in the secondary,” Houston said. “We had a couple of times we’d have a coverage called that should have allowed us to force a highly contested throw or possibly a turnover and we did not execute.
“We’ve got some things we could execute better within the secondary. … I’m thinking it’s young guys in their first college starts. So, you know, there are going to be some growing pains here early in the season.”
Growing pains also would describe ECU’s situation at quarterback. Snaps were divided between Mason Garcia and Alex Flinn, a pattern that may continue.
“We planned to play two guys,” Houston said. “I thought Mason made a few mistakes there early. I thought Alex came in and played really well in the second quarter. I thought Alex made some mistakes there in the third quarter. And I’m really excited about the way Mason finished the game.
“We’ve got two good players. They both did some positive things so that they can come out of here with confidence. I think they did some things that they can correct, that they can grow from.
“There was a plan to let Mason go three or four series and then let Alex get some time. We just kind of went by feel after that. It worked out about the way we would want it to.”
Garcia led ECU in passing and rushing yards. He completed 11 of 18 for 80 yards and had eight keepers for 36 yards. Flinn was six of 11 through the air for 52 yards and rushed three times for 14 yards.
Garcia had the lone turnover of the game on a first quarter interception. He threw while leaning back under pressure on a 3rd-and-9 at the Michigan 46 and the underthrown attempt was picked off by Mike Sainristil.
The hosts took advantage of the opportunity as McCarthy found Roman in the back of the end zone after scrambling forward on a 3rd-and-9 from the Pirates’ 14-yard line with 5:43 left in the first quarter. McCarthy was ahead of the line of scrimmage when he released the ball, but the Big Ten crew upheld the TD after review.
“Me and the officials on our side thought he was (over the line of scrimmage),” Houston said. “But I guess his back, right toenail was still behind the line.”
McCarthy appeared doubtful that the score would stand after seeing the replay on the stadium screen, but walked down the sideline like a kid who had gotten away with a spit ball from the back of the class when the ruling was announced.
The Pirates were winning in terms of field position before the turnover. ECU’s first possession ended with a 67-yard punt by Mississippi State transfer Archer Trafford that was downed at the Michigan 2. The Wolverines had three rushes that netted no gain.
Michigan led 23-0 at the half. Second quarter scores included a 2-yard run by Blake Corum, a 10-yard toss to Wilson and a 50-yard field goal by James Turner just before the teams headed to their locker rooms.
Andrew Conrad missed a boot from 51 yards for the Pirates with 48 seconds left in the half.
McCarthy connected with Wilson for a 15-yard score with 9:20 left in the third quarter.
The Wolverines had a 1st-and-goal at the ECU 6 late in the third quarter and went for a 4th-and-goal at the 1, but McCarthy recovered his fumble and ECU gained possession at the 3.
After a missed 52-yard attempt by Turner, Garcia directed a drive to the Michigan 14 before he was stopped short of the line to gain on a fourth down keeper.
ECU got the ball back at its own 28 with 3:04 to go and Garcia was able to get the Pirates into position for a game-ending 32-yard field goal by Conrad that extended ECU’s scoring streak to 313 games.
The Pirates had a 119-14 lead in total yards in the fourth quarter. Michigan outgained ECU, 402-235, for the game.
Jarrett Garner had four catches for 22 yards for the Pirates. Javious Bond had three receptions for 31 yards. Jaylen Johnson (30 yards) and Jhari Patterson (20 yards) had three grabs apiece.
Rahjai Harris had five carries for 22 yards. ECU averaged four yards per rush to 3.9 for the Wolverines.
Defensive back Julius Wood was in on nine tackles to lead ECU. Linebacker Michael Edwards III was involved on eight stops.
“I felt good about the way our kids competed most of the day,” Houston said. “A little disappointed in the lull we had in the third quarter. But I thought from a competing and physicality standpoint, I thought we held our own at times. Too many missed opportunities, too many mistakes. And we talked about it all week that a team like that — they take your mistakes, and they capitalize on them. And our missed opportunities (are) the reason we weren’t able to get down in the red zone any more than we did in the first half, and we weren’t able to get points on the board in the first half.
“So, we’ve got a lot of work to do as far as corrections. We also did a lot of positive things, too. That was a big-time setting. A lot of our kids have never played in a setting like that. I looked at the pregame meal this morning — and we eat pregame meal by eligibility. So, your kids in the last year of eligibility go first, kids with two years left, go next. And, you know, the bulk of the guys that got up to go eat are the kids with three and four years of eligibility left.
“So, we’ve got to grow up pretty fast because come tomorrow, we’ve got to get ready for Marshall. We’ve got to get ready for a home opener. So, nobody’s getting time to hang their head or feel sorry for themselves or anything like that because we’ve got a big ball game next week.”
The Pirates host the Thundering Herd (1-0) on Saturday at 4 p.m.