Michigan’s defense was suffocating. Michigan’s offense was a breath of fresh air. Combine that with a special teams unit that blocked a punt and almost blocked a field goal that would make Southerners condescendingly mutter “bless your heart,” and the worst thing that happened at Michigan Stadium today was the press box nearly failing to have a halftime spread. Fear not, though, as the food was delivered in time for your author to return to his seat just as the third quarter began. It was just that kind of day.
The offense looked good for one play, a quick throw to Gentry in the flat out of a tight bunch that picked up a first down on the first play from scrimmage, before drawing grumbles. Pre-snap confusion forced Michigan to call a timeout on the next play, which was followed by a Juwann Bushell-Beatty false start. Michigan picked up four yards on their next three plays and was forced to punt, doing nothing to quell the fire and fury of a fanbase scorned.
An apparent run-fit issue resulted in a 25-yard rush from LeVante Bellamy on Western’s first offensive snap. Bellamy then picked up one yard on a reception before Jon Wassink sailed a pass, then nearly had his next attempt intercepted. Michigan’s offense got the ball back and took the game over from there.
Shea Patterson got things going with the improvisational skill he was lauded for as a recruit and during his time in Oxford, firing a cross-body dart into a miniscule window along the sideline for Oliver Martin. Karan Higdon then moved the offense from Michigan’s 33-yard line to Western’s 16 in three plays, including a weaving 43-yard carry that saw him make all the right cuts. Patterson hit McKeon in the flat off a waggle on the next play, and as McKeon turned up the sideline he found a way to undulate his body over the pylon.
Michigan’s next offensive drive lasted one play, as Karan Higdon popped through a hole to his left on what looked like a pin-and-pull, then outran everyone—his own blockers included—before tight-roping the home sideline past a pursuing safety and into the north end zone. Higdon ended the day with 13 carries for 156 yards.
Michigan’s run game was excellent in all facets; the offensive line blocked well, the tight ends (Gentry and McKeon in particular) were moving defenders, and three backs averaged 8.6 yards or more per carry. Chris Evans had 10 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns, including one where he made a missed pull right by recovering from a shot that knocked him off balance and diving into the newly blue-painted end zone.
The passing game was similarly excellent, with nine different players recording a catch and four scoring touchdowns. Shea Patterson finished 12-of-17 for 125 yards and three touchdowns and showed impressive accuracy in and out of the pocket. His prettiest throw of the day came on a redzone play during which the offensive line allowed plenty of time to dial up a perfectly placed ball that gave Donovan Peoples-Jones room to take two full steps before going out of bounds. Dylan McCaffrey, who entered in the fourth quarter, used his feet to keep a drive alive, then found offseason hype target Jacob McCurry for an 18-yard touchdown.
While the offense’s tide was rising, the defense did what fans have come to expect them to do: solve their problems with aggression. After allowing the aforementioned 25-yard rush early in the game, Michigan allowed 2.3 yards per carry the rest of the first quarter, 1.1 yards per carry in the second quarter, 2.3 yards per carry in the third quarter, and 3.9 yards per carry in the fourth quarter (a quarter in which almost every starter was eventually shelved). Lavert Hill, David Long, and Brandon Watson were in the hip pocket of their assignments throughout the afternoon, with Watson achingly close to recording an over-the-shoulder interception for the second week in a row; it was knocked away in the collision with the receiver and Josh Metellus, which says about all you need to know about Michigan’s coverage. Between that and the defensive line, which was stout up the middle and again collapsed the pocket and allowed the opposing quarterback precious little time to throw, Michigan’s defense looked like a vintage Don Brown group.
Special teams was an adventure. The good: Will Hart booted all his punts over 50 yards, Khaleke Hudson blocked a punt that Joe Hewlett recovered and returned 10 yards, and Michigan would have blocked a field goal that was attempted down 49-0 with under three minutes to go if not for an Ambry Thomas offsides call. The bad: Quinn Nordin missed a 40-yard field goal attempt, and Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had been making great fielding decisions, fumbled a return that he recovered for a loss of five.
Even so, Michigan had no option but to put on this type of performance. A loss would have turned a season of questions into a season of infinite pain; the subsequent run on supplies at Ann Arbor Torch and Pitchfork would have been unlike anything we’ve seen in… [/checks record book, is deeply uncomfortable with recent history] uh, it would have been really bad, okay? A dominating win gave Michigan’s offense more game-speed reps to build on, and next week’s home contest with 0-2 SMU, which lost by 23 points to North Texas, should provide more of the same.