Michigan steamrolls Hawaii, 63-3, to win opener

Saturday, September 3, 2016 - 1:32pm

After intercepting Wilton Speight’s first pass as the starting quarterback for the Michigan football team, Hawaii briefly challenged the prevailing notion that they were about to be on the receiving end of a blowout at Michigan Stadium.

Unfortunately for the Rainbow Warriors, that notion was quickly reaffirmed when they promptly lost seven yards and punted the ball four plays later.

Moving backwards would become a recurring theme of the game for Hawaii, which had an abysmal negative-17 total yards at the end of the first quarter and needed a strong second half to finish the game with 232. Speight, meanwhile, rebounded impressively by throwing for 145 yards and three touchdowns, leading the seventh-ranked Wolverines to a 63-3 victory in their season opener.

The first-time starting quarterback — who beat out redshirt juniors John O’Korn and Shane Morris to win the starting job in his redshirt sophomore season — showed poise after his early mistake, finding sophomore wide receiver Grant Perry for a 12-yard touchdown on his first drive. Fifth-year senior Amara Darboh and senior tight end Jake Butt also found the end zone for Michigan in the first quarter.

After players and coaches spoke for weeks about how grueling fall camp has been, the Wolverines took full advantage of their first chance to reap the rewards of their hard work.

“Our coaches have worked this group of players as hard as you possibly can,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “And our players worked themselves as hard as they possibly could. It just hit me Thursday (or) Friday that it’s time to just let them go show what they can do. I thought it would be good, and it was.”

Freshman running back Chris Evans electrified the sold-out crowd by putting on a display of pure speed in his collegiate debut. Evans dove into the end zone for an 18-yard score in the first half and later turned on the jets for a 43-yard touchdown up the middle only a minute into the second. He finished with eight carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

The contest also marked the debut for 16 other true freshmen, including defensive end Rashan Gary and offensive linemen Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu. Other than Evans, it might have been freshman wide receiver Eddie McDoom who stole the show, with two impressive end-around runs and a leaping catch that had fans yelling “McDOOOOOOM.”

“It’s been coming for weeks now,” Harbaugh said. “Three weeks ago, it was eight — seven to eight (freshmen) that had really earned it and knew that they were gonna be tracking to be in the two-deep (depth chart). Less than a week later, maybe it was gonna be 10. Another week, it was up again and up again. ... They’ve earned it.”

Michigan’s second- and third-string offenses fared just as well toward the end of the game, with O’Korn and Morris each leading touchdown drives and combining to go 7-for-7 passing. According to Harbaugh, it was an indicator of just how close the quarterback competition was.

“It’s one of those clichés you hear about: if you have three good quarterbacks, then you don’t have any good quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “That’s never resonated with me. … They’re pushing each other higher, they’ve all commented how good that’s been, and I think that showed today.”

On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines’ defense ran roughshod over the Rainbow Warriors on nearly every drive, picking up four sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Hawaii didn’t gain a first down until the last five minutes of the first half, and both senior cornerback Channing Stribling and senior safety Delano Hill picked off quarterback Ikaika Woolsey for touchdown returns.

The Rainbow Warriors did put together one solid drive to close the first half, but an intentional grounding penalty resulted in a 10-second runoff that ended the half before Hawaii could attempt a field goal. It would eventually avenge that failure with a 55-yard boot from kicker Rigoberto Sanchez with 12:30 remaining in the game, but it was far too little, far too late.

After Speight’s interception — really the only moment of tension all afternoon — the Wolverines enjoyed a near-perfect first performance, dominating in every facet of the game.

“You never want to come out and struggle in your first game,” said junior center Mason Cole. “To be able to go out and run the ball well, pass the ball well, protect the quarterback well, play defense well — put it all together and that’s what happens, you go up 63 to 3.”

NOTE: All-American senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis, fifth-year senior offensive lineman Ben Braden and redshirt junior Maurice Hurst were among a group of Wolverines that dressed but missed the game due to injury, with Harbaugh later saying that the three were held out as a precaution and could be back as soon as next week. Senior defensive end Taco Charlton (ankle), senior running back De’Veon Smith (ribs) and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Mone (unspecified) all left the game due to injury — Smith told Harbaugh he was fine, while Charlton and Mone will require further evaluation.