That was a surprise.
The Michigan football team dismantled then-No. 22 Brigham Young on Saturday, 31-0, defying expectations by shutting out a ranked opponent for the first time since 2003.
The win earned the Wolverines a No. 22 ranking in this week’s AP Top 25 poll and increased their credibility around the country.
After the game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that he feels that his coaching staff is starting to know the team. As the weeks have passed, the Wolverines’ capabilities are becoming more and more evident to everyone, not just the coaching staff.
Here are five things we learned from Saturday’s Michigan victory.
1. Michigan is actually good.
It was one thing when the Wolverines posted consecutive blowouts against Oregon State and UNLV, two unheralded opponents who stood little chance against Michigan. But BYU, on the other hand, entered Saturday’s game with a national ranking and an offense that had consistently produced, even with a backup quarterback.
Few of those strengths were evident Saturday. The Cougars left Michigan Stadium with no points and their second straight loss. The Wolverines manhandled BYU in all facets of the game. Michigan ran for more than 200 yards for the third consecutive game and held the Cougars to just 105 yards of total offense.
But the good news didn’t end for the Wolverines when the clock hit zero. Later Saturday night, Michigan’s season-opening opponent, Utah, destroyed Oregon, 62-20, in the Ducks’ home stadium.
The Wolverines lost to Utah, 24-17, three weeks ago. At the time, it appeared as though Michigan struggled immensely in the defeat. In hindsight, however, it is possible instead that the Utes are an elite college football team. Their success makes the Wolverines’ lone defeat look more favorable.
2. Jake Rudock can adjust on the fly.
Michigan’s fifth-year senior quarterback entered Saturday’s game having faced three weeks of mostly criticism from Wolverine fans. He had matched his interception total from last season (five) in the season’s first three games, and many fans had begun to question his decision-making ability.
Saturday, Rudock looked like a different quarterback. He completed his first turnover-free game and frequently scrambled when faced with pressure instead of throwing the ball into tight coverage and risking turnovers. Rudock finished the game 14-for-25 passing with 195 yards and one touchdown. He complemented that with 33 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
As a bonus, his attempt at playing things safe did not limit Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines have struggled throwing the ball down the field, a problem for which both Rudock and his wide receivers have shouldered the blame. Saturday, they completed a season-long 41-yard pass. It didn’t resolve the problem, but Rudock’s performance represented a step in the right direction.
3. De’Veon Smith is the featured running back.
One week ago, some wondered whether junior running back Ty Isaac could take over for Smith in the lead-back role after he rushed for 114 yards against UNLV. Smith’s play Saturday indicated that will not be the case.
He scampered for 125 yards on 16 carries — averaging 7.81 yards per carry. Though that number was bolstered by Smith’s 60-yard touchdown run that appeared in SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays on Saturday, the run itself was a sight to behold. Smith refused to go down, despite multiple attempts by would-be tacklers.
Though Smith did leave the game with a right ankle injury, he said he will play next Saturday with little hesitation. If he does, there is little doubt that he will receive the bulk of Michigan’s carries.
4. Americans play football better than anyone else.
Amara Darboh’s first football game as an American citizen was one to remember. In the first quarter, he made a catch that also appeared in SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. He followed it up with a touchdown grab early in the second quarter, and finished the game with four receptions for 57 yards.
The win capped a special week for Darboh after he became an American citizen in Detroit on Thursday. Though he had spent the vast majority of his life in America after leaving war-torn Sierra Leone as a child, the naturalization ceremony made his journey official.
Darboh created more memories Saturday, with a catch that will long be preserved on highlight reels and a touchdown that helped his team earn the victory. Darboh received a game ball after the game and his teammates chanted “USA” when he broke the huddle. It will be tough to top his first football game as an American.
5. Michigan’s defensive players aren’t joking when they discuss expectations for their unit.
Last Monday, Michigan senior linebacker James Ross said that he believed the team’s defense could be the best in the country, that it would be “criminal” if he didn’t, considering all of the work the team has put in. Saturday, Michigan’s defense backed up his assertion.
The Wolverines allowed just 105 total yards, and BYU made few traverses into Michigan territory. The Cougars did not finish any drive past the Wolverines’ 43-yard line.
Michigan’s defense is ranked No. 2 in the country in yardage allowed and No. 4 in the country in scoring defense. Ross’ comments do not appear to be hyperbole.