We didn’t learn a lot about the Michigan football team on Saturday. The Wolverines were playing an overmatched opponent, Hawaii, sleepwalking into Saturday’s noon kickoff (6 a.m. Hawaii time) after playing halfway across the world in Sydney last weekend.
But here’s what we know: Michigan took care of business against that overmatched opponent and did so handily, something not every team can say after the opening week of the season. And the Wolverines still have a few weeks before they face a team with as much talent as they have, they certainly did their part Saturday.
Here are five takeaways:
1. The defensive line’s depth will be tested again.
Michigan ended up OK from an injury standpoint last season, especially at the major positions. But the one position group that suffered was the defensive line. End Mario Ojemudia tore his Achilles in Week 5 against Maryland, and tackle Ryan Glasgow hurt his pectoral muscle in Week 9 against Rutgers. Both injuries were season-ending.
The Wolverines answer with even more depth this season, and they may need it. They already played Saturday without tackle Maurice Hurst, who was almost healthy but sat out as a precaution. The statuses of end Taco Charlton (ankle) and tackle Bryan Mone (undisclosed), both of whom started Saturday and both of whom left the game in the second quarter, are less certain.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t give a timetable for either injury and wouldn’t say what Mone’s injury was, only that he would have an MRI. Mone tore his ACL in fall camp last year and missed the season.
Without Hurst and Mone for the second half Saturday, Michigan was already down to fifth-year seniors Ryan Glasgow and Matt Godin on the inside, though Chris Wormley can also move to tackle. And it’s possible Hurst, Mone and Charlton will all be fine for Saturday, but either way, it’s certainly more injury questions than Harbaugh wanted to address after a blowout.
2. Ben Bredeson can step in just fine.
High praise came out of fall camp for Bredeson, a true freshman offensive lineman from Hartland, Wis. He was competing with sophomore Grant Newsome and redshirt sophomore Juwann Bushell-Beatty for the starting left tackle spot, and while Newsome ended up winning it, Bredeson will see the field plenty this season.
His debut began when he came in at left guard for redshirt junior Patrick Kugler, who himself was stepping in for fifth-year senior starter Ben Braden. Bredeson acclimated well — albeit against a poor opponent, a necessary qualifier for most of these statements — and Michigan’s rushing attack didn’t miss a beat when he entered the game.
It’s not clear where Bredeson will go from here. Harbaugh said Braden’s absence was precautionary like Hurst’s, so it’s possible Braden will return next week and fill out the starting offensive line. But as with many freshmen, the Wolverines appear eager to find a place for Bredeson.
3. Dr. Blitz is aptly named.
Hawaii’s offense would be the best advocate for this statement. Michigan’s defense, led by new coordinator Don Brown, blitzed the Rainbow Warriors, literally and figuratively, all afternoon.
“I’d say like 90 percent? Every play was a blitz actually, I think,” said senior defensive back Channing Stribling. “I don’t think any play wasn’t a blitz, besides a cover two. And we blitzed out of that, too.”
The Wolverines brought the house several times and peppered Hawaii quarterback Ikaika Woolsey with four sacks and countless more pressures. They also racked up 10 tackles for loss.
The blitz packages bode well for Michigan’s least experienced position group, the linebackers. In fact, each of the team’s top three tacklers were linebackers: Jabrill Peppers and Mike McCray with 7.5 each and Ben Gedeon with five. Together, they also had all of the four sacks. In their first time playing together, and the first game showcasing Brown’s new defenses, the group answered a lot of questions.
4. Harbaugh has no qualms about playing freshmen.
The second-year head coach has said in the past that he believes a fifth year to be a mutual agreement between player and coach. And while he brought back most of the fourth-year juniors from his first season, a few moved on.
That mindset showed in the way that he played 17 true freshmen — a school record — in Saturday’s game. Some, including Bredeson, defensive end Rashan Gary and wide receiver Eddie McDoom, figure to be contributors for most of the season. But for some others, Harbaugh chose to burn their redshirts and reward them for the hard work during camp that he has lauded for weeks.
Michigan’s recruiting class, ranked No. 6 in the country by ESPN.com, also consisted of 28 players, tied for third among the top 75 classes. Gary was the highlight, but the Wolverines also brought in a host of other immediate contributors.
Running back Chris Evans totaled 112 yards, more than twice as many as any other player, and two touchdowns. McDoom was electric, with 19- and 15-yard carries to go with two receptions for 15 yards. Defensive lineman Michael Dwumfour, linebacker Devin Bush and safety Khaleke Hudson each recorded tackles.
Harbaugh may have preserved some redshirts — freshman kicker Quinn Nordin didn’t lose his on a few extra points in a blowout — but the head coach followed up on his plan to use players if they are ready to play.
5. Bold Prediction: Jourdan Lewis returns this week and catches an interception.
Lewis has spoken to media on a couple of occasions since camp opened and seemed particularly eager to get his senior season underway. At Big Ten Media Days, he also expressed his excitement about getting his hands on the ball more this year, via interceptions and by playing on offense. An apparently nagging injury kept him out of Saturday’s opener and put all of those desires on hold.
But Harbaugh said he sat Lewis on Saturday just to be safe, and Michigan’s All-American cornerback should be back this week against Central Florida. The Knights seem improved under new coach Scott Frost, but they did finish 0-12 last year and haven’t faced a defense like Michigan’s in a while. Lewis should be extra motivated to make up for lost time by forcing a turnover in his season debut.