Another tough team that was having unexpected success this fall came into the Big House on Saturday. For the third time in three weeks, Michigan’s opponent left with its tail between its legs.
This time, the victim was No. 13 Northwestern, and the Wildcats fell even harder than then-No. 22 Brigham Young did two weeks ago. The Wolverines beat Northwestern, 38-0, and the score was closer than the game.
Outscoring opponents 160-14 in their last five games, the Wolverines have made a routine out of blowouts. Still, here are five things we learned from Saturday’s win.
1. Jourdan Lewis is the best cornerback in the country.
Peppers was confident in his claim that junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis was the best at his craft in all of college football, and he very well could be right. Lewis took his second interception of the season 37 yards to the end zone on Saturday and could be seen wreaking havoc on Northwestern’s offense behind the line of scrimmage and 40 yards downfield.
Through six games, Lewis has allowed just four completions and has broken up or intercepted 10 passes. The numbers aren’t just good — they’re emblematic of the fact that quarterbacks no longer throw in his direction. Some say they make him the best in the nation.
“He’s the best corner in the country,” Peppers said. “That makes everybody’s job a lot easier when you’ve got a guy out there that shuts down half the field. It’s expected from him. It’s not like, ‘Oh, good job, Jourdan.’ No, we expect that from him. Jourdan inspires me to play better.”
2. Give Jehu Chesson the ball.
Even though fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock has struggled to find redshirt-junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson downfield, every time the receiver touches the ball, he has the opportunity to score. Chesson, whom Harbaugh says is the fastest player on the team, flashed that ability from the opening whistle with a 96-yard touchdown return that was the Wolverines’ first opening kickoff touchdown since 1992.
On offense, Chesson is averaging 22.4 yards per carry for two scores, has emerged as one of Rudock’s primary targets in the passing game and moved Michigan into the red zone on both of its first two possessions. Chesson has seen plenty of action on offense, but based on his performance as of late, you can never have too much Chesson.
3. A.J. Williams can bridge the gap at tight end.
All season, much of the offense has gone through the tight ends. That will continue for the foreseeable future, as tight ends have been a critical part of every offense Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno have been a part of.
That commitment to tight ends, though improving, has slowed down Michigan’s offense. Aside from Butt, who has showcased NFL potential in many of the Wolverines’ first five games, tight ends have often stalled drives with missed targets and dropped passes. Williams was among the culprits, as the senior showed a lack of catching ability that led many to write him off as another offensive lineman.
But against Northwestern, Williams was the star of the show, hauling in a team-high four catches for 49 yards. On a day when junior Jake Butt and top receiving targets were well-covered, Williams turned all four of his targets into first downs, indicating that a tight end-heavy offense can still carry the load.
4. The defensive line runs deep.
Okay, we didn’t really learn this Saturday, but it was once again proven that this unit is not only arguably the top-performing defensive front in the country, but the deepest. The unit has already lost two players expected to be key contributors — sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Mone and, just last week, senior defensive end Mario Ojemudia — but seem to improve the more they utilize the depth chart.
Each week, new players come in and take the lion’s share of time in the backfield. Ojemudia had been that player earlier this season, but on Saturday, it was senior defensive tackle Willie Henry, whose 2.5 tackles for loss paced another solid day for the defensive front. Though saddened by the end of their teammate’s career, the defense was as dominant as ever, becoming the first FBS team in 20 years to shut out three consecutive opponents.
And as for Ojemudia’s replacement? Senior Royce Jenkins-Stone was fifth on the team with four tackles and even drew a couple double teams.
5. BOLD PREDICTION: The hype is real. See you in Pasadena.
Emphasis on the bold here, but Michigan fans are smelling roses, and deservedly so. The Wolverines have outscored two ranked opponents, 69-0, and their only blemish is a seven-point road loss to serious playoff contender No. 5 Utah.
More importantly, Michigan continues to get better on offense, and is suddenly a team with few holes that looks like the legitimate front-runner of the Big Ten. That will continue when the Wolverines host No. 7 Michigan State next week, and though both teams should lose to top-ranked Ohio State, Michigan should win all the games in between, earning its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 2007.