Michigan fans got all they could ask for Saturday. They saw Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh patrolling the sidelines in his first game coaching in Ann Arbor, squealed with delight when the coach threw a temper tantrum and witnessed a dominant 35-7 win.
The Wolverines improved on all of their problem areas from the season opener, and showed glimpses of improvements to come.
Here are five things we learned from Michigan’s first win under Harbaugh.
1. Chris Wormley should be a household name.
When the senior led the team in tackles in Michigan’s Spring Game, there was plenty of buzz about Wormley having a breakout season in the fall. Through two games, the defensive end has surpassed those lofty expectations almost as easily as he’s breezed past offensive linemen.
Wormley recorded three tackles for loss and a sack against Oregon State en route to setting a career-high in tackles for loss in a season with six — a total that leads the Big Ten. On a defensive front that looked to be one of the Wolverines’ top units before the season began, Wormley’s breakout start sends an added chill down opposing quarterbacks’ spines.
2. De’Veon Smith can be the go-to guy.
Every time the junior running back showed glimpses of being a go-to back in the past, Smith seemed to either take a step back, or another back would surge ahead of him on the depth chart. That changed Saturday, when Smith racked up three touchdowns and a career-high 150 yards of offense.
Beyond the numbers, Smith looked ready in his second outing as the No. 1 back. After missing holes and failing to substantially contribute in the team’s loss to Utah, Smith bounced off defenders, broke tackles and improved his way down the field. Michigan’s running back concerns can be put to rest for now.
3. But he doesn’t have to be.
Though Smith looked poised to take control of the run game, his teammates weren’t far behind. The Wolverines ran the ball 48 times for 225 yards, and two backups — juniors Derrick Green and Ty Isaac — combined for 70 yards on 14 carries.
Some of that has to do with the development of the backs, but a large amount of credit is owed to the offensive line. With all five starters back from last season, the line showed its veteran poise, shaking early struggles before dominating the Beavers nearly every snap in the second half. Smith showed top-back talent, but if he struggles next week, he has plenty of help behind and in front of him.
4. Special teams won’t lose games for Michigan anymore.
With a reignited program, droves of Michigan fans are coming out of hiding. They are welcomed back by the Wolverines with open arms and clean special teams. After sending 10 players out on punts, shanking easy field goals and doing practically nothing in the return game last season, Michigan showed signs of aptitude Saturday.
Freshman wide receiver Brian Cole came within inches of blocking Oregon State punts several times, and the added pressure kept the Beavers on their heels all game. Senior Kenny Allen has looked competent as a kicker, giving Michigan a failsafe if the offense stalls.
5. Bold Prediction: This will be Jake Rudock’s least productive game of the season.
The fifth-year senior quarterback’s second start managed to be both better and worse than his first. His yardage dropped from 279 to 180, he didn’t throw for a touchdown, but he also improved from the mistake-filled performance that doomed Michigan in Salt Lake City. His production took a hit, but his poise rebounded.
The Michigan coaching staff made it clear before the season that if the running game is working, the passing game will come second. However, Michigan likely won’t be as effective on the ground every week. Expect the passing game to improve, and expect Rudock’s production to matter a lot more down the road.