The big wins just keep coming.
The No. 3 Michigan football team raced to yet another blowout win Saturday, trouncing Maryland, 59-3, in DJ Durkin’s return to Michigan Stadium.
The Wolverines’ former defensive coordinator can’t have been too happy with the way Michigan’s offense piled up a season-high 660 yards, but with the way redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight played, there wasn’t much the Terrapins could have done.
Here are five things we learned from Saturday’s game:
1. Speight just keeps getting better.
For the third consecutive week, Michigan’s quarterback played his best game of the season. Speight started the game with an incomplete pass, but from there, he was lights-out. He commanded throws of all distances, and showed an uncanny ability to extend plays in the pocket.
After the game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh even casually tossed his name into the Heisman discussion, and while that’s probably an overstatement, it doesn’t change how good Speight was against the Terrapins.
Last season, the Wolverines saw fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock continually improve as the season progressed, and Speight seems to be following the same path. That’s a good sign for a team with national title aspirations.
2. Trouble with the screen.
For as good as the Wolverines have been on defense this season, Maryland seemed to uncover a glaring weakness. All game, the Terrapins exploited poor tackling on the edges, especially on screen passes.
The Wolverines gave up a season-high 289 passing yards, a deceiving number since so many of those yards came in chunks on screen passes. Consistently, Michigan’s linebackers and defensive backs struggled to wrap up and bring down ball carriers on the outside.
It didn’t matter much against the Terrapins, as the Wolverines’ defense held strong in the red zone and the offense put the game out of reach early. But with athletic teams like Ohio State still on the schedule, it identified an issue that Michigan will need to resolve quickly.
3. Jehu Chesson is alive and well.
For much of the 2016 season, Michigan’s most dangerous receiver has lain dormant in the offense. But on Saturday, Chesson exploded. He caught five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, showing flashes of the player he was the second half of last season.
Chesson seemed to find consistent open space for the first time this season, and Speight exploited it. Harbaugh posited after the game that the recent success of fifth-year senior receiver Amara Darboh may have freed up Chesson, but regardless of the reason, he has to be happy with the result.
With the way Speight has thrown the ball recently, adding an emerging Chesson to go with Darboh and senior tight end Jake Butt gives Michigan the most threatening passing attack in the Big Ten.
4. Jabrill Peppers is not perfect.
Peppers dropped a screen pass that might have turned into a touchdown, and his statistical impacts on the game were not as marked as they had been in weeks past.
He still racked up five tackles — one for loss — and posted two carries for 19 yards, but the Terrapins kept him from getting into space and running wild. At some point, this was inevitable, as teams have begun to key on Peppers when he enters the game. That’s the benefit of using the read option, which allows Peppers to hand the ball off to the running back if his lane is clogged.
Michigan will certainly take the production Peppers posted on Saturday, but for him to have a legitimate shot at a Heisman, he needs more touchdowns and other counting stats. And he probably shouldn’t drop any more passes.
5. Bold Prediction: Michigan will shut out Iowa.
After Maryland was able to churn out large chunks of yards, this might be a strange time to predict a shutout for the Wolverines. But consider this the benefit of the doubt for Don Brown, who has Michigan’s defense playing at the highest level this year. Expect the Wolverines to come out hungry to correct Saturday’s mistakes.
Iowa, meanwhile, has been pedestrian on offense. The Hawkeyes are near the bottom of the country with just 335.4 yards per game, and while their 26.6 points are slightly more competitive, Michigan is not the team you want to play with a subpar offense.
The Wolverines will post their second clean sheet of the season.