Each week, the Michigan football team gets better, and each week, its success becomes more legitimate.
This week brought the Wolverines’ first win on the road and in the Big Ten, a 28-0 rout of Maryland in College Park. In the past four games, they have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 122-14, cruising to four consecutive wins.
What may be more important, though, is what comes next. Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) could now be considered a contender in the Big Ten East. While the Wolverines have been dominant in the past month, preseason favorites Ohio State and Michigan State, both 5-0, narrowly slipped by Indiana and Purdue, respectively, on Saturday.
Michigan faces a tough test Saturday against No. 13 Northwestern (1-0 Big Ten, 5-0 overall) before hosting the third-ranked Spartans on Oct. 16.
If this week was any indication, the Wolverines have a legitimate chance for an upset. Before they move forward, though, here are the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s game:
The defense was quite good. And it’s safe to put them in this space for the foreseeable future.
The stats were overwhelming again: 29 rushing yards, 76 passing yards, three interceptions, 2.1 yards per pass attempt, 1-for-18 on third downs.
And zero points — again.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s unit is firing on all cylinders, from the linemen who combined for five tackles for loss, to the linebackers who forced extra pressure on Maryland’s quarterbacks, to the secondary that picked off two passes and broke up three more passes.
“It means everything to us,” said redshirt sophomore Maurice Hurst Jr. “That’s what we strive for in practice — perfection. Obviously we weren’t perfect. We have things that we have to work on and look at it in film, so we can come back next week and play better.”
For the third time in four weeks, Michigan forced its opponent to change quarterbacks, this time from Caleb Rowe to Daxx Garman. Neither stood out, with Rowe going 8-for-27 and Garman 2-for-9. The Wolverines’ secondary blanketed the receivers while the front seven harassed both signal callers all afternoon. It was the performance Michigan has worked toward, and the Wolverines could still be getting better.
Other individual performances stood out: redshirt junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson scored on another end-around run from 66 yards out, redshirt junior running back Drake Johnson (13 carries, 68 yards) moved closer to a full workload and redshirt freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers added a 29-yard punt return.
Hurricane Joaquin, which moved kickoff up from 8 p.m. to noon, held off for the duration of the game, but the conditions still weren’t ideal. The slippery footballs may have played a role in the game’s six total turnovers, and the wind affected the special teams game. In the first half, Michigan senior kicker Kenny Allen missed a 47-yard field goal, while Maryland punted short twice for 20 and 28 yards.
The Wolverines’ offense also struggled to find a spark in the first half, managing just six points. At that point, Michigan had just 16 carries for 43 yards, with 20 of them coming on one scramble by fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock.
Michigan did clean up its mistakes in the second half, though. Halftime adjustments, more energy and a depleted Maryland defense combined to create 22 points and put the game out of reach.
Michigan’s turnover problem reared its head again.
The Wolverines gave the ball away three times, twice in their own territory. Late in the first quarter, Rudock fumbled as he was sacked on 4th-and-2 at the Maryland 29. If Michigan had kept the drive alive, it could have moved closer to field-goal range and gotten on the scoreboard.
On the first play of the next drive, junior running back Ty Isaac lost a fumble on a run up the middle. He later coughed the ball up again but fell on it immediately. And on the first series of the second half, Rudock threw an interception off a tipped ball to Maryland defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson.
It’s possible the weather played a role in some or all of those turnovers, but Michigan will need to clean up those miscues once again after a turnover-free game against Brigham Young last week.
On a more serious note, senior defensive lineman Mario Ojemudia left the game on crutches in the fourth quarter, and Michigan suspects an Achilles injury. If it’s a torn Achilles, it would end Ojemudia’s season and Michigan career — a tough break for a player who recorded half a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss before his injury Saturday.