It was supposed to be a defensive struggle, a close contest between the two top scoring defenses in the country. But just a few minutes in, it was clear that all preconceived notions of Saturday’s matchup between the No. 18 Michigan football team and No. 13 Northwestern were irrelevant.
The Wolverines returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and did not look back. Michigan led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter, eliminating even the thought of a Wildcat victory. The Wolverines dominated all three phases of the game.
Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s 38-0 rout.
Good might not be a strong enough superlative to describe Michigan’s defensive performance Saturday. The Wolverines recorded their third straight shutout in dominating fashion, allowing just 168 total yards. Northwestern did not reach the red zone during the game.
Michigan had not recorded three consecutive shutouts since 1980. No Football Bowl Subdivision team had done so since 1995.
Junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis scored Michigan’s first defensive touchdown of the season, snatching the ball away from Northwestern wide receiver Mike McHugh in the second quarter and returning it 37 yards.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock played what might have been his best game in a Michigan uniform, completing 17 of his 23 pass attempts for 179 yards. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over.
Junior running back De’Veon Smith did not appear to be hindered by the ankle injury that kept him out against Maryland. He scampered for 59 yards on eight carries. He ran ruggedly, breaking tackles on numerous occasions, just like he did during his early-season standout games.
The Wolverines’ special teams unit made sure it was not left out of the fun, either. Michigan redshirt junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson returned the game’s opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, starting an onslaught that did not subside.
The Wolverines allowed Northwestern to almost score. The Wildcats attempted a field goal in the first quarter, but they missed. Northwestern also finished two drives in Michigan territory, a telltale sign of what was clearly a disgraceful defensive performance.
In another cause for absolute panic, fifth-year senior punter Blake O’Neill booted two touchbacks.
This is a comprehensive list. It is in no way sarcastic.
Two controversial targeting calls provided some drama in Saturday’s game. The first occurred in the second quarter, when Northwestern defensive back Matthew Harris hit Rudock’s upper body during a slide. The call was overturned, much to Michigan’s chagrin.
The confusion escalated in the third quarter. Michigan senior linebacker James Ross III was ejected for targeting when he crushed a defenseless Wildcat wide receiver. The call, unlike the previous one, was not overturned. Ross will be suspended for the first half of the Wolverines’ game against No. 7 Michigan State as a result.
Northwestern’s offensive performance would also qualify as ugly. Three different Wildcat quarterbacks took snaps under center, but none of the three enjoyed success. Backups Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti each attempted three passes. Both quarterbacks were sacked (once) as frequently as they completed passes (also once).
Starter Clayton Thorson did not fare much better. He completed 13 of his 27 pass attempts for 106 yards. Lewis’ interception was the low point.
Michigan awaits the Spartans next week. A fourth straight shutout is unlikely. But then again, the Wolverines have defied preconceived notions before.