The No. 7 Michigan football team came into its 2016 season opener against Hawaii on Saturday as a heavy favorite, essentially just hoping that the contest wasn’t too much of a struggle.
It was not. Thanks to a solid starting debut from redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight and a near-perfect day from the defense, Michigan turned in an almost flawless performance — especially considering it was its first real action of the season. The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from the Wolverines’ 63-3 victory over the Rainbow Warriors.
Speight turned in a steady first performance as the starting signal caller, finishing the game 10-of-13 passing with 145 yards and three touchdowns. He also put his chemistry with the wideouts on display, throwing each of his scoring passes to a different receiver.
Speight’s backups, redshirt juniors John O’Korn and Shane Morris, looked great as well, albeit mostly against Hawaii’s second team. Both quarterbacks led touchdown drives and combined to go 7-for-7 passing, making it appear that Michigan has plenty of capable options under center if needed.
A record 17 true freshmen debuted for the Wolverines, and most of them made an immediate impact once they took the field. Speedy running back Chris Evans stood out the most, leading the team with 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Michigan’s defense was so effective that coach Jim Harbaugh said postgame that the coaching staff couldn’t identify a single mistake on that side of the ball until the third quarter. Redshirt junior linebacker Mike McCray had a career day with nine tackles, three and a half tackles for loss and two sacks, while senior cornerback Channing Stribling and senior safety Delano Hill both scored their first career touchdowns off of interceptions.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers was his typical electric self in the first game of the season, locking down the line of scrimmage with a team-high seven solo tackles and a sack. He also brought the crowd to its feet with a punt return on which he jumped clean over a would-be tackler before a block-in-the-back penalty nullified the gain.
Speight threw an interception on the first pass as the starting quarterback, leaving Hawaii in Michigan territory with a chance to score the first points of the game. Luckily for him, it ended up being of absolutely no consequence.
The Wolverines’ second-string defense turned down the pressure slightly, allowing the Rainbow Warriors to finish the game with 232 total yards despite picking up just 72 in the entire first half. Even still, it took a 55-yard field goal from Rigoberto Sanchez just to get Hawaii on the board.
A number of Michigan players missed the game with injuries, including senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis, fifth-year senior offensive lineman Ben Braden and redshirt junior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, but Harbaugh said after the game that all of them sat out as a precaution and could be back next week. Senior running back De’Veon Smith had his ribs dinged up in the first half, but he told Harbaugh he expects to be fine as well.
Injuries to fifth-year senior running back Drake Johnson, redshirt sophomore linebacker Noah Furbush, senior defensive end Taco Charlton and redshirt sophomore Bryan Mone, however, have the potential to fall into the “ugly” category depending on their severity. Neither Johnson nor Furbush were dressed on the sideline, while Charlton (ankle) and Mone (unspecified) both had to leave the game. Charlton and Mone both left the field under their own power but will require further evaluation, including an MRI for Mone.
Unless the aforementioned injuries turn out to be serious, there wasn’t too much ugly to be found on the Michigan side in the blowout victory, outside of Speight’s interception on Michigan’s first offensive play.
An especially ugly sequence from Hawaii deserves mentioning, however. After recovering from a first quarter in which the Rainbow Warriors posted a ghastly negative-17 total yards, they actually put together a quality drive at the end of the second and found themselves all the way on the Wolverines’ eight-yard line with the clock ticking down, in perfect position to at least add a field goal and make the score 35-3. But Hawaii opted to run one more play, which ended with an intentional grounding penalty and a 10-second runoff that expired the clock, leaving the Rainbow Warriors with nothing.