Before Saturday’s game, the No. 3 Michigan football team’s offense had been nothing short of explosive — its 46.6 points per game ranked third in the nation — but two of its biggest weapons from last year hadn’t stood out from the pack.
Senior running back De’Veon Smith was by far the Wolverines’ most dependable running back last year, and though he still has gotten the bulk of the carries this season, the emergence of a four-man rotation in the backfield has shifted some of the spotlight away from him. Fifth-year senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson led Michigan in touchdowns last season and turned in star-making performances against Indiana and Florida. But heading into Saturday, he had just one receiving touchdown this season and just two games with more than 50 receiving yards.
In Saturday’s 59-3 rout of Maryland, though, Smith and Chesson returned to their full forms.
On a rare day when he received the heavy majority of carries among the four main running backs, Smith turned in his best game of the season with 114 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He was responsible for six of Michigan’s 31 first downs, and his six yards per carry were instrumental in helping the Wolverines keep drives moving.
“He was one of the big factors in our team’s success,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “We didn’t punt again in the ballgame — I don’t know if we’ve done that before in the season, maybe one or two times — but a big part was him. The yards he got after contact were real eye-opening. He’s so tough to get down. Three touchdowns, extending drives, contributing — we had a lot of first downs today, and he contributed to that in a big way.”
Chesson also broke the century mark for the first time all season, hauling in five catches for 112 yards and a 33-yard touchdown. He used his speed to create a matchup nightmare for the Terrapins’ cornerbacks, much like he did when he scored nine touchdowns in the final six games of 2015.
Harbaugh said that there was no plan in place to “feed Jehu” against Maryland, but redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight knew that Saturday could be Chesson’s moment.
“Coach (Jedd) Fisch and I had been talking all week — we kinda had a feeling this would be Jehu’s game (where he) got back to where he was last year and kind of exploded again,” Speight said. “He was able to do that. All week, we saw on film some defensive backs that probably wouldn’t be able to hang with him speed-wise, and we wanted to expose that.”
Though their performances Saturday may have been somewhat of a personal relief, Smith and Chesson aren’t the type to demand more opportunities. Despite their own inconsistencies, their selflessness has only helped Michigan’s flourishing offense.
Their reemergence wasn’t necessarily surprising — Smith’s tackle-breaking ability has been on display all season, and some of Chesson’s teammates have called him the fastest player on the team. Still, their breakout performances came at the right time of year for a team with national championship aspirations.
“The great thing about this offense and this team is everybody’s unselfish,” said senior tight end Jake Butt. “When we drop back looking to pass the ball or need to run the ball, it’s not a one-dimensional offense where we’re trying to let one person dominate the game. Everybody understands that.
“No one’s gonna be complaining if balls don’t come their way or if they don’t get opportunities, because right now we’ve got a great thing going and we’re winning games.”