COLLEGE PARK — In the first four games, 36 minutes and 42 seconds of its season, the Michigan football team did not have what one might call a quick-strike offense.
But in a span of three minutes, 11 seconds during the third quarter Saturday, the Wolverines pulled away from Maryland in their Big Ten opener en route to a 28-0 win at Byrd Stadium.
Michigan gained possession for the 11th time with 8:18 to go in the third quarter. At that point, the Wolverines led just 6-0 despite having dominated the Terrapins on the defensive side of the ball. That dominance had gifted the offense yet another opportunity, with junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis’ interception giving Michigan the ball at Maryland’s 31-yard line.
Within 19 seconds, the Wolverines were in the end zone. After two incomplete passes, on 3rd-and-10, fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock dumped off a screen to redshirt junior running back Drake Johnson, who picked up a block on the edge and took it in for a touchdown.
“I think we just calmed down, just trusted the process,” said junior tight end Jake Butt. “There’s no panic on the sideline. It was just little things here and there that we were beating ourselves with.”
Redshirt sophomore tight end Khalid Hill caught a short pass for the two-point conversion after Johnson’s touchdown. Michigan’s surging defense returned to the field on the next series as Matt Godin and Mario Ojemudia teamed up to sack Maryland backup quarterback Daxx Garman on third down.
Then the offense headed out for a 12th time, and this time it only took one play. Redshirt junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson broke a tackle at the second level and took an end-around run 66 yards for a touchdown.
Thanks to Maryland’s offensive struggles, the slim 6-0 lead seemed more comfortable than it appeared on the scoreboard. But in just over three minutes, the Wolverines’ advantage became much safer.
“Collectively, we started playing a little harder,” Johnson said. “We started opening up the zone running, and that seemed to hit them well. The offensive linemen started playing really well.”
In the first half, Johnson said Michigan unveiled only parts of its game plan, testing them against the Maryland defense. As the game went on, the Wolverines started to go deeper, and the offensive line and skill players collaborated on ways to attack the Terrapins.
The second-half outburst masked some early offensive issues. Neither team generated a play longer than 20 yards until midway through the second quarter, and senior kicker Kenny Allen’s two short field goals were the only points of the half as both offenses struggled to move the ball.
“The thing I was focused on in the first quarter, even midway through, is both offenses were just making mistakes — penalty, error, turnover,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “From a coaching perspective, offensively, it was really just trying to get our team playing better fundamental-technique, assignment football.”
The Terrapins picked up three first downs on their opening drive, moving the ball into Michigan territory, but couldn’t flip the field position after a short punt. The Wolverines took advantage of the wind at their backs when fifth-year senior punter Blake O’Neill booted a ball out of bounds at the one-yard line, away from dangerous Maryland returner Will Likely.
Terrapins quarterback Caleb Rowe’s interception — his first of three — gave the Wolverines another chance in Maryland territory, but this time, Rudock took a sack and fumbled on fourth down.
Michigan also turned the ball over on its next possession, when junior running back Ty Isaac fumbled a carry on the first play. It was the first fumble of the season for a Wolverine running back. Isaac fumbled again early in the third quarter and did not carry the ball again.
“(We) would have liked to have done a better job at (avoiding turnovers), but when you keep peeling it back, every time we made a mistake offensively, our defense did not allow Maryland to capitalize on it,” Harbaugh said. “Three different times, I don’t even know if they got any yards when it was all said and done.”
In total, the defense allowed just 105 yards for the second straight week — and no points, continuing the streak. After the game, Michigan had already set its sights on next week’s matchup.
“What do you do next? You have a happy flight home,” Harbaugh said. “And get ready for Northwestern.”