If No. 22 Brigham Young was supposed to be a test for the Michigan football team, the Wolverines passed.
The Cougars seemed to be a gauge for how far Michigan had come since losing its season opener at Utah. And on Saturday, the Wolverines looked like a developed squad, trouncing BYU, 31-0, in a game they owned the whole way.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock was 14-for-25 passing, with one touchdown through the air and two more on the ground, and junior running back De’Veon Smith racked up 125 yards and a score. Overall, Michigan dominated a ranked team at home, bucking an ugly trend from recent seasons. Coming into the game, Michigan was 1-9 in its last 10 games against ranked opponents.
“In my mindset it was like, ‘We gotta come out here and make a statement,’ ” said redshirt junior receiver Amara Darboh. “Do whatever it takes to win. And we got the job done, so that was good.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh opened up the playbook in the first half, showing new looks on offense that led to big gains early on. The new creative play calling was especially effective on Michigan’s second drive, which was arguably its best of the season.
First, Smith bounced to the left for a 31-yard gain to the BYU 45-yard line. Then Darboh made a highlight-reel catch, pulling in an overthrown ball with one hand, then falling backward and securing a 21-yard reception. Redshirt sophomore tight end Khalid Hill went uncovered for 19 yards three plays later, and Rudock finished it off with a three-yard touchdown run at the 6:52 mark of the first quarter.
The Cougars threatened on their next possession, getting the ball as deep as the Michigan 36-yard line, but redshirt junior defensive end Willie Henry sacked BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum to stall the drive. At that point, the Wolverines’ suddenly efficient offense went back to work. Rudock led them down the field and, after BYU jumped offside on an important 4th-and-1, grabbed a 14-0 lead on a touchdown pass to Darboh.
From there, Michigan’s defense grew stingy. Beginning with the Cougars’ first possession of the second quarter, the Wolverines held BYU to six straight three-and-out drives, suffocating any slim chance for a comeback. It was Michigan’s first shutout against a ranked opponent since 2003, when it beat Notre Dame, 38-0.
“You almost get into that rhythm where you get on the field and you expect three and out,” said senior defensive end Mario Ojemudia. “You’ve got to focus on what your assignment is, and I think that no one is getting too relaxed because we keep playing well.”
Through four games, the Wolverines have given up just 38 points, an average of 9.5 per game.
And while the defense has been the team’s anchor, Michigan’s offense will end up on highlight reels.
Perhaps the game’s biggest play came on Michigan’s fourth drive. Smith ran up the middle and disappeared into the trenches for what looked like a three- or four-yard gain. But seemingly out of nowhere, he emerged from the scrum and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown, toying with and carrying BYU’s would-be tackler, Michael Davis, for the last 35. His touchdown stretched the lead to 21-0.
Rudock tacked on another touchdown, and by the end of the first half, the Wolverines led, 31-0.
While the Cougars stayed within one point of No. 9 UCLA last week, they appeared to run out of gas against Michigan. After taking a big lead, the Wolverines did the same thing in the second half as they did in their previous blowout wins over Oregon State and UNLV, pounding the ball and finishing off another quick game.
“I don’t think we were really surprised,” Darboh said. “Before the game, Coach Harbaugh said, ‘Do whatever it takes to win.’ And then I think that got everyone pumped up, and we went out there, and I think we had a dominant win.”
There was only one worrisome outcome for Michigan all game. Smith went down with 7:36 remaining in the third quarter and had to be carted off with a right ankle injury. Smith was put in a walking boot, but a Michigan spokesman said it was precautionary. After the game, Smith said he expected to play next week against Maryland, and his focus was squarely on the win.
“It feels good to finally beat a ranked team,” Smith said. “We have to keep the momentum going and keep making statements … to show that we don’t fear ranked teams.”