After an offseason of sweeping changes, college football got its first peek at the new-look Michigan football team on Saturday afternoon.

The Wolverines didn’t disappoint. In a 47-14 win over Western Michigan, the program previewed its new identity on both sides of the ball. 

Though Michigan may lack the talent of college football’s upper echelon, it showed an ability to find success rooted in consistent execution and occasional explosive plays. Offensively, the team’s methodical approach and two-horse backfield defined its 47-point performance. Sophomore running back Blake Corum finished with 133 yards on 16 touches and showed an ability to make defenders miss in the open field.

Corum’s quickness adds another dimension to Michigan’s offense. Senior running back Hassan Haskins, meanwhile, tallied 70 yards on 13 carries. The Wolverines poured on 334 rushing yards as a team, including three rushing touchdowns.

“Hassan, he’s a strong dude. It’s hard to tackle him, so he might run through you,” Corum said. “Me, I’m more of a finesse guy, so I might make you fall. The 1-2 punch between both of us that can make people miss at the second level, it’s hard to stop that, kind of like thunder and lightning.”

All offseason, the Wolverines emphasized establishing the run. Saturday’s big afternoon on the ground shows that talk wasn’t just fluff, as offensive coordinator Josh Gattis dialed up 44 runs compared to just 17 passes. Michigan’s 2021 offensive identity could be centered around the run game — a rarity in the era of high-scoring college football spread offenses.

As Corum and Haskins racked up yardage on the ground, junior quarterback Cade McNamara’s consistency stood out through the air. He completed eight of 10 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, offering stability at a position that fell into a downward spiral during Michigan’s nightmarish 2-4 campaign last year. His only two first-half incompletions came on passes batted at the line of scrimmage, and he threw just one pass in the second half.

McNamara’s best throw of the afternoon came on a third down from the Wolverines’ own 24-yard line. Rather than checking it down to move the chains, he took a shot over the top of the defense. The ball found senior wide receiver Ronnie Bell in stride, who took it the distance for a 76-yard touchdown. Waiting for him at the back of the end zone was Michigan men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard. The two exchanged celebrations.

Later in the second quarter, however, Bell suffered an apparent right leg injury following a long punt return. He was carted to the locker room before halftime and will undergo an MRI Saturday night to determine the severity of the injury.

While the Wolverines’ offense cruised, things didn’t begin as seamlessly on the other side of the ball. Michigan struggled to generate any sort of first-quarter pass rush, while its defensive backs were exposed in the secondary. But the Wolverines’ rotating mix of edge rushers and nose tackles eventually settled in, and after surrendering a 75-yard touchdown drive on the Broncos’ opening possession, the team limited Western Michigan to just 23 yards on 14 plays in the second quarter.

Junior safety Daxton Hill and senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson each came up to record the big open-field tackles that last year’s defense struggled to make — a sign of crucial offseason progress.

“I really thought the team was prepared,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I thought the players themselves, they’ve been doing this since back in February when it was cold. They were there in the spring, they were there in the summer, they were there in the hot days of August. Along with the coaches and the players, their preparation, their determination, their focus was really good. You saw it pay off in the level of execution out there today.”

As the Wolverines embark on the seventh year of the Harbaugh era, they sit at a crossroads. If last year’s downward spiral continues, it could spell the school legend’s demise. But if Michigan continues to answer question marks the way it did Saturday, the 2021 season could be remembered as a positive turning point under Harbaugh.

If you’re under the impression the Wolverines aren’t aware of the situation, think again.

“There were a lot of naysayers going into this game who didn’t think we’d come out here and do what we did or do what we’ll do this season,” Corum said. “It was really important to make a big statement today and that’s what we did.”