The Michigan football team gave punter Brad Robbins a day off on Saturday afternoon. Robbins was in uniform and ready to punt if needed, but the moment never came.
The Wolverines’ offense spent most the game on autopilot, posting a gaudy 63 points in a 63-10 blowout win over Northern Illinois. They didn’t punt once, nor did they attempt a field goal.
It didn’t matter what the Huskies’ defense did. It didn’t even matter who was quarterbacking Michigan. Each and every one of the Wolverines’ first nine drives ended with an end zone celebration during their drubbing of Northern Illinois.
“That was a goal of ours going into the game. We wanted to rush for 200 yards, we wanted to pass for 200 yards,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Felt like the timing is there, the execution has been there in practice.”
After a one-dimensional two weeks of run-first football, the Wolverines cruised to that goal, finishing with 606 total yards — 233 passing and 373 rushing — during their offensive clinic.
Through three games, Michigan has already eclipsed their rushing total from a season ago. That’s due in large part to the success of running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, but it was true freshman Donovan Edwards who emerged in the second half of Saturday’s game with eight carries for 86 yards and the first two touchdowns of his career.
“It’s so tremendous with Blake and Hassan,” Harbaugh said. “You talk about that kind of tandem at running back. Each is so good. Add Donovan in there. Donovan, he’s quite the back himself. He does a great job with ball security, it’s important to him. Some people are just better at that than other people, and he’s really good at that.”
Junior quarterback Cade McNamara also showed promise, completing eight of 11 pass attempts for 191 yards and a touchdown in the first half. During Michigan’s early field access prior to the game, he approached junior receiver Cornelius Johnson about trying a double move. The two of them noticed during the week that Northern Illinois plays particularly low in coverage, leaving the Huskies vulnerable over the top.
The right moment came with just two minutes remaining in the first half, when the Wolverines began a drive backed up at their own 13-yard-line. McNamara and Johnson broke out the double move, and McNamara found his wideout streaking behind the defense for an 87-yard touchdown. The ball traveled nearly 50 yards through the air, and by the time Johnson crossed the goal line, it was the third-longest touchdown reception in program history.
“I think (with) constant repetition, we put extra emphasis on it,” McNamara said. “We were pretty dialed in as far as deep balls and I think just because us running it more, maybe, in practice led to more success.”
Added Harbaugh: “The deep ball, they had some really good days in practice this week. Might have been one of our best weeks of practice, this past week. To see that translate to the game, you know, take that from the practice field to the game, I was just really happy.”
For the third consecutive week, the Wolverines didn’t commit a turnover — a telling improvement coming off a season in which they averaged a giveaway per game. Michigan spent the offseason claiming it had taken a major step forward offensively, but those fell on deaf ears after an underwhelming 2020 campaign. The first three games of the 2021 season suggest that may not have been lip service.
From an offensive perspective, Saturday served as the best example yet. In a game that saw Michigan’s offense post massive numbers, McNamara watched the second half from the bench as the Wolverines’ backup quarterbacks rotated in. And he did so with a smile on his face.
“As long as we keep winning,” McNamara said, “I don’t care.”