For most of Saturday afternoon in Michigan Stadium, the biggest presence was not B.J. Askew or his three touchdowns and 178 all-purpose yards.
It wasn”t Michigan”s defensive front seven, which recorded seven sacks and kept Western Michigan quarterback Jeff Welsh under pressure throughout the game.
And it certainly wasn”t the Michigan secondary, which allowed Welsh 374 passing yards.
For most of the afternoon, the biggest presence was the United States of America.
Patriotism was everywhere, from the flags the players wore on their uniforms, to the halftime ceremony and to the chants of “U-S-A” by fans waving red and blue pom-poms.
“For me personally, I just really wanted to take advantage of every opportunity I had to just play,” Askew said. “A lot of people are down and I just wanted to let people know that were watching that life goes on after death. We are going to keep on going and not going to stop.”
Fans were assaulted with scores of ways to support the victims and rescue workers as college football resumed for the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11.
The Michigan athletic department wrapped a commemorative tribute around the game program, upping the price to $10. The extra $5 went to a relief fund, and the department raised $30,000 when all 6,000 programs sold out.
Also, Michigan athletes circled the outer perimeter of the stadium with buckets collecting money.
Inside the stadium, fans saw the Big Ten flags that normally circle the stadium replaced by American flags, each of which was flying at half mast.
And the pregame ceremony saw the Western Michigan and Michigan bands join together for the National Anthem, with both teams on the field. At halftime, the two bands played “America the Beautiful.”
“It”s special to be an American,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I know I”m proud to be an American. I think everybody has different emotions, but it was unlike any moment in my life.
Department of Public Safety director Bill Bess said he was impressed by the fans reaction to the added security.
“Everything went very, very smoothly,” he said. “I”m frankly very proud of the fans. They were very patient, they were very helpful. Everyone understood why we were doing it and people were actually thanking us for the service.”
On and off: Heading into the Big Ten season, with Illinois coming to Ann Arbor next weekend, the Wolverines are being led on the field by the strong play of their defensive front seven.
Saturday, Michigan recorded seven sacks on Welsh, pinning him back 49 yards. The unit also recorded three more tackles for losses totaling 17 more yards.
“They had a really good defensive line, very strong,” said Western Michigan offensive tackle Matt Stover. “They had a really good blitz scheme. They keep coming after you and you have to give them all the credit in the world. They”re very tenacious, and they”re very focused as a team.”
Because of the Federal Aviation Administration”s ruling of Michigan Stadium as a no-fly zone, the sky was void of planes, a point that Welsh must have noticed as he spent a good portion of the game on his back with nothing to look at but the sky. The unit hurried Welsh on nearly every play, often dropping him after the pass got off.
“I give a lot credit to (Welsh.) He”s tough,” Michigan linebacker Larry Foote said. “We gave him some good shots, but he just kept getting up.”
“I feel fine,” Welsh said. “I took quite a few hits but that”s going to happen in the course of the game.”
The Wolverines can build off the strength of the front seven, as long as they eliminate the offsides calls that could plague the team against stronger opposition.
Michigan was called for offsides four times, not counting the multiple other occasions when a linemen jumped but got back before the snap.
All in the air: Of the 387 yards that the Broncos earned on Saturday, 374 of them came on pass plays.
Welsh attempted 58 passes, compared with the 25 times that he handed the ball off.
The Broncos ran predominantly short routes with their spread offense, and were often able to make the catches wide-open, with Michigan”s defensive backs behind them.
“The stuff we were doing didn”t have a whole lot to do with their secondary,” Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell said. “One of the best things we had early in the game was the umpire because that”s how short our routes were. It wasn”t that kind of a game where it was a test of the secondary.”