Before Saturday’s game, it felt like everyone on the Wolverines had something to prove.
And immediately, they outdid themselves.
The offense was flashy, scoring 31 points in the first half with both freshman quarterbacks putting on a show – Denard Robinson with his quick feet and Tate Forcier with his sheer athleticism.
The defense was fierce, forcing Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller to consistently throw erratically and drop the ball.
The student section was packed and raucous as it rarely was last season, and the Wolverines pumped their arms in the air in between plays just to hear the crowd roar a little louder.
It felt more like a close game against the Buckeyes than a rout of a Mid-American Conference team. Amid massive question marks on the team and the damper of alleged NCAA violations, Michigan convincingly started its season Saturday with a 31-7 win against Western Michigan. The home opener victory was Michigan’s first in three years.
After Western Michigan went three-and-out to start the game and gave the Wolverines the ball at midfield, Forcier wasted no time leading Michigan to a score on its first drive. From the 28-yard line, Forcier started to run the ball before spotting redshirt sophomore wide receiver Junior Hemingway near the left sideline. The freshman quarterback lofted the ball over the Western defense to Hemingway, who easily ran into the end zone.
The Michigan defense stifled Hiller’s offense early, knocking him over several times as he was about to pass the ball and forcing him to throw the ball away. Redshirt sophomore safety Mike Williams and redshirt junior linebacker Jonas Mouton nearly intercepted Hiller’s passes early in the first half, and sophomore cornerback Boubacar Cissoko picked off a Hiller pass shortly after the two close calls to set up Michigan’s second touchdown.
With the ball on the Western Michigan 38-yard line, Robinson made his debut at quarterback and scored on his first play to put the Wolverines ahead 14-0. On an intended reverse to sophomore slot receiver Martavious Odoms, Robinson dropped the snap but had time to pick up the ball, stand still to plot his course, and sprint past the Broncos for a 43-yard touchdown run.
“God,” Forcier said, laughing, when asked about his view of Robinson’s touchdown. “I was happy, but it’s nothing, I wasn’t impressed by it, I’ve seen it happen, I’ve seen him do it so many times in practice, it’s typical for him to do that. “
Michigan’s next two touchdowns were both off of Forcier passes. Michigan went up 21-0 on a 7-yard pass to sophomore tight end Kevin Koger, who was wide open in the end zone.
Forcier and Hemingway continued to connect near the end of the first half. On a 3rd-and-8 at the Michigan 39-yard line, Forcier gave the ball to Hemingway for a 14-yard pickup. A couple plays later, Forcier launched a 44-yard bomb to Hemingway, who sprinted easily into the the endzone. With the touchdown catch, Hemingway became the first Michigan player in the Rich Rodriguez era to catch multiple touchdown passes in one game.
Western Michigan’s first real scoring threat came with less than a minute left in the first half, when it drove the ball to the Michigan 17-yard line on a 3rd-and-10, but the Broncos missed a 44-yard field goal with 29 seconds left in the half to ensure they would stay scoreless.
At the half, Michigan had racked up 289 total yards (144 rushing and 145 passing yards). Western Michigan had tallied -2 rushing yards, 81 total yards and was forced to punt 6 times.
The third quarter featured a flashback to last season when Sheridan made his game debut and threw an interception. Forcier appeared to take himself out of the game after fumbling with his shoe and motioning for a substitute, and Sheridan took over with the Wolverines in the red zone. After his touchdown run was negated by a Wolverines penalty, he threw a pick at the Western Michigan 3-yard line.
But Western Michigan couldn’t convert off of the opportunity. The Broncos drove the ball 80 yards and went for a fourth-down conversion at the Michigan 17-yard line, but Hiller’s pass was underthrown to give the Wolverines the ball back. Hiller finished 22-of-38 with -13 rushing yards and two interceptions.
With 10:46 left in the game, Hiller lofted a 73-yard pass to wide-open wide receiver Juan Nunez to put Western Michigan on the board. Junior safety Troy Woolfolk caught up with Nunez right before the end zone, but by then, Michigan’s hopes of a shutout were dashed.
Michigan forced two more turnovers in the fourth quarter, one an interception by Mouton and the other a fumble forced by redshirt junior linebacker Obi Ezeh.
At the end of the game, with the Wolverines poised to score again, Rodriguez put backup quarterback David Cone in for four plays. He threw two incomplete passes and Michigan turned the ball over on downs.
Check www.michigandaily.com throughout the weekend for comprehensive coverage of Saturday’s game.