In the Harbaugh era, Michigan typically beats up on lesser opposition. In Harbaugh's first three seasons, the Wolverines beat 21 unranked foes by an average of 26.5 points per game. Even during last season's scuffling, Michigan only posted one victory all season by less than 16 points. So routing Western Michigan doesn't really tell us much, especially as a 28-point favorite. That being said, had our offense not gotten on track Saturday after the Broncos made middling ACC program Syracuse look like the New England Patriots' offense in the opener, that would've been concerning.
Thankfully, if you go back and read our preview of what needed to happen for it to be a good day for Michigan, most of those boxes were checked.
Starting with getting Chris Evans involved, rushing for over 300 yards, and breaking that embarrassing 364-day drought since throwing a TD pass to a wide receiver. In fact, Michigan completed three touchdown passes to wide receivers for the first time in one game since 2015.
Given the dominant rushing attack, with Karan Higdon having the best first half running the football since Denard Robinson against Notre Dame seven years ago, Shea Patterson wasn't asked to do much. But when he was called upon he posted a 90.5 QBR on just 17 attempts, including a touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones that's one of the better throws a guy in a winged helmet has made in quite awhile.
The defense was supposed to have the bigger challenge against a WMU offense that showed some explosiveness last week. But the Wolverines dominated them all afternoon, and Western Michigan's offensive output declined by more than 400 yards compared to the 621 it posted against the Orange. The Broncos didn't even get on the scoreboard until kicking their lone field goal with 2:34 left, on a drive that took them 13 plays to get into range against a defense of mostly Michigan's backups.
Finally, special teams came up with a big play for the second straight week. This time a blocked punt by Khaleke Hudson that set up a Michigan touchdown.
We'll know more once the film is broken down and each drop-back charted, but while the official boxscore only recorded one quarterback hurry for the Broncos, it didn't feel as if the pass blocking was demonstrably better than last week's debacle. It's just that Western Michigan's defensive front is nowhere near as imposing as Notre Dame's. There were still several free rushers, and until we break down the film we won't know if that's a product of WMU just selling out to attack Michigan's biggest weakness, or more poor communication and technique by the Wolverines. More than likely it's a little bit of both.
While special teams have produced big plays in each of the first two games, the field goal unit followed up last week's muffed snap with a Quinn Nordin miss on a very makeable attempt.
The Bottom Line
This was just the confidence-booster the Wolverines needed to flush last week's disappointment. But there are still things to clean up on offense. Like the pass protection, and Patterson's unwillingness to give up on a play when it's obvious he should. With a defense like ours, it's more important for a quarterback not to lose you the game on one play, rather than attempt to win the game on every play.
Next week's foe, SMU, has given up 88 points its first two games, but also already has 19 tackles-for-loss on defense. Translation: they're going to gamble defensively. Thus, the Wolverines will have chances for more big plays like we saw Saturday -- if they can protect up front. On the other hand, the Mustangs' offense has a grand total of 135 yards rushing for the season, which should make them easy prey for Don Brown.