Michigan opened their season with a 63-3 win over Hawaii and in doing so made a statement to the nation that Hawaii should stop playing Big Ten teams on the road. Or at home. Or neutral sites.
Michigan scored 49 points on offense and 14 on defense. Either would have been plenty; together it was just excessive.
While Hawaii is not the kind of opponent with which to make a meaningful statement, the Wolverines did exactly what a national title hopeful is supposed to do. They dominated in every single area, and even when they tried to call off the dogs, there was still some biting going on.
This wasn’t one of those 31-10 wins against a nobody that leaves more questions than answers. Everything that people needed to see from Michigan, they saw. Unfortunately, it came against one of the worst teams in the nation.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight got the start over redshirt junior John O’Korn and he completed 10-of-13 passes for 145 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. His interception came on the first pass of the game and was a standard Michigan bootleg to the tight end. He just threw it too late and the underneath defender was able to drop back and pick it off.
Other than that, however, he was fine. At this point he doesn’t scare a defense, but more importantly, he doesn’t scare Jim Harbaugh.
Michigan ended up playing four quarterbacks in the game. O’Korn was the second quarterback off the bench late and he completed all three of his passes for 16 total yards. Shane Morris was the third quarterback in and he completed 4-of-4 for 45 yards.
If Michigan can complete 17-of-20 passes every game this season, then I’m going to have a difficult time finding losses for them. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that, however.
Receivers Jehu Chesson (3-43) and Amara Darboh (3-42) were typical. There aren’t many — if any — better duos in the Big Ten. Michigan had 11 different players catch passes. One receiver to watch is freshman Eddie McDoom. He’s explosive and will be involved in jet sweeps all season long.
The running game was very productive, as it needed to be. The Wolverines rushed for 306 yards on 39 carries (7.8 avg). De’Veon Smith was once again the starter. He carried the ball six times for 27 yards. One of his carries went for 14 yards, while his other five netted him just 13 yards.
He left the game after failing to follow his blocks and got hit pretty hard. He left the game pointing at his ribs.
While Smith averaged 4.5 yards per carry, the other running backs on the team averaged 14.0, 5.8, 5.8, and 8.5 yards per carry, respectively. Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to spend another year harping on how limited Smith is. Turns out, I don’t think I’ll have to.
The star of the offense was true freshman running back Chris Evans. He was the explosive change-of-pace running back that I’ve been pleading with Michigan to have for about a half a decade. Evans rushed for 112 yards on just eight carries. He had touchdown runs of 18 and 43 yards.
Evans is fast and quick, but at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, he’s not just a scat back. He runs inside just fine, and when he does run inside he displays tremendous feet. I’m not sure about his vision yet. I’m not questioning it, but everybody has vision against Hawaii’s defense. I do expect him to produce pretty well for the bulk of the season because I don’t see many great defenses on Michigan’s schedule.
Ty Isaac led the team with nine carries, finishing with 52 yards. He looked strong and motivated, but I want to see him be a consistent part of the offense before I spend time writing about him again.
The offensive line performed well based on my one watch through. I didn’t watch things too closely because I already knew they’d look fine. There only would have been a reason to watch it closer if they weren’t averaging 8 yards per carry. There are some new faces there, but I suspect that by the time they run into a defensive line that has merit, they’ll have the experience they need.
Michigan was 7-for-7 on third down conversions. That number is impressive for both its perfection and how infrequently the Wolverines were actually faced with a third down situation.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Hawaii managed to rush for 81 yards on 37 carries (2.2 avg). It wasn’t even that pretty. Michigan also allowed 151 yards through the air on 12-of-23 passing. They intercepted two passes and returned them both for touchdowns. They sacked the Hawaii quarterbacks four times, with each of those coming via the newly-aggressivized linebackers.
Linebacker Mike McCray was named the B1G Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Hawaii. He finished with nine tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. He was even matched up against a receiver in the slot a time or two. He was pretty darn good. I didn’t expect him to be very good this year, but this was a very productive way to open the season.
Jabrill Peppers finished with eight tackles at his new linebacker spot, and had two tackles for loss and a sack. He also dropped back a few times here and there. He moved around quite a bit. He’s not just a walk-out linebacker like Darron Lee was for Ohio State. He played on the boundary side at times as well. He is obviously quick to the ball and he can dip his shoulder well and get beneath blockers.
Ben Gedeon started at middle linebacker and had seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. It was a great performance all around for a group of linebackers that I had questioned quite a bit throughout the offseason. This is just one game, but like the offense, they did what they were supposed to do.
Any time a secondary can return two interceptions for touchdowns, they’ve done well. Safety Delano Hill took one to the house from 27 yards out after reading the quarterback’s eyes and stepping in front of a short throw. Cornerback Channing Stribling took the other one back from 51 yards out. That one came on a bad throw that Stribling took advantage of.
That interception wasn’t Hill’s only good play. He had a solid afternoon both against the pass and in run support.
The defensive line rotated quite a bit, giving us our first look at true freshman defensive end Rashan Gary. He finished with three tackles and a pressure or two.
Defensive end Taco Charlton and defensive tackle Bryan Mone both started and both are likely out for next week due to injury per Jim Harbaugh. Charlton got his leg rolled up on. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis was held out by Harbaugh as a precaution. He is still working through something. He would have likely played had this ever been a game that Hawaii could possibly keep close.
When defensive coordinator Don Brown came to Michigan from Boston College during the offseason, Wolverine fans began to get excited about the aggression with which Brown calls his defenses. That aggression was evident on Saturday. Linebackers were blitzing. They were lining up on the line of scrimmage and squeezing between the center and guard untouched. They were stacking their blitzes. They were delaying their blitzes. But none of it was otherworldly. It’s still just football, and Hawaii simply couldn’t handle what Michigan was doing.
When Michigan Was on Special Teams
I’ll just say this…if teams are going to keep punting to Jabrill Peppers, then Peppers will have at least two touchdown returns this season. Heck, he almost had two in the game alone. He returned two punts for 28 yards, with each of them going 14 yards.
Michigan didn’t punt in the game and they didn’t attempt any field goals. They did get two kickers some reps on kickoffs, if you’re into that sort of thing.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that the Michigan offense finally has some splash and dash to their smash and bash. I really think Chris Evans can be a very important part of this offense because they don’t have anybody else who can do what he can do. I’m not saying he should get 22 touches a game, though I bet that would be pretty fun to watch.
In the past few years, Michigan has had to rely on jet sweeps with their receivers to get some explosion into their running game. They’re still doing it now, but Evans gives them explosive possibilities between the tackles as well. I’ll be disappointed if this is what he does only against pushovers. I’m not expecting him to average 14 yards per carry against Sparty, but there’s no reason he can’t make defenses pee a little.
Defensively, it means that the Michigan linebackers looked very, very good, and they were my biggest question mark coming into this season. I’m tired of writing out caveats at this point because Hawaii is not a valid test for any linebacker, but these guys did what they were supposed to do, and that wasn’t always assumed to be a sure thing.
It also means that Michigan’s talented defensive line is already being put to the test. They should get defensive tackle Maurice Hurst back this week, which will help to soften the loss of Mone.
Next week is a game at home against UCF. The scoreboard may end up being a bit different, but expect the same kind of domination. The Wolverines are going to be flexing their muscles for the next two games, and we won’t really get a true picture of what this team is until they start hitting the B1G portion of their schedule.
A second 63-3 win again, however, might provide a little bit more clarity.