A week after a disappointing 24-17 loss at Notre Dame, Michigan rolled Western Michigan 49-3 in their home opener. The Wolverines may not have looked like a national championship team in the win, but their performance can put the fans at ease a little bit, and give hope that this team can improve.
The offense did what a team with Michigan’s talent should to a MAC defense that surrendered 55 points to Syracuse the week before. They put up 49 points, and the game was never in doubt. Quarterback Shea Patterson was not called upon to do much, but he made the throws he needed to make, going 12/17 for 125 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan finally threw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver, as Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones caught touchdown passes from Patterson, in addition to tight end Sean McKeon. Sophomore receiver Jake McCurry also caught a touchdown from redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey.
The running game was especially exciting for Michigan. Karan Higdon dominated, running for 156 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. Chris Evans added 86 yards and two touchdowns. The offense was able to come together and create some big plays Saturday.
In addition to the improvements on offense, the defense was able to play a complete game. No one player really stood out, instead it was a solid team effort that held the Broncos to 208 yards of offense. Rashan Gary got 6 tackles and a sack to lead the defensive line. Linebacker Noah Furbush added an interception as well. Running backs LeVante Bellamy and Chase Brown gave the defense headaches on a few plays, but were corralled for most of the game.
For everything that went well for Michigan, they still experienced some problems in the win. The offensive line, especially tackle Jon Runyan Jr., struggled to hold off the pass rush, as Patterson was left scrambling and leaving the pocket for most of the game. He did well on the run, hitting most of his passes, but the line will need to improve as the talent of the defenses they face increases in the Big Ten.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Michigan, but fans can walk away from this one feeling better about the season than they did after the Notre Dame game. Though this game was a rout of a MAC opponent, something that should happen, it is refreshing to see out of Harbaugh’s Michigan team. The trajectory of the program under Harbaugh seemed to change for the worse the game after Michigan’s last blowout win, a 59-3 win against Maryland. They followed that up with a loss to Iowa, and then a 10 point win that was too close for comfort over Indiana, before losing by a combined four points to Ohio State and Florida State.
In 2017, all of their wins had the same qualities as that win over Indiana the year before: they were too close for comfort, and it didn’t feel like Michigan dominated in the way they should. The win over Western Michigan felt like a return to the style of football the Wolverines played in 2016, when they were rolling inferior opponents. The largest margin of victory last season was 25 points, 21 points less than Saturday. Michigan may not be a College Football Playoff contender this season, they still have four big games to play, but fans can feel better about this performance than they have in some time.