UM 'D' dominant again in 3rd straight shutout

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers tackles Northwestern running back Justin Jackson in the first quarter.

Ann Arbor – Michigan's defense continues to make a statement, and the Wolverines have made it loud and clear – they want to make it difficult for anyone to run the ball and score points.

But before the defense even took the field, it was receiver Jehu Chesson on the opening kickoff who set the tone for the 18th-ranked Wolverines as they upset No. 13 and unbeaten Northwestern 38-0 before a homecoming crowd at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. Michigan scored on special teams, on defense and offense against a Northwestern defense that had allowed 35 points total through five games.

"That definitely set the tempo for the game," Michigan safety and return specialist Jabrill Peppers said. "That definitely sparked everything. To run a kickoff back on the opening kickoff, that definitely sends a statement to the other team."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald took a different approach to the quick Michigan lead.

"Pretty disappointing way to start," Fitzgerald said.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 38, Northwestern 0

Michigan's defense, which entered the game ranked second nationally, has been sending a message the last few weeks. The Wolverines have three straight shutouts for the first time since 1980. U-M also had three straight in 1971 and 1973.

Perhaps most impressive has been the Wolverines' defense against the run. The Wildcats, who entered the game leading the Big Ten in rushing, were held to 38 yards. Last week, Maryland gained only 29. Since the opening-season loss at Utah, in which the Utes gained 127 yards rushing, Michigan has allowed an average 53.6 yards in five straight victories.

"I knew we were going to have to win some one-on-ones with their man-to-man technique on the outside, and it looked like we lost, if not all of them, pretty darn close," Fitzgerald said.

"We played terribly. I don't want to discredit Michigan -- I think that would be insulting. I would never want to insult an opponent that kicks your butt the way we just got our butt kicked."

Michigan, which has scored 97 unanswered points, is 5-1, 2-0 Big Ten, while Northwestern is 5-1, 1-1.

"Just really pleased with our team," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "All three phases had great success today. Special teams, starting with the kickoff return for a touchdown, defense a tremendous shutout, offense played really, really good football."

The Wolverines will face in-state rival Michigan State, which has won six of the last seven meetings in the series, for the first time since 2012 in Michigan Stadium next Saturday. Michigan will be without linebacker James Ross III for the first half after he was ejected from the Northwestern game in the second half for targeting.

"Tremendous opponent," Harbaugh said of Michigan State. "Going to demand we're at our very best. That's going to mean a great week of preparation. Move on even more quickly than usual (after the win) because it is such a good, worthy opponent next week. We'll be looking forward to it."

Harbaugh said he has liked the way his team has prepared each week.

"The thing I'm most excited about it is they like that part of it, they like the work, the blue-collar way of doing things," he said. "We'll be at that again this week."

Harbaugh liked pretty much everything he saw from his team against Northwestern.

Chesson, acknowledged as the Wolverines' fastest player, fielded the kickoff on the left side of the field, then sprinted across and raced up the home-team sideline for a 96-yard touchdown. It was the first time Michigan has scored on a kickoff return since Darryl Stonum's 96-yard return against Notre Dame in 2009.

With just more than two minutes left in the first quarter, Michigan held a 21-0 lead after Drake Johnson scored on a 1-yard run and quarterback Jake Rudock scored on a 2-yard run. The first half included touchdowns from every phase, as Jourdan Lewis intercepted Clayton Thorson and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown with just more than three minutes left.

Michigan and Northwestern entered the game with two of the top defenses in the country, but it was Michigan's that lived up to its statistical dominance. The Wildcats entered the game No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average 7.0 points and had given up only three touchdowns in five previous games.

Harbaugh said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin called a "near-flawless game". Michigan, which held Maryland to 1-of-18 on third-down conversation and entered the game leading the country in third-down percentage defense – Northwestern was No. 2 – held the Wildcats to 2-of-13 on third down. The Wolverines, meanwhile, made half of 14 attempts.

"With a couple exceptions we really shut down their running game," Harbaugh said. "They got a few runs that got out but not many, so for all intents and purposes we were able to shut down the running game. Coverage, our guys were in their hip pocket most every route, getting hands on the ball. And the pass rush was intense. All three of those phases were at the highest level today, all working together."

Peppers had three of Michigan's five pass breakups, and Willie Henry and two of Michigan's four sacks.

Harbaugh said during the week that Rudock had his best practice of the fall on Wednesday. He was calm and collected, completing 17-of-23 for 179 yards but had no touchdowns, and, more importantly, no interceptions.

"I saw it during the week of practice, he's playing his best football, playing very confident," Harbaugh said. "Thought he would have a good game today, thought he had an outstanding game today. He's good in practice, good in games. He's playing really good football."

Nine different players, including Rudock, had carries. Seven were tailbacks, including freshman Karan Higdon, who had 16 yards on eight carries. Derrick Green added the final touchdown on a 4-yard run. He finished with 47 yards on 12 carries.

Johnson had only two carries for three yards but was limited and is "working through something," his coach said.

The Wolverines had 201 yards rushing, including 59 yards on eight carries from De'Veon Smith, who was held out of the previous game because of an ankle injury, and 380 total yards.

Michigan also spread the wealth in the passing game as seven players caught passes.

"So many factors, so many keys to the game, but the fellas came out (playing hard) right from the start and played a heck of a ball game," Harbaugh said. "Really pleased."

Smith said it's impressive watching the defense pitch shutouts.

"Three straight shutouts is really impressive," Smith said. "Hopefully we can go for four next week."

Three in a row

Michigan's has posted three consecutive shutouts. Scores from every game this season:

Sept. 3: at Utah, L 24-17

Sept. 12: Oregon State, W 35-7

Sept. 19: UNLV, W 28-7

Sept. 26: Brigham Young, W 31-0

Oct. 3: at Maryland, W 28-0

Oct. 10: Northwestern, W 38-0