Michigan: Five things we learned vs. Western Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan running back Karan Higdon rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's win over Western Michigan.

Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 49-3 win over Western Michigan on Saturday.

Patterson is accurate

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson has played two games and proven in both to be accurate — and not just on the average throw. On a play designed for Nico Collins, he checked out of that option and threw across the field to Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 5-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. “Shea played really well again, made some big-time plays, a couple throws out of the pocket, on the run were dead on,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He was really accurate again, playing cool, making the tight-window throws, second week in a row.” Harbaugh felt Patterson was more in control of the offense in Week 2. Through two games, Patterson is 32 of 47 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He has completed 68.09 percent of his passes, ranking him 31st nationally of 121 quarterbacks. Not only did he produce Michigan’s first touchdown throw to a receiver since the Cincinnati game on Sept. 9, 2017, he has seen the field well and spread the ball around.

Never underestimate the punter

Punting is often overlooked, but boy can it be a field-position weapon. Will Hart leads the Big Ten, averaging 50.2 yards a punt. He’s had six for 301 yards, including a long of 61. Against Western Michigan, Hart had three punts for 170 yards, including one inside the 20-yard line late in the first half that forced the Broncos to start from their own 13. In the season opener at Notre Dame, he pinned the Irish on their 4-yard line on their second drive, and they started at the 20 and 28 his other two punts. Aside from mishandling a snap on a field-goal attempt at Notre Dame, Hart has shined at punter.

Establishing the 'D'

Michigan’s defensive players beat themselves up last week detailing their self-inflicted issues at Notre Dame in the first half and then decided to take out their frustration on Western Michigan. The defense held the Broncos to 208 yards, including 85 passing. But the bigger stats — Western was 4 of 17 on third down and 2 of 5 on fourth down. “Going into Week 2 we just had to focus on not hurting ourselves, just getting back to playing Michigan defense,” defensive end Rashan Gary said. “We want to be the best defense in the nation, (so) you’ve got to separate yourself from the rest. On fourth down, third down, that’s what we do. There’s nothing that really goes into, we just know what we need to do. We’ve got to stand strong and do what we need to do.” For the second straight week, Michigan had an interception, this time by Noah Furbush.

Looking comfortable

Redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan McCaffrey was the next quarterback in during the opener at Notre Dame when Shea Patterson left the game with leg cramps. It was later revealed by Harbaugh that Brandon Peters, the Wolverines’ starter late last season, had a lower leg injury. McCaffrey was the second quarterback in against WMU and Peters came in the final series. McCaffrey looked poised — again — and his one pass was an 18-yard touchdown throw to Jacob McCurry with 8:51 left in the game. It was McCaffrey's first career touchdown pass and the last score of the game for the Wolverines. “Dylan, he’s got a real coolness about him when he’s out there playing,” Harbaugh said. “See it on the sideline when I’m calling plays and then watching him execute, it’s good.”

Sticking with the line

Harbaugh said last Monday after the Notre Dame game he intended to stick with the same starting five on the offensive line, and he did so against Western Michigan. Mindful that the Broncos gave up 55 points to Syracuse the week before, no one is ready to declare Michigan’s offensive line a finished product. Jon Runyan started again at left tackle, Ben Bredeson at left guard, Cesar Ruiz at center, Mike Onwenu at right guard and Juwann Bushell-Beatty at right tackle, and helped the Wolverines gain 308 rushing yards. The line also kept Patterson relatively untouched throughout the game. Running backs Karan Higdon (156 yards, one touchdown) and Chris Evans (86 yards, two touchdowns) said the holes the line opened were enormous. “I thought they played good last week,” Harbaugh said. “I thought it was an improvement. They took another step this week, as well. Just calls, getting on the right guys, not turning anybody loose in protection. Getting the quarterback a chance to step up in the pocket and feel some space around him where everything isn’t just collapsing. Blocked really well in the run game. Hat on hat. Just good, sound fundamental football. I was impressed. It was good to see a lot of guys get in the game.” The backups came in late in the game and gave a look at the second line: Jalen Mayfield was at left tackle, Chuck Filiaga at left guard, Stephen Spanellis at center, Joel Honigford at right guard and James Hudson at right tackle.