Michigan pleased but not content after season-opening rout of Western Michigan
Ann Arbor — It was a game of debuts for Michigan, a first look at the new defensive scheme and full-time starting quarterback Cade McNamara. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, while satisfied with how things unfolded, is hardly content.
For the Wolverines, in many ways it was the first step toward expunging the abysmal season that was last year. They did so in a big way, upending Western Michigan, 47-14, on Saturday at Michigan Stadium in the season opener. Michigan was 2-4 last season and winless for the first time in program history at home.
McNamara was steady in a turnover-less showing, going 9 of 11 for 136 yards and two touchdowns before being relieved by freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy late in the third quarter. Since late last season, when McNamara took over as starter for one game (Michigan’s last before it canceled the final three games because of a COVID outbreak), he has thrown 82 passes without an interception.
In Mike Macdonald's first game as defensive coordinator, the Wolverines looked less predictable. Western Michigan had 310 yards and quarterback Kaleb Eleby, one of the most efficient passers last season, was 20-of-37 for 191 yards and one score. Two-time captain Aidan Hutchinson, an outside linebacker in Michigan's new defense, had a strip sack and safety Dax Hill led the team with six tackles and had one of the team's six pass breakups.
The players were undoubtedly pleased with the victory but downplayed their enthusiasm.
"We haven’t done a damn thing," Hutchinson said. "We’re all moved on and we’re ready for Washington (next Saturday). We’re ready for the upcoming games. We’re not content with this at all."
Michigan accumulated 550 yards of total offense against the Broncos, but suffered a significant loss late in the first half when captain and top returning receiver Ronnie Bell suffered a right leg injury after a 31-yard punt return with just less than eight minutes left in the first half. Bell had 107 all-purpose yards, including a 76-yard touchdown reception.
He was to undergo an MRI late Saturday night to determine the extent of the injury.
"No matter what, he’ll be back," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of Bell. "He’s got too much drive not to be."
The players had said last week they intended to be a physical offense that emphasized the run. The Wolverines finished with 335 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
"We made a huge emphasis on playing physical during the entire offseason," McNamara said, crediting the offensive line. "I think they did that really well."
Speedy running back Blake Corum had 212 all-purpose yards, including a 14-yard touchdown reception from McNamara for the first score of the game and a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He's the first Michigan player with a rushing and receiving score since Khalid Hill against Ohio State in 2016. Corum led the team with 111 yards rushing on 14 carries. Hassan Haskins was second among the backs with 70 yards on 13 carries and had a touchdown.
"I wouldn’t characterize it as a complete game," Harbaugh said. "I’d be in love with it. We’re not going to quite do that. I really thought the team was prepared. When you’re a physical football team, you play physically, a lot of good things to build on."
McCarthy added to Michigan’s scoring when he showed off his athleticism by scrambling to his right on a third-and-long, then threw across the field to receiver Daylen Baldwin for a 69-yard touchdown with just less than eight minutes left. McCarthy was 4 of 6 for 80 yards and one score before Dan Villari took over at quarterback.
Michigan accumulated 550 yards of total offense. The players had said last week they intended to be a physical offense that emphasized the run. The Wolverines finished with 334 rushing yards.
Speedy running back Blake Corum had 212 all-purpose yards, including a 14-yard touchdown reception from McNamara for the first score of the game and a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He's the first Michigan player with a rushing and receiving score since Khalid Hill against Ohio State in 2016.
The defense, under first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald, held the Broncos scoreless after allowing a first-quarter touchdown until giving up a score with 3:30 left in the game against the Wolverines’ backups.
Hutchinson had the Wolverines’ first sack of the season in the third quarter and soon after blocked a Western Michigan field-goal attempt. Safety Dax Hill, who new defensive pass-game coordinator Steve Clinkscale said would be a “jack of all trades” this season, displayed his versatility with six tackles and one pass breakup.
"We haven't done anything yet," said cornerback Vincent Gray, who had two pass breakups. "We can improve a lot. We made a lot of mistakes that probably will go unnoticed, but there are a lot of things we can clean up and get better at. We just need to keep stacking off of this."