Michigan first-half observations: Defense dialed in, pitching shutout against Washington

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Apparently, Michigan fans got the memo and dressed accordingly for a “maize out” at Michigan Stadium. Meanwhile, the players broke out all-blue alternative uniforms for Saturday's night game against Washington.

The game lost some luster nationally after then-No. 20 Washington was upset by Montana, an FCS team, last Saturday, but the Michigan players still looked at this as a statement game after winning convincingly in the opener last week against Western Michigan.

Michigan, despite some uneven offensive play-calling, has a 10-0 lead heading into halftime.

Michigan linebacker David Ojabo celebrates after recovering a fumble by Washington during the second quarter.

Defensive intensity

Michigan’s defense, the unknown heading into the season with first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald, has kept the Wolverines above water in this game.

Washington has 126 yards of offense but only 15 rushing yards. Michigan is led by Josh Ross’s seven tackles, and the team has five tackles for loss. Aidan Hutchinson has been credited with 1½ sacks and Brad Hawkins has a forced fumble, on a play he combined on with Hutchinson late in the half.

Offense struggling

It was a sluggish first half offensively for both teams. Michigan gained 195 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per play but couldn’t make those yards count. Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara has gone 4-for-10 passing for 30 yards.

The Wolverines’ first score, after starting from their 46-yard line, came on a career-long 52-yard field goal by Jake Moody. Michigan reached the Washington 1-yard line on its next series in the first quarter but couldn’t convert and turned the ball over on downs.

Michigan took the 10-0 lead after Michael Barrett ran 3 yards on a fake punt. Blake Corum then took off on a 67-yard touchdown run.

Replacing Bell

Michigan is playing without captain and top receiver Ronnie Bell for the first time this season. Bell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Western Michigan, has been with his team for the game. He's walking on crutches, with his right leg in a full leg brace.

The big question all week revolved around replacing Bell, not only as a receiver but as a punt returner. Caden Kolesar, described in the preseason by coach Jim Harbaugh as the team’s best special teams player, was back returning punts.

Kolesar appeared to lose the ball in the lights and didn’t play the first punt but returned the second one 20 yards, giving Michigan starting field position at its 46-yard line in the first quarter. That set up the Wolverines’ first score, Moody's 52-yard field goal. He called fair catch on the third punt return and mishandled his fourth return but managed to return it four yards.

As far as the receivers, Cornelius Johnson was the only one to catch a pass in the first half.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis