First-half observations: Wolverines run roughshod over Huskies, 35-3

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Quarterback Rocky Lombardi is back at Michigan Stadium for a second-straight season, this time representing Northern Illinois after transferring from Michigan State.

The Michigan players were more than aware of Lombardi’s abilities and what he did last season leading the Spartans to the upset of Michigan after going 17-of-32 for 323 yards and three touchdowns. The difference this year is Lombardi has a different supporting cast.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara throws a pass during warmups before the start of the game.

Michigan has handled the Northern Illinois offense and kept Lombardi in check. The Huskies have 108 total yards, while Lombardi is 5-of-9 for 18 yards. The Wolverines’ defense had three, 3-and-outs this half. Michigan leads 35-3.

Starting fast

Being efficient and scoring early was an emphasis for Michigan heading into this season after finding itself playing behind during the shortened 2020 season. Getting behind forced offensive coordinator Josh Gattis to change his play-calling last season, abandoning the run early in a catch-up position.

“We want to play as hard as we can as fast as we can as long as we can while we’re out on the field,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said during preseason camp.

So far this season, Michigan has scored on its opening possession twice in three games, including against Northern Illinois. The Wolverines got terrific field position after A.J. Henning, taking over on punt returns, went 25 yards on the return to the Michigan 48-yard line. The Wolverines scored seven plays later on a one-yard run by quarterback Cade McNamara.

Against Washington last week in a prime-time game, Michigan did not score on its opening possession, but made a field goal on its next.

Michigan scored touchdowns on all four of its possessions in the first half against Northern Illinois.

The pass game exists

There was plenty of hand-wringing among Michigan fans after last week’s 31-10 victory over Washington considering quarterback Cade McNamara was 7-of-15 for 44 yards.

But Michigan looked to establish balance in the first half against the Huskies, and McNamara, who entered the game 16-of-26 for 180 yards and two touchdowns through the first two games, is 8-of-11 for 191 yards and one touchdown in the first half. He has led Michigan to touchdowns on each possession, including the last, an 87-yard touchdown pass to Cornelius Johnson.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s run game continues to roll.  The Wolverines have 138 rushing yards and have been led again by Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. Corum has 71 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, while Haskins has 37 yards on seven carries and has two touchdown runs. Freshman Donovan Edwards had two carries for 11 yards.

Henning gets the nod

After receiver Ronnie Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener after returning a punt 31 yards, Michigan has been working to find his replacement.

Caden Kolesar, whose value as a rusher and hold-up player has been frequently noted by Harbaugh, returned punts in the Washington game, but it was clear during the past week that Michigan would make another change.

The job now belongs to receiver A.J. Henning who has returned four punts for 44 yards. His 25-yard return on his first punt return of the game gave Michigan starting position from its own 48-yard line and resulted in a touchdown.

Twitter: @achengelis