Here are three thoughts on the thrashing that took place in the Big House.
1. We’re not sure who will score on Michigan…or when
Michigan pitched its third consecutive shutout, the first time it has accomplished that feat since 1980. The Wolverines have allowed two touchdowns on their last 68 defensive possessions. They haven’t even allowed a point in their last 189 minutes and have now allowed a grand total of 14 points in their last five games.
The defensive line hounded Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson all afternoon, sacking him three times (and backup QB Matt Alviti once), and limiting him to 106 yards passing. The defensive pressure also limited the Wildcats to a putrid 37 yards rushing, including a mere 25 from touted running back Justin Jackson. Jackson had rushed for 120 yards or more in four of five games entering Saturday.
After Michigan took a 7–0 lead on Jehu Chesson’s 96-yard kickoff return to open the game, the defense stifled any chance Northwestern had of maintaining its undefeated season.
Few expected Michigan to be a playoff contender in its opening season under Jim Harbaugh. If he and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin can keep up this ferocious defense play, the thought hardly seems so crazy.
2. Michigan’s power running game helped Jake Rudock
Michigan became the first team to rush for 200-plus yards against Northwestern this season even though no single player rushed for more than 59. Led by DeVeon Smith and Derrick Green, Michigan’s power running offense steamrolled Northwestern’s vaunted defense and put the game out of reach early in the second quarter. Rudock, the graduate transfer from Iowa, played arguably his best game of 2015, finishing a crisp 17 of 23 for 179 yards and using his legs for a couple of first downs.
Rudock’s inconsistency throwing the ball has hounded the Wolverines at points this season, but if Green, Smith and Ty Isaac steady the offense, the pressure on Rudock will ease. Harbaugh has long subscribed to a diligent running attack as a focal point of a successful offense. Thus far, it’s been a good formula.
3. What’s next for Northwestern?
The Wildcats entered an undefeated matchup with Ohio State in 2013 after finishing with 10 wins in ’12 and opening the ’13 season with four victories. They lost a heartbreaker at home to the Buckeyes and went on to lose their next six games.
Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure as head coach at Northwestern has been marked by big rises and big slides. While his job never seems to be in jeopardy, Northwestern has to avoid another serious regression. It won’t get much easier when the Wildcats host undefeated Iowa next week.