Three Up/Three Down: Michigan Pummels Northern Illinois

For the third week in a row, Michigan looked dominant.
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Michigan was a 26.5-point favorite coming into the game against Northern Illinois, which is a huge number, but it wasn't even close to enough. The Wolverines ran, threw, returned and defended all over NIU to the tune of 63-10. To put it simply — everything worked.

Michigan is now 3-0 and has been one of the more impressive, consistent teams in the country. The painful memories of 2020 are long gone and U-M is rolling into Big Ten play with a ton of confidence.

Three Up

This running game, though...

Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards — it doesn't matter. This running back room can GO. All three players found the end zone multiple times and racked up big time yardage both by grinding it out and hitting big plays. There's not a better running back trio in the Big Ten and there might not be a better one in the country.

The offensive linemen continue to impress as well. New offensive line coach Sherrone Moore must sleep like a baby at night because his unit has been manhandling people. The rushing attack piled up 343 yards against Washington and bested that by 373 yards against Northern Illinois. Throw in the eight rushing touchdowns and you have one of the most dominant two-game rushing stretches in the history of Michigan football. It won't be this good all season, but it's clear that it's a strength and something the Wolverines can lean on.

Approach wise, it was all there

Even if you ignore the actual score and the win itself, which is impossible to do, you'd be extremely happy with how the game looked and felt. Everything that fans and media members wanted to see, happened against Northern Illinois. 

Michigan took several shots downfield today and looked efficient doing it. Cornelius Johnson got his hands on two deep throws that he could bring in and grabbed another that resulted in an 87-yard touchdown catch. Michigan also utilized the pop pass to AJ Henning and a seam route to Erick All for more than 20 yards. Those are the kinds of big plays that should be there regardless of opponent if they're set up right and executed correctly.

That brings me to my next point. Michigan did a great job today mixing in timely passes. When you're running the ball as well as Michigan is through 2-3 games, almost all passes start to work if they're dialed up at the right times. Today, they were. Even though Michigan really only hit on one really long pass, they were there. That's encouraging moving forward. Cade McNamara finished 8-of-11 for 191 yards and a touchdown in just a half of football. He still didn't throw it a lot, but because everything worked so well and the calls were made at the right time, it felt very different.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan's defense was extremely stout. They gave up just three points when it was good on good and completely stifled Northern Illinois after its first and only successful drive. When Michigan's defensive starters were still in, and NIU was still in its normal game plan, the Wolverines held the Huskies to just 1-for-13 on third-down attempts. That is simply getting it done for defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. 

Finally, I loved what I saw out of Jim Harbaugh when it came to clock management and how that displayed a killer mentality. Right before the half, while up 35-3, Harbaugh called a timeout with 22 seconds left in order to force a Husky punt. He then sent the house and tried to make a big play on special teams. That's not something we always see out of him or Michigan but it was great to see today. It didn't work out, but that's not the point. It was the mentality, approach and call. 

Special Teams improvements

Leading up to the game against Northern Illinois, Jim Harbaugh had been talking about AJ Henning getting close to being ready to return punts. I'd say he's ready.

Henning had five punt returns for 76 yards including a long of more than 30 yards. He was close to breaking a couple and he also looked very comfortable catching the ball and made a couple of good decisions on balls that didn't set him up for a perfect return. With Ronnie Bell out, Harbaugh needed someone to step up there and Henning did just that. Perhaps just as important per Harbaugh, is that Henning returning allows Caden Kolesar to return to his natural position on the punt return team, which consists of him attempting blocks and holding up gunners and coverage guys. All around, the moves worked in a big way.

Three Down

I got nothing. 

This isn't a cop out. This isn't trying to mail it in on a beautiful Saturday after a noon game against an inferior opponent. This isn't trying to get back in the good graces of some Twitter slaps who don't like what I usually have to say (haha). This is simply calling it like I see it. Michigan was as dominant today as I've ever seen them against an inferior opponent. The spread was a whopping 26.5 points and it wasn't close to enough. The Wolverines dominated in every facet and looked explosive, efficient and talented all day long. I know Northern Illinois is in the MAC and isn't very good there, but it's damn hard to get up by more than 60 points on anyone. Michigan did that and did it easily today.