The Wolverines won their second road game against a top 25 opponent in the Jim Harbaugh era, and they did so in style. Michigan was in control almost the entire contest, as the Gophers never got within 10 points of the Wolverines in the final 34 minutes of the game.
The theme for Michigan’s offense was sharing the wealth. Nine different Wolverines had at least ten yards receiving or a touchdown reception, which has not happened for Michigan since September 24, 2016, when the Wolverines defeated Penn State 49-10. Out of the five ball carriers that had at least four rushing attempts, four of them recorded touchdowns, as Hassan Haskins had two, marking his first collegiate multi-touchdown game, while Zach Charbonnet, Chris Evans, and Joe Milton each had one. The last time four different players had rushing touchdowns for the Wolverines was on October 8, 2016, when Michigan defeated Rutgers 78-0. Michigan also had three guys rush for over 50 yards, as Hassan Haskins had 82 yards on six carries, Zach Charbonnet had 70 yards on four carries and Joe Milton had 52 yards on eight carries. The last time the Wolverines had three players rush for over 50 yards in a Big Ten contest was also October 8, 2016 against Rutgers. Charbonnet's 70 yard touchdown run was the longest rushing touchdown by a Wolverine running back since Karan Higdon’s 77 yard run against the Golden Gophers on November 4, 2017.
After punting on the first drive, Michigan was never forced to punt the remainder of the game. The last time the Wolverines scored over 45 points and punted less than twice in a contest was November 5, 2016, when the Wolverines crushed Maryland 59-3. Milton looked fantastic running the show, going 15-for-22 with 225 yards a passing touchdown, and no interceptions. The last time a Wolverine quarterback threw for over 200 yards without an interception in their first career start was John Navarre on September 2, 2000 against Bowling Green. Therefore, the Joe Milton era and Michigan’s offense in 2020 could not have asked for a better start, as everyone who made their way on the field seemed to contribute in a positive way.
The play of the game for the Wolverines was the Michael Barrett strip-sack that led to a Donavon Jeter scoop score to give Michigan a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter. Jeter’s score was the Wolverines first defensive touchdown since 2018 and their first fumble recovery for a touchdown since September 2, 2017. Quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim didn’t see Barett come on a cornerback blitz, giving the 227 pounder a free run at the QB. Michigan was very good at getting pressure on Morgan all night, as they came up with five sacks, two of which came from Kwity Paye, who has only one other two sack game in his Wolverine career.
Despite Rashod Bateman leading the Gophers with 9 catches for 101 yards, the Wolverines did a nice job of containing him. Bateman, who averaged 20 yards per catch last season when he was named the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year, only had two catches for over 15 yards against Michigan.
Michigan’s pass defense was solid, as Tanner Morgan, who led the conference in passing yards per game at 250.2 a season ago, only threw for 197 yards. Morgan was also lucky that he only threw one interception in the game, as the Wolverines dropped at least two other potential interceptions.
The one weakness for the Wolverines defense was in the run game, as Michigan allowed Mohamed Ibrahim to rush 26 times for 140 yards with 5.4 yards per carry and two touchdowns. The rush defense was a problem for the Wolverines at the end of last season also, as J.K. Dobbins ran for 211 yards and Najee Harris ran for 136 yards against the Wolverines defense in the final two games last season.
This contest was filled with impactful special teams plays in large part because Minnesota was missing their starting kicker, punter, and kickoff specialist. The first two Gopher punts went 31 and 18 yards, respectfully, giving the Wolverines outstanding field position. Knowing that his kicking game was weak, PJ Fleck decided to try a fake punt with three minutes left in the second half on his own 31 yard line, which failed miserably, leading to another short field for Michigan. In addition, on kickoffs, the Gophers never kicked it inside the 20 yard line, as they either tried to sky kick it or squib kick it. On one of the squib kicks, Michigan’s Michael Barrett returned it to the Gopher eight yard line. In large part due to Minnesota’s atrocious kicking game, the Wolverines started four of their seven first half drives in Gopher territory.
The Wolverines kicking game wasn’t better, though, as the one punt Michigan attempted in the game got blocked and Jake Moody went 0-for-3 on field goal attempts from 33, 38, and 48 yards away, marking the first time the Wolverines missed three field goals in a game since October 1, 2016 against Wisconsin. Jim Harbaugh said his other kicker Quinn Nordin was “working through something,” as the Wolverines thought he would be ready for tonight's game before having a setback. With Harbaugh noting he expects Nordin to be back in “competition” next week, Moody may not see a lot of kicking opportunities against the Spartans.
How do you think Michigan fared in Week 1? What are your expectations for Week 2? Let us know!