As the Michigan football machine has rolled the past few weeks, there was always a caveat.
What about against a team that’s not tired from traveling cross country? What about one without a high school coach? Or one about to get fired?
This past week leading up to Northwestern, it was: What about against an elite defense and a team ranked in the top 15?
These may be mere footnotes by the end of the season, as the No. 18 Wolverines made a definitive statement Saturday, whipping No. 13 Northwestern, 38-0, at Michigan Stadium before and announced attendance of 110,452.
The game launched Michigan’s stellar defense into historic territory. With its third straight shutout, it’s the first time for the program since 1980 — and it’s the first FBS school since Kansas State in 1995 to accomplish the feat, according to STATS.
Despite the defensive marks, it was as balanced an effort as any team could produce, with touchdowns on offense (three), defense (one) and special teams (one).
And the Wolverines (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) were not surprised.
Michigan QB Jake Rudock falls into he end zone on a short run for a touchdown late in the first quarter of the 38-0 win over Northwestern Saturday in Ann Arbor.
“Honestly, it’s expected,” said cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who pitched in with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown. “That excellence is expected from all of our coaches. From coach (John) Baxter on special teams, from coach (D.J.) Durkin on defensive side of the ball, and the offense, their job is to score points. But it’s expected. We have to be great. That’s the standard around here.”
For the past seven years, greatness seemed to be more dream than reality. But demolishing the No. 13 team in the country sets a new standard moving forward.
As with the win over BYU two weeks earlier, the Wolverines took control in the first half and put it on cruise control on offense in the second.
It took only 13 seconds for the first score, as Jehu Chesson took the opening kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown. From there, the Wolverines were able to do almost whatever they wanted.
They toyed with the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense on each of their first two offensive drives, both lasting less than 4 minutes, breaking loose with a long pass and ending in a touchdown. Less than 13 minutes into the game, it was basically over, with Michigan holding a 21-0 lead.
The Wolverines’ third touchdown of the first quarter matched the total Northwestern had allowed all season through its first five games. It showed the Wolverines could move the ball as they needed to, using three tailbacks, two tight ends and a receiver, and showing some creativity along the way.
For only the second time all season, Michigan did not commit a turnover. The Wolverines also made a statement with a fourth-quarter touchdown, taking more than 7 minutes off the clock before a Derrick Green rushing touchdown.
Saturday’s early special teams and offensive fireworks provided a cushion, but overshadowed the continuously dominant defense, which has allowed seven points in the past 19 quarters. And Lewis’ interception return pushed the halftime lead to 28-0.
Michigan’s defense produced some uncommon numbers: holding a team averaging 248.8 rushing yards to 38, and holding a team averaging 391 total yards to 168.
Or how about this? Over the past three games, the Wolverines have scored 97 unanswered points.
Next week against No. 4 Michigan State will be as great a test as the Wolverines will get for the next six weeks. Unfortunately, the Wolverines will play the first half of that game without linebacker James Ross, who was ejected for targeting in Saturday’s third quarter.
So here’s this week’s caveat: What about against a potent offense, a defense with elite players and a team that has won five of six in a bitter intrastate rivalry?
Yet for every question since the season-opening loss to Utah, Michigan keeps finding an answer.