The Michigan Wolverines entered Saturday with a ton of pressure on their shoulders. After a subpar Week 1 performance that resulted in a loss to Notre Dame, Wolverine fans were unsurprisingly anxious leading up to Saturday’s home opener.
“Why is our offense performing underwhelmingly?”
“Jim Harbaugh should be on the hot seat.”
Their expectations were met as the Wolverines put on a show in front of their home fans in their home opener. Michigan showcased their talent on both sides of the ball to defeat inferior Western Michigan 49-3, improving to 1-1 on the season.
“They took a huge step this week,” said Harbaugh. “Calls getting on the right guys, not turning anybody loose in protection. Getting the quarterback a chance to step up in the pocket so he can feel some space around him, feel where everybody is. It was sound fundamental football. I’m impressed.”
Wolverines Karan Higdon Leads Stellar Rushing Attack
The impetus for today’s offensive success for Michigan came on the ground. Three of the Wolverines first four touchdowns came on the ground, including a 67-yard touchdown run by senior Karan Higdon. The focus and sharpness on executing their running routes led to a coordinated rushing attack on the ground all game long.
“A lot more attention to detail was in practice this week and we delivered today,” said running back Chris Evans.
Evans generated 10 carries and 86 yards on the ground for two touchdowns. Higdon, on his birthday, went for 13 carries, 156 yards, and one touchdown. In a first half where the Wolverines put up 301 yards, 184 of those yards came on the ground. As Evans alludes to after the game, the Wolverines weren’t messing around against the Broncos. They wanted to send a statement to the Big Ten and the entire nation that they’re still a player on the national stage.
“We had to bounce back from that loss and we had to do it,” Evans stated. “More mental focus. We’re not allowing smiles or stuff anymore. We’re strictly business unless we’re outside those lines. Notre Dame punched us in the mouth (and we were) taking things for granted.
“Everybody was excited for the season, having a good time, smiling. We had to lock down and get focused.”
Michigan’s Patterson Demonstrated Improvement
But against Western Michigan, Patterson displayed tremendous improvement. It started with a 17-yard touchdown to Sean McKeon. Then, for the first time in 364 days, a wide receiver caught a touchdown pass for Michigan. Patterson’s throw to Nico Collins was a signal that he was back and starting to show signs of his performance last year at Ole Miss. Going 12 for 17 with 125 yards and three touchdowns was special for the young quarterback, finally being embraced by the Michigan fan base as their star player.
“It really didn’t hit me until (we were on the bus) driving over here today, I remember being at tailgates with my dad,” Patterson said. “Then when I ran out of the tunnel with my teammates. Can’t describe that feeling.”
Patterson and the offense held their large lead because of a strong performance by the Michigan defense. Limiting Western Michigan to 2.8 yards per play allowed the Wolverines to continue to dominate on offense and dictate field position. For defensive end Rashan Gary, it was an opportunity to avenge a loss where they under-performed tremendously.
“Losing to Notre Dame, it hurt,” said Gary, who had six tackles and his first sack of the season. “We took it on the chin. But I liked how everybody bounced back with the mindset of ‘it’s Week 2, let’s focus on Western.”
It was an offseason of questions. After Week 1, the skepticism continued surrounding the Michigan offense. Even though it was a Group of Five Western Michigan team, the Wolverines can be optimistic about their production today as they look to win two in a row next week taking against SMU.
“The (Notre Dame loss) was a feeling everybody wanted to get rid of,” Harbaugh said. “Took nothing for granted, worked really hard all week and that’s where we want to be as a football team.
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