ANN ARBOR, MICH. - On the first day, Michigan looked elite.
The Wolverines appeared every bit the nation’s No. 7 team, hammering Hawaii, 63-3, today at Michigan Stadium.
New starter Wilton Speight moved the team with no resistance, new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defense was as fierce as advertised and the only complaint coming from U-M fans were all the missing players.
Not that they were needed.
The combination of Speight early and freshman tailback Chris Evans was more than enough.
It was a beginning Speight won’t forget, even if everyone else will.
His first pass, about 10 yards to the right side, was intercepted and the Speight era as a starter was off to a rocky start.
But after that, basically everything was perfect.
He completed 8 of his next 9 passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first 20 minutes, finishing 10-of-13 for 145 yards.
There was Grant Perry on a fade to the left corner of the end zone, a soft touch over a few Hawaii defenders.
Next was All-American tight end Jake Butt on a rollout shot pass to the right that Butt to the corner, diving for the pylon.
And the third score came on a five-yard dart to a wide open Amara Darboh in the end zone.
A humming Michigan passing game was no surprise with so many veteran weapons in the passing game.
Last season’s All-Big Ten receiver Jehu Chesson, coming off a bowl game knee injury, had his usual burst and was tested early with an end around and a few critical defenses.
But the offensive intrigue came from the unexpected freshmen.
Though tailbacks De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac got the early carries on the ground, the spark came from freshman Chris Evans and his wiggle.
Evans brought a different dimension than the bruising backs, maybe something U-M hasn’t seen since Denard Robinson.
He scored U-M’s fifth touchdown of the half, taking a pitch to the left and diving for the left pylon, pushing the score to 35-0 with six minutes remaining in the second quarter. And then opened the second half with a 43-yard touchdown run, going to 112 yards on eight carries and the two scores just after halftime.
Not that it was necessary, but Brown’s defense came out on fire.
Playing without All-America cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was dressed but out with what Michigan radio described as a minor injury, the U-M defense was dominant.
Hawaii didn’t get a first down until its final drive of the first half, with about five minutes to play before halftime. Even showing that bit of life – tough for a team that had travel more than 14,000 miles in the previous 10 days – it wasn’t that easy.
Hawaii got to U-M’s three-yard line before halftime but a succession of mistakes, capped by a grounding penalty with two seconds left, ending the half, kept the Rainbow Warriors (0-2) scoreless.
Michigan’s defense not only got turnovers, two interceptions were returned for touchdowns, one from Delano Hill in the first half and Channing Stribling in the second. And the noted pressure was there, especially early as linebacker Mike McCray showed his speed for a pair of sacks.
Beyond Evans, Michigan got a lot of freshmen action, getting at least 12 scholarship freshmen their first action.
Ben Bredeson got time at left guard, Devin Bush at linebacker, receiver Eddie McDoom on a sweep and defensive end Rashan Gary had a ton of snaps, all in the first half. When the blowout was in effect, Michigan took the lighter to many redshirts, putting Michael Onwenu at right guard, tight ends Devin Asisi and Sean Mckeon in, running back Kingston Davis (wearing No. 13), receiver Kekoa Crawford (No. 1), defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, safety Khaleke Hudson and cornerback David Long Jr.
Gary’s might have come anyway but the bevy of injuries created a need.
Bryan Mone and Taco Charlton left the game in the first half with injuries and did not return. Maurice Hurst didn’t play at all. Linebacker Noah Furbush did not dress and his right knee was in a brace.
On offense, De’Veon Smith injured his ribs in the first half and returned briefly but then sat out the second half. That affected U-M, which was already without tailbacks Drake Johnson and Kareem Walker. Left guard Ben Braden dressed but did not play and Patrick Kugler started in his place before Bredeson entered.
Detroit Free Press