Any questions regarding whether Michigan would be able to put their recent off-the-field issues behind them and answer the bell against what seamed to be a testy Western Michigan team were all answered in the first 30 minutes of Saturday's game in Ann Arbor.
Those issues, however, aren't what Coach Rich Rodriguez thought motivated his team. He said the motivation came from what his team had been hearing for the last nine months, and the pressure they've been under after a disastrous season.
The Wolverines' defense came out flying high and silenced the critics early by forcing Bronco quarterback Tim Hiller into a three-and-out on their first possession. It would set the tone for the rest of the half en route to a 31-0 lead and their first opening-day win since beating Vanderbilt in 2006.
Tate Forcier took the field for the first time as a college starter and more then impressed the 109,000-plus fans in attendance, leading Michigan to a seven-play, 52 yard touchdown drive capped by a 28-yard pass from Forcier to Junior Hemingway. The successful—and impressive—drive seemingly gave Tate the keys to run the offense, as he came out and started all but one drive the rest of the half.
Denard Robinson, another standout freshman with excellent speed, showed off his talent on one of Michigan's next possessions. Robinson lined up at quarterback and bobbled the snap, reversed his field, made a few guys miss, and then out-ran the remaining Western Michigan defenders on his way to a 43-yard touchdown run on just the second touch of his college career.
Forcier got Michigan on the board against in the second quarter. Tight end Kevin Koger broke wide open in the end zone after Forcier booted out to his left, and Forcier found him for a 21-0 Michigan lead. Later on in the second, Forcier pretty much capped off his debut with a beautiful 44-yard touchdown pass that fell right into the arms of a striding Junior Hemingway down the sideline. The score stood 31-0, and the miserable memories of last season were finally fading and sailing out of Michigan Stadium.
The defense played a big role in Saturday's win, continually shutting down Western Michigan's stellar quarterback Tim Hiller and stuffing running back Brandon West before he could get going. The set the tone early, holding the Broncos to under 30 yards of total offense for the first quarter. The defense forced six straight three-and-outs on Western's first six possessions before the Broncos finally put together a steady drive at the end of the half that ended with a 44-yard field goal sailing wide to the left.
One big key for Michigan is that they won the turnover battle. The offense kept control of the ball and scored when they got it. An offense that averaged 20 points per game last season came out flying high, scoring 31 points in the first thirty minutes. Watching the game from the naked-eye and looking at the statistics from the score sheet, Michigan's offense looked better today then it did at any point during last season, something any Michigan supporter can smile about.
The defense played lights-out, thanks to new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson's new schemes which held a high-powered Western Michigan offense to seven points.
Western's only score came early in the fourth quarter off a 73-yard pass from Hiller to wide-out Juan Nunez.
With all the positives you can draw from Saturday, there is always something you can correct. Michigan committed quite a few penalties, a handful of them being offensive holding. While that didn't affect much this week, that could be a real shot to the foot against a more talented team later in the fall, so Coach Rodriguez will probably get that settled.
One final positive for the Wolverines, they're 1-0. Amazing to believe, but this is the first time in three years that Michigan is 1-0. Next weekend, Michigan will continue their road to redemption agaisnt a fiesty and hated Notre Dame team that smacked the Wolverines in South Bend last year, 35-17.
After the game, when the Michigan players made their way over to the student section, they were greeted with an echoing "Beat The Irish" chant.
The Irish are currently ranked No. 23 in the nation, and beat Nevada 35-0 at home on Saturday afternoon. Michigan will look to shut down Jimmy Clausen and company, and pull off the upset next Saturday at The Big House.
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