For the second time in the Jim Harbaugh era, the Michigan Wolverines are off to a 7-0 start after their 33-7 victory over Northwestern on Saturday at the Big House.
The Wolverines have had some close calls this season, but they have been able to make the necessary plays to come out on top. Their defense has been mauling opponents, allowing just 15.5 points per game entering Saturday's matchup with the Wildcats.
Northwestern has been trying to find week-to-week consistency all season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald's team has now alternated wins and losses through the first seven games.
Michigan did get off to a slow start, holding a 10-7 lead at halftime. The third quarter is when the Wolverines were able to pull away. They scored 17 points thanks to rushing touchdowns by Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins.
The rushing attack carried Michigan's offense in the win. It had 294 yards on 54 carries. Corum and Haskins both had two rushing touchdowns.
The Wolverines defense continued their stellar play. They only allowed 233 yards and 10 first downs.
Notable Game Stats
- Cade McNamara (MICH): 20-of-27, 129 yards
- Blake Corum (MICH): 19 carries, 119 yards, 2 TD
- Hassan Haskins (MICH): 23 carries, 110 yards, 2 TD
- Ryan Hilinski (NW): 14-of-29, 114 yards, INT
- Evan Hull (NW): 6 carries, 81 yards
Corum, Haskins Carry Wolverines to Victory
Saturday was a perfect encapsulation of what has made Michigan so successful to start the 2021 season.
The defense stormed out of the gate on fire. Northwestern's first three drives combined to take 16 plays and gained 38 yards. Ryan Hilinski did get 29 yards on his first throw, but his next 10 passes went for a grand total of 16 yards.
There was a brief moment late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter when it looked like Northwestern had found a soft belly in the defense.
Not counting two rushing plays to run out the clock for halftime, the Wildcats had back-to-back drives that gained 124 yards. Evan Hull gained 75 yards on one play with a touchdown run with 2:16 remaining before halftime.
After those two drives, though, Michigan's defense was able to tighten things back up. It didn't face a drive of more than nine plays for the rest of the game.
Harbaugh and his staff also made adjustments on the offensive end to blow the game open. Their first drive of the second half went 74 yards on seven plays, culminating with Corum's touchdown run.
Special teams also helped the Wolverines pull away. Cornelius Johnson blocked a punt midway through the third quarter to help set up Haskins' touchdown from 13 yards out three plays later.
There are still aspects of this Michigan team that show up each week and suggest this group might struggle against better competition.
The passing game was virtually non-existent against Northwestern. Cade McNamara remains a very limited passer. He only averaged 4.8 yards per attempt on Saturday, his second-lowest mark of the season (2.9 vs. Washington).
Harbaugh did get freshman J.J. McCarthy in the game during the fourth quarter when the result was well in hand.
McCarthy only threw five passes, so it's hard to make any grand proclamations about his skill set from this game.
At some point, though, the Wolverines will need to throw the ball to win a game. For now, they can celebrate being 7-0 heading into a marquee matchup against Michigan State next week.
Northwestern Still Seeking Answers at QB
Among the most significant problems facing Northwestern and head coach Pat Fitzgerald right now is what to do at quarterback.
Fitzgerald has clearly recognized that with the way he has handled the position so far this season. Ryan Hilinski, Hunter Johnson and Andrew Marty had all thrown at least 16 passes coming into Saturday.
Johnson looked impressive in the season opener against Michigan State. The senior went 30-of-43 for 283 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-21 loss. He was a mess in the next two games, however, going a combined 15-of-32 with one touchdown and four interceptions.
After Johnson threw three of those interceptions against Duke, Hilinski was elevated to No. 1 on the depth chart. He had his best game of the year last week with 267 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-7 win over Rutgers.
Things came crashing back down to earth for Hilinski against Michigan, though. The sophomore signal-caller had just 114 yards and one interception on 29 pass attempts.
FOX College Football @CFBONFOX
GIMME DAT 🙌<a href="https://twitter.com/djturner_5?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@djturner_5</a> with incredible concentration to come up with the INT for <a href="https://twitter.com/UMichFootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@UMichFootball</a> <a href="https://t.co/TUubS9SnOJ">pic.twitter.com/TUubS9SnOJ</a>
The issues at quarterback have derailed the rest of the offense, which has a lot of promising talent that is playing well. Hull has 643 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 101 carries this season after Saturday's loss.
Malik Washington, who caught six passes against Michigan, has three consecutive games with one catch of at least 29 yards.
Fitzgerald apparently saw enough out of Hilinski late in the game that he turned to Carl Richardson for the team's final two possessions. It's hard to evaluate a player on three pass attempts in a blowout, but everything should be on the table moving forward.
Northwestern still has five games left to turn things around. Next week's matchup against a good Minnesota team will likely go a long way toward showing whether or not the Wildcats can salvage a bowl appearance this season.
Northwestern will return home to host Minnesota next Saturday. Michigan will travel to East Lansing to take on No. 9 Michigan State on Oct. 30.