Another Saturday, another blowout victory for Michigan, this time 59-3 over Maryland in Ann Arbor.
A big day from Michigan QB Wilton Speight led the Wolverines to their most dominant win since beating Rutgers by 78 before their bye week one month ago. On Saturday, even facing a former Michigan defensive coordinator (Maryland coach DJ Durkin) who knows the personnel and bits of the playbook couldn’t tame this now high-powered Wolverines offense.
From the first snap, the game was over. Third-ranked Michigan (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) dominated much as it has all season, but there was something different about this game. The offense looked as good as — or perhaps even better than — the nation’s No. 1 total defense that the Wolverines boast.
After watching the game for a second time, here’s what we saw.
Wilton Speight is ready for a championship
Early on in the season, a lot of fans were worried the Michigan quarterback was too much vanilla, not enough flare. The consensus seemed to be that he was good-not-great, with the majority of fans worried whether Speight could win the big game against the big team. While that still hasn’t happened yet, it’s only for lack of opportunity. Speight did show something on Saturday that we have seen signs of the past few weeks — greatness.
Look at how the game’s opening drive ended:
— Michigan Football (@ChatWolverines) November 5, 2016
Speight finished 19 of 24 for 362 yards with 2 passing touchdowns and no interceptions, and added a rushing touchdown for good measure.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game that Speight had as good of a first half from any Michigan quarterback he had have ever seen, adding that Speight only had two bad throws.
His ability to avoid the sack — three times he looked as good as sacked but escaped — was evident throughout the game. But never more so than on this scoring pass:
Wilton Speight turned this into a 33 yard touchdown pass. Dude is getting really good handling pocket pressure. pic.twitter.com/05uTTufoSZ
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) November 5, 2016
— Michigan Football (@ChatWolverines) November 5, 2016
Speight broke the Michigan record for passing yards in a half with 292 in the game’s opening 30 minutes. He took down the mark of 262 set by Denard Robinson — that’s good company at a school that’s had the likes of Tom Brady, Chad Henne, Harbaugh, etc., line up under center.
Buckle up, folks — Speight is this offense’s best weapon en route to a hopeful Big Ten title.
Running game gets big day from its leader
Michigan senior RB De’Veon Smith had been quiet since his 107-yard, 1-TD day against Penn State on Sept. 24. In the running-back-by-committee system that Michigan runs, there’s a new rushing leader each week. But Saturday was Smith’s day as he finished with season highs in yards (114), carries (19) and touchdowns (3).
Smith was looking a lot like his old self on Saturday, similar to how well he played in 2015. Known for how good he is after contact, Smith had multiple runs that lasted well beyond the first hit.
Michigan FB Khalid Hill reached double-digit touchdowns on the season with his 10th on Saturday, but no play this season has been more impressive for the Detroit native than this one that did not result in points:
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) November 6, 2016
Speight’s big day held the spotlight, but the ground game did more than its fair share with 273, thanks in large part by the 170 combined from Smith and Ty Isaac.
Jehu Chesson is back, and Jake Butt is still Jake Butt
The receiving corps this season has been led by a wide margin by Amara Darboh, especially after his monster 165-yard day against Michigan State two Saturdays ago.
Last year’s leader in receiving yards, Jehu Chesson, finally had his first triple-digit receiving day with 112, and added his second touchdown of the season. The senior receiver heated up late last season, too, when he caught all 9 of his touchdowns on Halloween or later. History might be repeating itself as Chesson finally looks 100-percent healthy heading into the regular season’s final three games.
Jake Butt continues to be Mr. Reliable for this team, as he has been for the last three seasons. Butt had one of his biggest days of the season Saturday, tallying up 5 catches for 76 yards — his best numbers since mid-September. He didn’t break through into the end zone, but he did break the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in Michigan history.
Plays like this one have become a staple of Michigan’s offensive success this season:
Jabrill Peppers is also a great decoy
Michigan has been putting its do-it-all superstar Jabrill Peppers on offense more lately, but he hadn’t had a play as good as this one all season:
November 5th, 2016: Wilton Speight to Jabrill Peppers back to Speight who throws a 40-yard bomb to Jehu Chesson. pic.twitter.com/11r3bBeoLK
— Michigan Moments (@UofMMoments) November 6, 2016
It speaks volumes to just how good Speight’s arm has become since the bye week, but the ability to use Peppers as a decoy tricked Maryland’s entire front, and should trick some others, too.
Michigan’s defense doesn’t allow teams to score
It took the Spartans one drive to score two weekends ago, but they didn’t score again until garbage time in the fourth quarter. It took Maryland 50 minutes into the game to score, and it was a field goal when the Terps were down 45 points.
Sure, Maryland did something to the Wolverines no other team had done to date on Saturday —pass the ball (to the tune 289 yards). But the Terps (5-4, 2-4) didn’t pass it vertically, or even downfield at all for that matter. Just under 40 percent of Maryland’s passing yards came from three plays, all screen/dump-off passes, and one was the final play of the first half.
But what Michigan did best, and what it’s done all season, is attack its opponent’s weakness. In the case of Saturday, that was shutting down Maryland’s rushing offense, which entered the game ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten, and forcing the Terrapins to pass — oh yes, Maryland allows the most sacks in the Big Ten. The Terps reacted well to the pressure by taking the pressure and passing effective dump-offs, but they still gave up 3 sacks (their season average). And their rushing attack tallied only 78 yards on 38 carries.
Michigan did it to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, did it to Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, and did it to Maryland on Saturday — shutting down the opponent’s best weapon.
The defense was again impressive on fourth down, as well, holding Maryland to 0 for 3 on fourth.
The best number all day, though, was Michigan’s 13 tackles for loss. Again, the Wolverines showcased that they have the best defense in the nation.
And, hey, while we’re talking defense — can we please see more playing time for sophomore safety Tyree Kinnel?
Other quick notes
- According to Big Ten Network, Michigan is the first Big Ten team in more than a decade to have three wins by 50-plus points.
- In games against teams with winning records, Michigan is outscoring its opponents 156-62.
- The defense still ranks first nationally in most major categories, including total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and third-down defense.
- The offense ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring.