ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan made its season opener look easy. The Wolverines, who opened the season at No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, lived up to their billing with a 63-3 win over an anemic — and possibly road-weary — Hawaii team.
The Wolverines introduced Wilton Speight as their starting quarterback, and found a surprise in Chris Evans, a true freshman at running back. After Speight’s shaky start, he found his footing and helped guide the Wolverines to a lopsided win over the Rainbow Warriors.
By halftime, the game already appeared to be in hand for Michigan (1-0), which finished with 512 yards, including 306 rushing.
Following Saturday’s lopsided affair, Michigan hosts Central Florida at noon Sept. 10 at Michigan Stadium.
Here are five things we learned about Michigan this afternoon:
1. WILTON SPEIGHT: Wilton Speight is going to be OK. Fine, even. After throwing an interception on his first play as Michigan’s starter, the redshirt sophomore simply buckled in for the ride.
On his second drive, he steered Michigan to its first touchdown. As the game continued, so did Speight, who had 123 yards passing by halftime and had connected with four different receivers. Speight went 10-for-13 passing for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
2. RUNNING BACKS: With De’Veon Smith out early because of a rib injury, Evans stepped in and didn’t miss a stride.
The true freshman from Indianapolis got a jump on the starting tailback job, running for 112 yards on eight carries, including a 43-yard touchdown run early in the second half.
3. DEFENSE: One of the nation’s top defenses in 2015 continued to show it Saturday afternoon, holding the Rainbow Warriors to 232 yards, including only 81 rushing yards.
Even with the losses of Bryan Mone and Taco Charlton (left ankle) at halftime, Michigan’s defensive line rotation continued to roll, and Mike McCray and Jabrill Peppers starred at linebacker.
The defense even got in on the scoring, as Delano Hill and Channing Stribling each had Pick-Six interception returns for touchdowns.
4. CALL OFF THE DOGS? The Wolverines took a 35-0 lead on the Rainbow Warriors with less than seven minutes left in the first half, but did Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh decide to give his starters some rest? No.
By the third quarter, the Wolverines led 42-0 and continued to push, adding one more touchdown before sitting Speight and bringing in John O’Korn with five minutes left in the third.
Michigan also played true freshmen Michael Dwumfor and Rashan Gary on defensive line in the second half.
5. JUMPMAN: With honorary captain Michael Jordan on hand to open Michigan’s season, the Wolverines sported some new threads, emblazoned with the silhouette of a leaping Jordan — hence “Jumpman.” And jump the Wolverines did, especially with a highlight-reel play early in the game of Jabrill Peppers leaping over a Hawaii defender during a punt return. The Wolverines were penalized on the play, but the crowd loved the display of Peppers’ athleticism. They also loved the Michigan’s marching band’s halftime show, which was dedicated to the NBA superstar.
Turning point: When Speight went back in for his second series. Again, instead of swapping out quarterbacks for the more experienced John O’Korn, Harbaugh kept confidence in Speight, and so did the Wolverines. Speight answered on Michigan’s second drive by steering the Wolverines 98 yards on 11 plays, and the Wolverines took a 7-0 lead on the Rainbow Warriors with less than eight minutes left in the first.
Question answered: The running backs were an uncertainty prior to the season, but Evans put some of those doubts to rest with a 100-plus yard day and two touchdowns.
Question looming: Can the Wolverines bring the same heat against Top 25 and College Football Playoff-caliber teams? Because Hawaii certainly isn’t a team like Ohio State or Michigan State.
Statistically speaking: 55 yards: Hawaii’s only score, a field goal more than half the distance of the field, by kicker Rigoberto Sanchez. By comparison: by the time Hawaii scored its first points, it only had 43 yards rushing.
What it means: Michigan now needs to sustain its performance and find consistency against Central Florida next week and against an upstart Colorado team in two weeks.
Not all of Michigan’s opponents are going to be like Hawaii, but they won’t all be like Alabama or Ohio State, either. With an eye on a spot in the College Football Playoff, resounding wins will be crucial for the Wolverines.
Rachel Lenzi covers Michigan sports for Landof10.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @RLenziAJC