Jim Harbaugh tries to temper the enthusiasm about his rapidly improving team. After Michigan’s latest win, though, the coach couldn’t help but heap praise.
“The fellas really came out ballin’ right from the start,” Harbaugh said.
Jehu Chesson returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and the 18th-ranked Wolverines scored on offense and defense to build a four-touchdown lead by halftime in a 38-0 victory over No. 13 Northwestern on Saturday.
“Great performance by them in all three phases,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Michigan (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) has won five straight since its opening loss at Utah under Harbaugh, building momentum going into a showdown at home next week against No. 4 Michigan State.
“We’ll move on even more quickly than usual because it is such a good and worthy opponent,” Harbaugh said. “And, we’ll be looking forward to it.”
The Wildcats (5-1, 1-1) were giving up a nation-low seven points a game and gave that up in the first 13 seconds. They allowed a season-high 21 points in the first quarter alone and struggled on offense, too.
Michigan has shut out three straight opponents for the first time since 1980.
“Yeah, it’s very meaningful,” Harbaugh said.
It also seemed to mean a lot to the maize-and-blue clad fans, many of whom stayed for the final seconds and chanted, “Defense!” and clapped three times in unison on Northwestern’s final drive.
The Wolverines scored TDs on a kickoff return, interception and offense for the first time since 1991 at Boston College, according to STATS.
With a homecoming crowd already fired up, Chesson kept them buzzing when he raced across the field and up the sideline untouched for a score that seemed to stun the Wildcats.
Jabrill Peppers said it was a “big mistake” to kick away from him and toward Chesson to open the game.
“That definitely sparked everything,” Peppers said.
Michigan ran for scores on its first two possessions on Drake Johnson’s 1-yard plunge and Jake Rudock’s 2-yard scramble to make it 21-0. Jourdan Lewis picked off a pass, snatching the ball away from the intended target, late in the second quarter and returned it 37 yards for a score.
Kenny Allen kicked a career-long 47-yard field goal to cap the Wolverines’ opening drive in the second half, giving them a 31-0 lead. Michigan padded the cushion with Derrick Green’s 4-yard TD run that ended a 12-play possession that took 7-plus minutes off the clock.
Michigan’s only setback was senior linebacker James Ross’ ejection for targeting. Ross, a key reserve, will have to sit out the first half next week against the Spartans.
Rudock passed a test against a highly touted defense, completing 17 of 23 passes for 179 yards without a turnover.
“He’s playing his best football,” Harbaugh said. “He’s playing really confident, really good.”
Michigan’s De’Veon Smith had eight carries for 59 yards, after missing a game with an injured right ankle, and likely would’ve played more if the game was close.
“We didn’t want to put too much on him,” Harbaugh said.
A.J. Williams had four receptions, doubling his previous career high, for 48 yards and six other Wolverines also caught passes.
Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson was 13 of 27 for 106 yards with an interception. Justin Jackson was held to a career-low 25 yards rushing on 12 carries for the Wildcats, who were averaging a Big Ten-best 248.8 yards on the ground and were held to 38 at Michigan.
“That was one of the statements we wanted to make,” Peppers said.
The Wildcats gave two other quarterbacks a chance to play, and none of them were able to do much against Michigan’s defense.
“We just couldn’t get out of our own way, offensively,” Fitzgerald said. “We’d put something together, we’d get a penalty, we’d get a drop, we’d get a missed assignment. So that’s disappointing, obviously. It starts and ends with me.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press