Michigan Wolverines: National perception shifts after BYU win


The Michigan Wolverines hosted and defeated a ranked opponent Saturday afternoon, and they did it with style.

The Wolverines entered play on Saturday against the 22nd ranked BYU Cougars as the favorite, and they wasted no time in proving they were deserving. The Wolverines jumped out to an early lead, and the defense never took their foot off BYU’s throat on the way to a 31-0 Michigan win.

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The Wolverines hadn’t defeated a ranked opponent since beating 14th ranked Notre Dame on September 7th, 2013, but in this matchup it looked like the Wolverines were a ranked team hosting a squad from outside the top 25. In fact, in spite of the Cougars playing a true gauntlet of a schedule thus far, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said after the game Michigan is the best team they’ve faced this year.

Michigan’s offense appears to be improving game by game, and actually has playmakers for perhaps the first time since Denard Robinson was their starting quarterback. Wide receiver Amara Darboh (who earlier this week became an American citizen) made a spectacular one-handed catch in the first half to keep Michigan’s first scoring drive alive on third down in the first quarter.

Additionally, running back De’Veon Smith (who left the game in the second half with a foot injury) broke through the line somehow when it looked like he was stopped for no gain and fought off a defender all the way downfield for a 60 yard score.

"How many tackles did @umichfootball‘s De’Veon Smith break on this 60-YD TD? Brought to you by @hotelsdotcom. http://t.co/FcWHLyekH4— Michigan on BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 26, 2015"

Quarterback Jake Rudock managed the game effectively, and while he got lucky on at least one ill-advised pass that could have been a pick-six for BYU, he was not intercepted. He completed 14-of-25 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown, and ran for another two touchdowns. He looks more comfortable in the Michigan offense every game after a rough start in his debut against Utah.

The big story in this game was Michigan’s defense. The Wolverines gave up a mere 105 yards, and half of those came in the first quarter. They pursued freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum relentlessly, sacking him four times. BYU entered the game tied for last in the nation in sacks given up, and after Saturday’s game they remain firmly planted in last place nationally with 16.

Mangum was held to 12 completions on 28 attempts and just 55 yards. The Wolverines did not force a turnover, which is a peculiar weakness for this defense. Michigan is tied for 95th in the nation with just four turnovers gained, which is an issue they will need to address before they face teams like Michigan State and Ohio State.

After the leveling of BYU’s offense, Michigan’s defensive numbers are gaudy. The Wolverines have the second ranked defense in the nation in total yards given up, surrendering just 203.5 yards per game. They are 10th in rushing defense, giving up just 82 yards per game, and fifth in passive defense, giving up 121.8 yards per game. They are tied for fourth in scoring defense, giving up just 9.5 points per game. Since the start of the second half against Oregon State in week two, Michigan has given up only seven points. That’s a stretch of 10 quarters, or two and a half games.

It’s worth noting that Michigan’s only loss this season, a three-point road loss in the season opener to Utah, may have also changed perceptions of both the Utes and the Wolverines. On Saturday Utah defeated Oregon by a 62-20 margin in Eugene, Oregon, to remain undefeated. If Utah is as good as that performance indicated, Michigan’s sole loss may have been to a team much better than anybody expected at the beginning of the year.

It’s going to be interesting to see if both Michigan’s win and Utah’s win will resonate with voters. If both games do, expect Michigan to find themselves ranked in the top 25 when polls are announced this weekend.

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