ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It took Jim Harbaugh and his staff half a season to get here, but Michigan (5-1) is a bona fide Big Ten contender again.
The Wolverines looked dominant in a 38-0 win over No. 13 Northwestern (5-1) on Saturday at the Big House. It was the team's most complete performance to date under its new leadership. Michigan scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams to open a 28-0 lead by halftime. The Wolverines finished a formality of a second half by tacking on a 47-yard field goal and a fourth-quarter score from running back Derrick Green.
Michigan receiver Jehu Chesson gave his team a lead 13 seconds into the game with a 96-yard kickoff return. The Wolverines' defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, and quarterback Jake Rudock (17-of-23, 179 yards) marched his offense 59 yards down the field for the second score of the game. The Wildcats had yet to gain a yard before they found themselves in a 14-0 hole.
That was more than enough breathing room for the Michigan defense, which notched its third consecutive shutout. The Wolverines have allowed only 14 points since their season-opening loss to No. 5 Utah and have outscored their competition 97-0 in their past three games.
Northwestern running back Justin Jackson entered this weekend's game averaging 127 yards per contest, but he was unable to find daylight in Ann Arbor. He carried 12 times for 25 yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson didn't fare much better. He was held to 106 yards through the air on 27 attempts. The only scoring play on which he played a role was a pick-six for Michigan's Jourdan Lewis late in the first half.
What the win means for Michigan: A fifth consecutive victory will surely push the Wolverines into the top 15 in this week's polls and make them the favorite to beat No. 4 Michigan State on their home turf. Whether or not they can beat the Spartans, Michigan is well ahead of schedule in Year 1 with Harbaugh.
What the loss means for Northwestern: The Wildcats are still in position to compete for a spot in the Big Ten title game, but the defense that held Stanford and Duke at bay in September looked a bit more human against the Wolverines.
The game turned when: Michigan senior Jehu Chesson took the opening kickoff 96 yards down the home sideline. This game was expected to be a single-digit slugfest between two dominant defenses. Chesson, who was never threatened by a Wildcat tackler on the play, changed the tone on the first play of the afternoon, and things rolled from there for the Wolverines.
Player of the game: Michigan's defense has been filled with strong performances this season, but none has been more consistently impressive that Jourdan Lewis' play. The junior cornerback scored his first career touchdown on a 37-yard runback after he pulled the ball away from a Wildcat receiver in the second quarter. He added another pass break-up and added three tackles Saturday. Lewis might be the best cover corner in the Big Ten so far in 2015.