Wolverines impress in all phases
Running game, defense put on dominating show, overwhelm hapless Minnesota
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Will Campbell lined up across from Minnesota center Ryan Winn in the first half Saturday, the Michigan defensive lineman's one objective to try and reach Minnesota freshman quarterback Max Shortell.
What Campbell did to Winn echoed what the rest of his teammates did to the Golden Gophers.
He flattened and then ran right over him.
Michigan started playing Minnesota at noon. A half hour later, it was an annihilation. Almost everything Michigan did Saturday went close to perfect. Everything Minnesota did, well, failed.
It was Michigan's first shutout since the Wolverines blanked a Notre Dame team that ended up going 3-9 in 2007. It was the largest margin of victory in the 92-year history of the Little Brown Jug, which Michigan held on to for the fourth consecutive game. It tied for seventh-largest margin of victory ever -- ever -- for the Wolverines, along with Michigan's domination of Indiana in 2000.
The 580 yards of offense were 109 yards more than Michigan had gained in any other game this year. The 177 yards allowed to Minnesota were 102 less than Western Michigan had in the season opener -- and they played only three quarters.
Minnesota might have taken that outcome Saturday.
"We played probably our best game to this point," Hoke said. "But the schedule we're going away, going on the road."
Yes, the Wolverines will face a more difficult game in their road debut next Saturday at Northwestern.
But that Hoke could admit his team played its best game of the season is saying something. He endlessly is looking for things to critique to improve his team, but Saturday, even he really could pick only at nits. For instance, Minnesota bounced outside on runs twice, and that bothered him.
And Michigan (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) didn't have a player out there which it wanted on the punt team once. There was a penalty taken because of a mistake Hoke made.
Other than that, Michigan was as methodical as Minnesota was bumbling.
"We always believe that we do have the ability to do that," Michigan defensive lineman Craig Roh said. "We just have to play our techniques right, and the more we listen to our coaches, the more we can dominate like that."
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint gained 108 yards on 11 carries -- more yards gained than all of Minnesota's running backs combined. Eight Michigan receivers -- and none of them junior Roy Roundtree -- caught passes. Heck, Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons made three field goals against the Gophers after making two in his entire career leading up to Saturday.
It was so bad for the Golden Gophers (1-4, 0-1) that even things Michigan couldn't affect, like catching kickoffs, became an issue. One Minnesota player had a kickoff go right through his hands. Another bobbled one.
Michigan has improved each week, no matter the opponent -- and the Gophers might be the worst team the Wolverines have played.
Quarterback Denard Robinson's accuracy had been questioned entering the Big Ten. On Saturday, he completed 15 of 19 passes for 169 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
A slow-starting offense during the season's first three weeks has now scored 14 points in the first quarters of the last two games. It also has outscored opponents 72-9 in the second quarter.
Its defense has learned how to pressure opponents from the front four -- the defensive line had two of the Wolverines' three sacks and numerous pressures of Shortell -- which was an early season complaint. It also has allowed just 10 points -- and one touchdown -- in the past three games.
"It gives us confidence, obviously," Roh said. "We know how we can play. So going further into Big Ten play, we can just gain more confidence. But we're still miles away from where we need to be."
That has been a familiar refrain from Michigan's coaches and players during its 5-0 start. If it is true, though, that might be a scary proposition for the rest of the Big Ten.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.
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