Before facing the Michigan defense Saturday in the Big House, the ABC broadcast noted no BYU team was shutout since 2003. That season was a decidedly low point for the program, and the Cougars are not in such dire straits now.
They just happened to run into a buzzsaw.
Through the first month of Jim Harbaugh’s eagerly anticipated first season as head coach, the play of the Michigan defense has undeniably been the most impressive story line.
Harbaugh built his successful Stanford teams around a stingy defense, though offensive stars Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck were the individual faces of those Cardinal teams. Harbaugh does not yet have his Luck, and the jury’s out as to De’Veon Smith will be that Gerhart-type back — though 125 yards on 16 carries Saturday doesn’t hurt — but the defense is coming together at a staggering pace.
Barely allowing BYU to reach the century mark on offense Saturday is the quintessential measure of the Michigan defense through the first month, but it’s been an all-around impressive September for coordinator D.J. Durkin’s guys.
Oregon State managed just seven points in the Big House two weeks; last night, the Beavers scored 24 against Harbaugh’s former program, Stanford. Oregon State quarterback Seth Collins finished with a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and just shy of 300 yards against the Cardinal.
Against the Michigan defense, Collins managed all of 79 yards passing and 28 rushing.
In Week 1, Utah Heisman-pursuing running back Devontae Booker barely cleared 3 yards per carry in a narrow Ute victory. Saturday was hardly a one-game aberration.
With Michigan now set to begin Big Ten Conference play, it’s worth considering the Wolverine defense has enough firepower to contend in the East division.
I realize the heavy implications inherent with that statement. The Big Ten East is home to the nation’s first-and-second-ranked teams, Ohio State and Michigan State. Both have played the role of hammer in their rivalries with Michigan’s nail.
But as this Michigan defense continues to grow, the Wolverines old-schooling their way into the hunt is a real possibility. Ohio State has its questions on offense at present with a new offensive coordinator and quarterback controversy.
And as for Penn State? I fear for quarterback Christian Hackenberg facing that defense behind the Nittany Lions offensive line.
The Oct. 17 date with Michigan State will be telling. Spartan wide receiver Aaron Burbridge against Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers should be a fun game-within-the-game.
The week prior, Michigan draws the West’s surprise and another team dominating early with defense, Northwestern. Equally feisty head coaches Harbaugh and Pat Fitzgerald plan to bring back three-yards-in-a-cloud-of-dust football to the Big Ten.