With its 38-0 rout of Northwestern, the Michigan defense has gone an incredible three weeks and three games without yielding a point.
The Wolverines’ current stretch matches the program’s best since Nov. 1-15. 1980, when it blanked Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue in succession. The No. 1 song when Michigan completed that three-game spell was Kenny Rogers’ “Lady;” the top film at the box office was Private Benjamin; and Magnum, P.I. was America’s favorite TV show.
Oh, how things have changed in the past 35 years. But for some context on just how long it’s been since the 2015 Michigan defense surrendered a score, in a rout of UNLV, consider the following.
• The Chicago Cubs had not won a Playoff game in 12 years; they’ve won two since.
• Joe Philbin was head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
• The Georgia Bulldogs were considered viable College Football Playoff contenders.
• Utah, the team to which the Michigan defense has given up the most points (24), was on the periphery of the Top 25 and plagued by questions about its offense.
• LSU had just one Heisman Trophy winner in its history, Billy Cannon. …What’s that? Cannon’s technically still the only one? Well, Leonard Fournette had yet to run away with the award. That’s how long it’s been since Michigan last gave up a score.
As good as the Michigan defense has been through the first half of Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach — and it’s been historically so — the offense most impressed me Saturday.
Northwestern entered Saturday’s showdown allowing 7 points per game, fewest in the nation. Among the Wildcats’ dominance was holding Stanford to six points, a pair of field goals, in the season opener.
The Cardinal have since been one of the most prolific offenses in the nation behind Pac-12 all-purpose yards leader Christian McCaffrey.
Stanford won a pair of Pac-12 championships in 2012 and 2013 under longtime Harbaugh colleague David Shaw. Shaw has the Cardinal looking poised for a third in 2015.
The point: Northwestern’s defensive dominance before Saturday was no aberration. And all the Wolverines did was hang three touchdowns and a field goal on the Wildcats. The other two scores came from Jehu Chasson’s tone-setting, 96-yard kickoff return to open the contest and a Jourdan Lewis pick-six.
My most pressing issue with this Michigan team heading into the season was its offense, specifically quarterback play. No one is going to confuse Jake Rudock with Trevone Boykin, but then, the Wolverines don’t need Rudock to be.
His effort Saturday was perfectly efficient: 17-of-23 for 179 yards with no turnovers. Rudock was good enough that Northwestern couldn’t sell out on the run, which Michigan exploited with a litany of ball-carriers combining for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
When Harbaugh first got Stanford rolling in 2008 and into its breakout 2009 campaign, the Cardinal’s identity mirrored that of Michigan: stout defense complemented by a power-run game. But whereas Stanford relied heavily on a single rusher, Toby Gerhart, the Wolverines’ multifaceted approach gives opposing defenses a lot to handle.
That Michigan is resembling Harbaugh’s best Stanford teams is no surprise. The speed with which it is happening is incredible. 1980 feels a lot closer than 2014 for the Wolverines.