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What We Learned: BYU Week

Michigan finally put it all together, and it was a thing of beauty. But can they keep winning? And will their improvement continue to the point where they can hang with their rivals, and possibly beat them?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports


Michigan is good at football. I had a joyous moment of realization that I have been waiting a long time for, around the time Michigan got their 3rd touchdown of the 1st half. Or maybe the 4th TD? I don't remember, it was tough to keep track after a while.

Michigan's game against BYU was terrific in all ways. The defense held BYU to 55 passing yards (previously averaging 311 ypg), 50 rushing yards (previously averaging 122), and of course 0 points (previously averaging 30). There were no noticeable weak links on the defense as far as I can tell. I wrote last week that better offenses could expose Michigan's linebacker play. Well, this was a "better offense", and the only thing exposed was the bald scalp of LaVell Edwards, beneath his double facepalm.

The offense was noticeably better as well. The running game improved on their bulldozing ways, with 254 downhill yards on 51 (!!!) carries. They managed the game well, with ZERO turnovers against a defense that generated 8 turnovers in their 1st 3 games. And also, Jake Rudock was good. Michigan didn't win in spite of Rudock; he marched them to victory. He has had quite a transition, going from the snoozefest of Kirk Ferentz's vanilla offense, to leading Jim Harbaugh's versatile pro-style attack. It looks now like Jake is starting to settle in, and beginning to see the Big House as his home.

Michigan had been holding back on offense previously. We watched the UNLV and Oregon State games and thought " this as good as the offense is going to get?". Well good news, it wasn't. Not at all. It turns out Michigan was running a bland set of plays.

There may have been multiple purposes to running the abbreviated version of the offense in Games 2 and 3. It's well known that Michigan has had a lot of struggles running the ball in recent years. The heavy dose of run plays allowed the offensive line to gel, and also gave Coach Drevno a lot of film to critique the linemen on. Additionally, this left BYU guessing on what was coming next. Michigan used a lot of misdirection in the first half, BYU was confused, and the result was a point-a-minute offense. Then in the second half, Michigan dialed it back again! Why make it any easier on future opponents, right?

You can probably use the "E" word for Michigan's defense. Elite. They were pretty good last year under Hoke and Mattison, but Michigan's offense did them no favors at all. The constant flow of offensive turnovers set that defense up with short fields. The drives that didn't end in turnovers were usually 3 and outs, which aren't exactly conducive to giving the defense a breather. This year, the offense has limited turnovers and maintained possession. The result is a defense that looks like they are always fresh, and wants to play another 4 quarters after the game is done.

But the defense itself is vastly improved on its own. BYU Quarterback Taylor Mangum had a rough day. When he wasn't sacked, he was pressured into throwing incomplete passes. Michigan's corners held up quite nicely against an offense that loves to go for the big play. At the conclusion of the game, BYU was still looking for their first big passing play..and their first points. The run defense was their typical selves, shutting down the usually potent BYU run game down almost completely.


Everyone else except Wisconsin gave up points yesterday. 10, 35, 14, 28, 24, 45, 12, 21, 16, 24, 25, 19, 0. The rest of the Big Ten gave up 21 points on average, and none of them played a ranked opponent, like Michigan did. Wisconsin played Hawaii, who also got shutout by OSU a couple weeks ago. That Hawaii offense apparently likes the beach and luau scene more than practicing. Michigan's next opponent, Maryland, was the 45. Like Michigan did to BYU, West Virginia did their damage on Maryland in the 1st half, scoring 38 of their 45 in the 1st 30 minutes.

A tale of two rivals. Michigan has always had 2 main rivals in football, MSU and OSU. And if you talk to fans from both of those teams, they both hate Michigan. However their method of expressing it is different. OSU fans generally say "I want Michigan to win every game until the last game of the season". And many of them actually believe this. They want more games like 1997 and 2006, where both teams enter the game in the Top 5.

OSU is secure in their program enough to want Michigan to live up to their side of the rivalry. (Even though, you know, they should probably be careful what they ask for, as Harbaugh is building quite the juggernaut)

Then there is MSU. For a fanbase that whines about getting disrespected all the time, they are very slow to give out any. They are always quick to cut down Michigan at every opportunity, make t-shirts that mimic Michigan's basketball shirts, and just generally act like a younger sibling. While OSU is objectively seeing that Michigan is for real, MSU fans are still acting like stereotypical MSU fans.

There are the "Michigan's success is a mere stepping stone for MSU to help their ranking!" types.

There are the "oblivious and blind to what is going on, so I'll just say Michigan still sucks" types.

And there are the "I just hope Harbaugh goes away, so I'll cling to a ridiculous internet rumor" type

Our friends in Spartan Nation seem to think they have an unflappable dynasty when it comes to being the state's top program. There are a few adept fans, but in large part they don't seem to think Michigan's resurgence will stick. And they love to point at the rankings because it's convenient and they make their team look good. However, the computers do have Michigan ranked ahead of MSU. Harbaugh has these guys on the rise. And even though MSU hasn't beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor since 1990 if you exclude the RichRod era, most MSU fans don't give Michigan a chance in that game. Their whole mentality reminds me of a certain phrase: "Pride goes before the fall".

Michigan could beat Maryland, but it doesn't mean Michigan is a good road team. Yes, it's been a long time since Michigan won a quality road game. Too long. But the key word is "quality". Maryland has surrendered 131 points this season (33 per game), despite not playing a ranked opponent. After losing a blowout to West Virginia at home this past weekend, Michigan is the 2nd of 7 consecutive difficult games Maryland will play. Have fun with this, fellas.

A good barometer of this game is if Michigan will cover the 11.5 point spread. Vegas is still punishing Michigan for their road woes under Hoke by setting the line this low. Their road performance is hard to predict, as the sample size is 1, and it was Harbaugh's very first game at Michigan.