Even the most optimistic fan was not expecting a performance like the one that Michigan put on Saturday night in Minneapolis, absolutely hammering the No. 21 Gophers 49-24 in an emphatic start to the unique 2020 season. The Wolverines were clicking on offense early, putting up 35 points in the first half and never looking back.
What made this win so impressive is that nearly everyone chipped in. With inexperienced starters across the board, there were plenty of question marks coming into the opening game. There were definitely some mistakes and areas to clean up, but overall, it is hard not to be impressed by many of the performances against Minnesota. Here are my four candidates (two on offense, two on defense/special teams each week) for Week 1’s game ball.
Joe Milton, QB
No player came into Saturday with more hype than the new starting quarterback, but that also meant that Joe Milton had dangerously high expectations with very little prior experience. He put any doubts to bed quickly with a final line of 15-for-22 passing for 225 yards and a touchdown, plus 60 non-sack yards on the ground with another score.
Three things stick out most to me, and none are his cannon arm that can launch the ball downfield. First is his 68.2 percent completion percentage, which is absolutely phenomenal for a player who entered the year with accuracy questions. Second is his desire — and ability — to run the ball, something that Michigan sorely lacked from its quarterback last season. Finally, the most important number might be zero, which is the number of turnovers he committed in his very first game as a starter, coming against a ranked opponent on the road.
Hassan Haskins, RB
Despite scoring 49 points, no Michigan skill player really took over on offense. Ronnie Bell was the only receiver with more than two catches, and most of his work took place in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. Meanwhile, no running back had more than six carries on the night, even with the Wolverines putting up 478 yards of offense.
After Milton, I would say the player who stuck out most would be Hassan Haskins. Though Zach Charbonnet made the early waves with his 70-yard touchdown run, it was Haskins who received the next opportunities at the goal line, and he converted each of them to increase the Michigan lead from four points to 18 before halftime. He later broke off a long run of his own, taking the ball from the 4-yard line all the way to the Minnesota 30. He ended the game with 82 rushing yards and the two scores.
Michael Barrett, Viper
Perhaps channeling the iconic Khaleke Hudson performance from 2017’s win over the Gophers, Michael Barrett proved he is ready to shoulder the Viper responsibilities. He finished tied for second on the night with seven tackles, and he made two huge plays in the first quarter that really swung the game in Michigan’s favor.
The first came after a missed field goal kept the game tied 7-7. On the very next play, Barrett blitzed in from Tanner Morgan’s blindside and drilled the quarterback, popping the ball in the air and allowing Donovan Jeter to haul it in for a touchdown. Later in the quarter, the Gophers tried another short kickoff, but Barrett was ready to take advantage, fielding the ball of the ground and charging all the way down to the 8-yard line, setting up another Michigan score.
Kwity Paye, DE
It was not a perfect night for the defense, but holding Minnesota to 24 points was good enough with the offense firing on all cylinders. Michigan was going to need Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson to lead the way, and both players were disruptive along the defensive line and kept Morgan from having an easy time in the pocket.
Paye made plays when the Wolverines needed him to, leading the team with 3 TFL and a pair of sacks. He, Hutchinson, and Carlo Kemp put together a strong performance along the defensive line that helped mitigate some inexperience in the secondary. The run defense can be improved, but Michigan did a great job limiting the impact of the 2019 Second Team All-Big Ten quarterback.
Who deserves the game ball from the win over Minnesota?
This poll is closed