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How Michigan’s 2021 opponents did in Week 4

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It was a weird weekend of college football.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal
Michigan State beat Nebraska, 23-20, on Saturday.
Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

One good half of football was enough for Michigan to beat Rutgers on Saturday and stay unbeaten. The Scarlet Knights were by far Michigan’s toughest opponent this year up to this point, as the Wolverines handed them their first loss of the season.

So how did the Wolverines’ other 2021 opponents do this past weekend? Let’s do a deep dive into the weekend that was.

Western Michigan (Sept. 4, 47-14 win)

The Broncos went on the road to upset Pitt in a shootout two weeks ago, but this past Saturday, it was their defense that starred, holding defending Mountain West champ San Jose State to 119 total yards in a 23-3 victory in Kalamazoo. SJSU completed just 35 percent of its passes and averaged two yards per carry. WMU’s offense went silent after scoring three touchdowns on its first five drives, but it had already built an insurmountable lead.

Western Michigan totally dominated what was supposed to be a matchup of two of the better mid-majors and now sits at 3-1 with two solid non-conference wins on its schedule. The Broncos open MAC play at Buffalo (2-2) this Saturday.

Washington (Sept. 11, 31-10 win)

The Huskies took down California, 31-24, in their Pac-12 opener at home and now sit at 2-2 on the season. They nearly blew this one — they led 21-7 in the first half before allowing the Golden Bears to tie the game with a long touchdown drive late. Sean McGrew scored from short distance to give Washington the lead in overtime, and Cal was on the verge of equalizing things before the Huskies forced and recovered a goal-line fumble.

Washington’s hyped offensive line hasn’t been great this year and didn’t generate much room in the running game, as the Huskies gained just 92 yards on 30 carries. But Dylan Morris (234 yards) had three of his top receivers in Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, the latter two didn’t play against Michigan.

The Huskies still haven’t been fully healthy this year, as tight end Cade Otton and defensive stars Trent McDuffie and Zion Tupuola-Fetui missed the Cal game. But now that they’re closer to their full cadre of weapons, they’re an upper-half team in the Pac-12 and better than they showed against Montana and Michigan. This week, they’re on the road to play a surprising Oregon State team that just beat USC in Los Angeles for the first time in 61 years.

Northern Illinois (Sept. 18, 63-10 win)

NIU finished out its non-conference slate with a 41-14 win over FCS Maine. The Huskies were balanced and dominant on offense, pulling away from the Black Bears behind 292 yards rushing and 292 through the air. Rocky Lombardi showed off his wheels on a 64-yard touchdown run in the second half and rolled up 119 yards to go along with his passing output, while tailback Harrison Waylee gained 130 as well.

As far as the MAC goes, Northern Illinois still appears to be a middle-of-the-pack team with a solid chance to go bowling if all goes right. It opens its conference slate at home this Saturday against Eastern Michigan (3-1).

Wisconsin (Oct. 2)

Here’s how Graham Mertz’s last three drives went Saturday at Soldier Field: pick, pick-six, pick-six. Mertz finished the game 18-of-40 with four interceptions as Notre Dame outscored Wisconsin 31-3 in the fourth quarter and came away with a 41-13 win.

Counting sacks, the Fighting Irish gained just nine (9!) yards rushing and 258 yards total. The Badgers’ defense is still one of the best in the nation — they came up with six sacks and 12 tackles for loss. But this is basically a 2017 Michigan scenario. Aside from his four interceptions, Mertz fumbled twice and lost one. He can’t effectively move the ball or hold onto it, and the offensive line, the backbone of any good Wisconsin team, just isn’t what it’s been. The Badgers gained just 75 yards on 29 carries.

Unless Michigan gets its stuff together after its second-half display against Rutgers, Saturday’s game is going to be completely unwatchable.

Nebraska (Oct. 9)

This one will sting badly for the Huskers, who outgained Michigan State 432-254, including by nearly 200 yards in the second half, and lost in overtime anyway.

Here’s where it went wrong for Nebraska: punters William Przystup and Daniel Cerni were awful, averaging just 32.4 yards on seven boots, and Jayden Reed took a 34-yard punt 62 yards to the house to tie it at 20 with 3:49 remaining. Nebraska’s penalty-prone, sieve-like offensive line couldn’t effectively protect Adrian Martinez (seven sacks allowed) or stop negative plays (11 tackles for loss).

Martinez played well, throwing for 251 yards on 24-of-34 passing while rushing for two scores, but the wealth of mistakes around him mean he’s often had to do everything himself this season.

Saturday’s performance reinforced what we learned about the Huskers after their loss at Oklahoma: this is a team that, on talent, should be further along than it actually is. We’ll see if it results in Nebraska’s first conference win this Saturday against Northwestern.

Northwestern (Oct. 23)

The Wildcats got winless Ohio at home this past weekend and dispatched the Bobcats easily, 35-6. While Ryan Hilinski threw for just 88 yards on 20 passes, running back Evan Hull carried the offense to the tune of 216 yards on 22 carries, including a 90-yard touchdown sprint. Overall, Northwestern gained 373 yards on the ground.

One wild card for the Wildcats is Andrew Marty, who was brought in at quarterback against Duke and immediately sparked a near-comeback while going 11-of-16 for 151 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 44 yards and another touchdown. But per Wildcat Report, Marty’s currently out “a while” due to a shoulder injury. In the meantime, Northwestern (2-2) doesn’t appear to be a team that can compete in the Big Ten West.

Michigan State (Oct. 30)

Thought Michigan’s second half against the Scarlet Knights was bad? At least the Wolverines gained a first down.

The Spartans went 3-and-out on all five of their second-half drives against the Huskers, gaining a paltry 14 yards in the process. But Chester Kimbrough jumped a slant and picked off Adrian Martinez on third down in overtime, Matt Coghlin nailed a chip-shot for the 23-20 win and Michigan State is 4-0.

One more non-conference test looms for MSU, as it hosts Western Kentucky (1-2) this Saturday. The Hilltoppers, who narrowly lost to Indiana this past weekend, can pile up points in a hurry.

Indiana (Nov. 6)

The Hoosiers went on the road and outlasted Western Kentucky, 33-31. Statistics-wise, it was by far Michael Penix Jr.’s best game of the season, as the quarterback threw for 373 yards. Stephen Carr was a consistent presence on the ground, rushing for 109 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. Ty Fryfogle caught 10 balls for 98 yards, while Peyton Hendershot racked up 94 more.

Indiana moved the ball all game long, and had a whopping five scoring drives of at least 10 plays. They couldn’t always convert deep in Hilltopper territory, however, and needed Charles Campbell to go 4-for-4 on field goals.

At 2-2, it’s looking increasingly like the Hoosiers maybe weren’t as good as they appeared in 2020. They’ll get a chance to prove otherwise in Happy Valley this week.

Penn State (Nov. 13)

Villanova is one of the better teams in FCS, but the Nittany Lions were simply too talented, winning 38-17. The Wildcats’ two touchdown drives came in garbage time with PSU’s second-team defense on the field.

Sean Clifford threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns to lead the way, following up a career game against Auburn. Parker Washington caught five passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns, and Jahan Dotson caught seven for 117.

If there’s an area of concern for Penn State at this juncture, it would have to be the running game. Noah Cain, PSU’s top running back, was sidelined early in this one after getting “dinged up” in practice, and with him receiving only one touch, the Nittany Lions managed just 80 yards on 34 carries. It’s not like PSU was tearing up the turf with Cain, however — this was their third game with 80 rushing yards or fewer. The Nittany Lions are almost exclusively a big-play offense: all four of Clifford’s touchdowns came from at least 50 yards out.

Maryland (Nov. 20)

This is good, right?

The Terrapins improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2016 behind a 37-16 win against overmatched Kent State. Tagovailoa threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns in the win, while a host of ball-carriers powered Maryland to 142 yards on the ground and an average of five yards per carry. Maryland’s defense wreaked havoc with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. However, the Golden Flashes did gain 458 yards (308 through the air) and plenty of them came before the game was out of hand.

They beat West Virginia in their opener, so it’s not like the Terps haven’t been tested yet. They’re a good, talented team. But don’t go crazy just yet — Iowa’s coming to College Park Friday night. Maybe we can talk afterwards.

Ohio State (Nov. 27)

The K’Vaughan Pope incident overshadowed a game in which the Buckeyes seemingly took all their frustrations out on one of the worst teams in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. They beat Akron, 59-7, spotting the Zips an early 7-0 lead before proceeding to cover the 49-point spread. Kyle McCord threw for 319 yards, replacing the injured C.J. Stroud, while TreVeyon Henderson, Master Teague and Miyan Williams combined for 211 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. Ohio State had nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss, with Haskell Garrett contributing three of each.

Ohio State travels to Piscataway this weekend.