A new season is underway for the Michigan Wolverines, and it began the way it should in a drubbing of the Western Michigan Broncos, 47-14. The game was won in the trenches on both sides for the Wolverines with the team running for 334 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. On the defensive side, there was constant pressure up front with Aidan Hutchinson living up to his first-round potential against an inferior Broncos offensive line.
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara was great, taking some deep shots. He was 9-of-11 for 136 yards and two touchdowns in just two and a half quarters of play. Over half of those yards came on one play to Ronnie Bell who was the story of the game. Bell made an incredible one-handed catch that was called back, then answered back with a 76-yard touchdown, the longest of his career. However, after a punt return in the second half, Bell exited the game with a knee injury that caused him to be carted into the locker room. We will give you updates on the Michigan senior as we get them.
There were lots of questions about this Michigan offense after a tumultuous 2020 season, and they were answered relatively quickly. Jim Harbaugh opened up the season receiving the football to see just what he had in his offense. Surprising many fans, the starting offensive line consisted of Ryan Hayes, Trevor Keegan, Andrew Vastardis, Chuck Filiaga, and Andrew Steuber from left to right. Zak Zinter, who was praise all offseason, was seen with a club on his right hand and didn’t start. He did later see time in the second quarter.
A combination of Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins wreaked havoc on the Broncos' defense both on the ground and through the air. After converting a big 4th and 1 with a Haskins carry for 4 yards, Cade McNamara went back to the air on a swing route to Corum who ran it in for the first touchdown of the Michigan season. The Wolverines took an early lead, 7-0.
On the defensive side of the ball, David Ojabo started alongside captain Aidan Hutchinson. Chris Hinton, Mazi Smith, and surprisingly, redshirt freshman Kris Jenkins rounded out the defensive line. The cornerback battle was resolved with Vincent Gray earning the No. 2 role over D.J. Turner. He lined up across from Gemon Green, the team's No. 1.
It wasn’t the start on defense that the Wolverines wanted in Mike Macdonald’s first drive as defensive coordinator. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Ojabo and a 28-yard reception from Broncos quarterback Kaleb Eleby to Jaylen Hall got Western Michigan in a groove. They responded quickly by punching in a two-yard run to even up the game at 7-7.
This game stayed fast-paced with Corum taking the ensuing kickoff 79-yards to just outside of the red zone. A penalty and some conservative play-calling forced the Wolverines to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Jake Moody and moved the score to 10-7 with 4:20 remaining in the first quarter.
On the Wolverines' next drive, Bell made this RIDICULOUS catch down the sideline that would have been 40+ yards. However, it was called back for a push-off from Bell. Check it out:
I don’t care that it didn’t count, Ronnie Bell with an early catch of the year candidate. pic.twitter.com/2Fxg09BTGF— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 4, 2021
The Michigan defense started to catch some steam after stuffing the Broncos on a 3rd and 2. It was the first three-and-out of the day for the Wolverines’ defense. And the offense kept that momentum rolling. The McNamara-Bell connection stayed hot as the duo met upon another deep ball in single coverage. Bell came down with it, beat the defender, and took it 76-yards to the house turning the game to 17-7, Michigan.
Cade McNamara connects with Ronnie Bell for a 76-yd touchdown pass! pic.twitter.com/2bn7EAxWbH— Aaron Johnson (@AJohnsonNBA) September 4, 2021
After another three-and-out for Western Michigan and the injury to Ronnie Bell, the shock was setting in on the Michigan sideline. Still, the team executed as Hassan Haskins broke a 22-yard run on 3rd and 1 for his first touchdown of the 2021 campaign. The lead increased to 17 for the Wolverines, 24-7 with just over 6 minutes remaining in the half.
On the last Wolverines drive of the half, Michigan had three and a half minutes to put some more points on the board before the half. Thus came another instance where Harbaugh and Josh Gattis mishandled the play clock. All but one play on the drive was a run and the Wolverines did not take a single shot at the endzone. After a 12-play, 64-yard drive, Michigan settled for a field goal to end the first half up 27-7. In the second quarter, Michigan outgained Western Michigan 183-23 and had just six more plays.
More of the same to start the second half for Michigan as their defensive front continued to take control of the game. The ball was back in the Wolverines’ hands, and it took just two plays to put it back in the endzone. Speedy receiver A.J. Henning scored his first touchdown at Michigan on an end-around that went 74-yards for the score. A missed two-point conversion made the game 33-7.
A blocked field goal was the signal that it was time for Harbaugh to let some five-star true freshmen have some fun. Both quarterback J.J. McCarthy and running back Donovan Edwards entered the game for their first snaps as Wolverines.
Another big end-around by Roman Wilson picked up 43-yards. Two plays later, Blake Corum broke free for a 30-yard score. Corum finished the day with 212 total yards (including his 79-yard kickoff return) and two scores.
The next Michigan possession, the five-star does five-star things. McCarthy roles left, breaks a tackle, throws across the field on a rope, and finds transfer Daylen Baldwin deep down the field for a score. Michigan was now up 47-7. I mean look at this:
Eleby and the Broncos would get back on the board for the first time since the first quarter. Against the second-string defense, Western Michigan went 75-yards on 10-plays ending with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Corey Crooms. The score was set in stone at 47-14.
In the first game of the year, Michigan put on a show. They had 550 yards of offense and allowed just 317. Now all attention turns to Ronnie Bell and his health for the remainder of the season. Not only that but the injury coming a week before one of the biggest games of the year against No. 20 Washington in the Big House. That game kicks off next Saturday on ABC at 8 PM ET.