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How Michigan’s 2021 opponents did in Week 1

Here is how Michigan’s 2021 opponents fared in the first week of the new season.

Penn State v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Michigan football team took care of an inferior opponent in Week 1, beating Western Michigan 47-14. How did the Wolverines’ future opponents do in their own games?

Washington (Sept. 11)

The Huskies came into the season ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll. This week .... well, not anymore.

Washington lost 13-7 to Montana on Saturday. The Huskies marched 78 yards into the end zone on their first drive of the game and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing for 55 minutes. The Grizzlies are far from a pushover — they went 10-4 and made the FCS quarterfinals in 2019 — but a loss to an FCS team is never acceptable. Especially for a team like Washington, which fancies itself a bonafide contender for the Pac-12 title.

The Huskies did play without their top three receivers against Montana. Even so, Dylan Morris threw three interceptions and averaged less than five yards per passing attempt, while they only gained 52 yards on the ground. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to begin a season.

Northern Illinois (Sept. 18)

On the other end of a Week 1 shocker was Northern Illinois, which beat Georgia Tech, 22-21, as 18.5-point underdogs. The Huskies took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter before giving up three straight Yellow Jacket touchdowns, but Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi led the game-winning drive with 2:42 to play.

Lombardi threw both the touchdown pass and the go-ahead 2-point conversion, and finished the game 11-for-17 with 136 yards. Harrison Waylee carved up Georgia Tech’s run defense to the tune of 144 yards. On defense, NIU didn’t exactly stop the Yellow Jackets, who gained 283 yards on the ground and 439 total, but they did force two fumbles.

This week the Huskies will host Wyoming, which beat FCS Montana State 19-16 in its opener.

Rutgers (Sept. 25)

So this is a thing.

Rutgers demolished Temple, 61-14, at its home opener. The Scarlet Knights were expected to win comfortably, if maybe not by 47. Judging by the yardage, it’s hard to see how it happened. They gained just 365 yards and Noah Vedral averaged 5.1 yards per attempt on 15-of-27 passing while top running back Isaih Pacheco ran for just 48 yards on 15 carries.

Instead, Rutgers dominated the Owls everywhere else. It forced five turnovers and scored three touchdowns off them, including a pick-6, and also had a safety. Five of the Scarlet Knights’ scores, and four touchdowns, came on drives of less than 30 yards. Wide receiver Aron Cruickshank also returned four kickoffs for 113 yards, including a 57-yard runback.

The Scarlet Knights travel to Syracuse this Saturday to take on the Orange, who beat Ohio 29-9 in their opener.

Wisconsin (Oct. 2)

When two good Big Ten teams get together, they rarely play aesthetically beautiful football. Such was the case in Madison on Saturday. Wisconsin and Penn State were scoreless at the half before heating up to a more lukewarm temperature after halftime, and the Nittany Lions ultimately finished off a 16-10 win when Ji’Ayer Brown picked off Graham Mertz on the final play.

Mertz wasn’t good, going 22-of-37 for 185 yards. Not only that, but he ended the drive before the Badgers’ final series — a 17-play, 67-yard, seven-minute campaign — with a pick on 4th-and-goal. That continued a trend for Wisconsin, which made four trips inside the Penn State 10 and came away with one measly touchdown.

Bright spots included Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi rushing for 121 yards, pass catchers Danny Davis (8 catches, 99 yards) and Jake Ferguson (9 catches, 52 yards), and a Badger front that held the Nittany Lions to 50 yards on 18 carries.

Wisconsin will look to get back on the right foot this weekend against Eastern Michigan.

Nebraska (Oct. 9)

At least the Huskers didn’t embarrass themselves further against FCS Fordham. In fact, after a sluggish first quarter they were downright good, scoring the last 45 points in a 52-7 blowout.

Adrian Martinez (17-23, 254 yards, 3 total touchdowns) posted a quarterback rating of 92.3, the second-highest Week 1 figure in FBS behind Cade McNamara. Markese Stepp ran for 101 yards on 18 carries, and Montana transfer Samori Toure caught eight balls for 133 yards. Nebraska gained 633 yards in total, going over 300 yards through both the air and the ground.

It’s the least you can expect from any competent program, but meeting even that low standard is an achievement for Scott Frost’s team at this point. The Huskers will look to build on it this week against Buffalo, which is coming off a 69-7 walloping of Wagner.

Northwestern (Oct. 23)

It was fair to expect a drop-off after last year’s 7-2 season, but the Wildcats’ 38-21 home loss to Michigan State on Friday came as a real shock. It’s not as if the Spartans were very good last year, after all, making the defeat just as surprising for the way it occurred.

With Mike Hankwitz coordinating the defense, Northwestern could expect a solid unit on that side of the ball most every year from 2008 to 2020. But the Spartans shredded Jim O’Neil’s defense to 326 yards on 37 carries and 511 yards total. It’s the most yards the Wildcats have allowed in a game since 2018.

On the bright side, former five-star Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson appeared much improved from a disastrous 2019, completing 30 of 43 passes for 275 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Northwestern was able to complete some big plays in the passing game with Johnson throwing to Bryce Kirtz and Stephon Robinson Jr.

Northwestern hosts FCS Indiana State this week.

Michigan State (Oct. 30)

As ugly as Friday night in Evanston was from a Northwestern point of view, it was a very encouraging start to the second year of the Mel Tucker era in East Lansing.

The Spartans seem to have found a new bell cow in Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III, who came in with high expectations and exceeded all of them with a 264-yard, four-touchdown night while averaging over 11 yards per carry. Payton Thorne, in his second career start, was solid, posting an 82.4 quarterback rating. On defense, Michigan State had four sacks and eight tackles for loss.

Michigan State is definitely a “Stock Up” team after Week 1, but just how far up, we may not know for a bit longer. The Spartans host FCS Youngstown State this week before heading down south for a showdown against Miami the week after.

Indiana (Nov. 6)

Oh, hey there.

If the Hoosiers didn’t lose the game when David Holloman ran out the tunnel with “Indiana” misspelled on his jersey, their ultimate fate didn’t take much longer to be decided.

Indiana was overwhelmed from the get-go at Iowa, losing 34-6 after trailing 31-3 at halftime. Michael Penix Jr., in his first start since he tore his ACL last season, completed just 14-of-31 passes for 156 yards and three interceptions. On the ground, the Hoosiers weren’t any better, rushing for just 77 yards on 31 carries.

The defense was actually alright — the Hawkeyes gained just 303 yards and two of their touchdowns came on Penix interception returns. But last Saturday showed that Indiana has a long way to go if they want to prove that its 2020 season wasn’t a fluke, much less build off it.

Indiana gets Idaho at home this week.

Penn State (Nov. 13)

It was a game ugly enough to make you almost forget, but the Nittany Lions had as big a win as anyone in the country last week.

Penn State’s defense is pretty clearly going to be one of the strongest in the country — the Nittany Lions didn’t give up a play of longer than 23 yards and stepped up in crunch time to pick Graham Mertz twice. Especially impressive considering Wisconsin’s offense spent 42 minutes on the field last Saturday. A likely exhausted unit came through the biggest when it mattered most.

The Nittany Lions’ offensive skill position players were impressive: Sean Clifford wasn’t terribly accurate, but was able to complete some long passes to Jahan Dotson, Keandre Lambert-Smith and Parker Washington to keep the offense moving. Noah Cain had a big run late as well.

Penn State gets Ball State at home this week.

Maryland (Nov. 20)

Few Big Ten teams had as encouraging a debut as the Terrapins, who held off West Virginia, 30-24, last weekend. Not only was it a win over a quality Power 5 opponent, but a star may have emerged for Maryland at quarterback.

Taulia Tagovailoa excelled, completing 26 of 36 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns while showing feathery touch on deep touchdowns to Dontay Demus Jr. (6 catches, 133 yards) and Rakim Jarrett (6 catches, 122 yards). On the ground, Tayon Fleet-Davis lived up to his name by rushing for 123 yards on 18 carries, including a 51-yard burst. On defense, the Terrapins swallowed up a Mountaineer rushing attack led by one of the nation’s better all-around backs in Leddie Brown, as well as forcing four turnovers.

Maryland will take on Howard this weekend, continuing a trend of Michigan’s opponents beginning their seasons with challenges before treating themselves to a Week 2 cupcake.

Ohio State (Nov. 27)

It wasn’t perfect, but the post-Justin Fields era got off to a winning start with a 45-31 win over Minnesota last Thursday.

The big story was C.J. Stroud, the five-star quarterback taking over for Fields. Stroud got off to a slow start but settled down in a big way, finishing 13-of-22 for 294 yards while tossing four deep touchdowns in the second half. The Buckeyes are just overloaded with big-play talent and showed as much against the Gophers: Chris Olave (4 catches, 117 yards, two TDs), Garrett Wilson (5-80-1), Treveyon Henderson (70-yard touchdown) and Miyan Williams (9 carries, 125 yards and a 71-yard score).

Ohio State’s rushing defense appeared vulnerable Thursday night, as Minnesota stud Mo Ibrahim ran for 163 yards and two scores before suffering an unfortunate injury late. But the Buckeyes outlasted and did nothing to show they aren’t heavy Big Ten favorites until further notice.

Next up for the Buckeyes is a marquee matchup against Oregon this weekend.