It was supposed to be a bloody-nosed fist fight pitting two of college football’s best defenses, but only one team showed up as No. 18 Michigan exposed No. 13 Northwestern, winning 38-0 at the Big House Saturday afternoon.
The demolition started from the opening kick – literally – as Jehu Chesson returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. The Wolverines forced a three-and-out and then marched 59 yards in seven plays, capped by a one-yard Drake Johnson run, effectively ending the game less than five minutes after it started. Jake Rudock danced in from two yards out, punctuating a six-play, 75-yard drive, to give Michigan a 21-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.
Jourdan Lewis added a 37-yard interception return just before the break to give the Wolverines a 28-0 halftime lead, and Derrick Green provided the exclamation point with a four-yard rush with 2:14 remaining.
In all, Michigan rushed 45 times for 203 yards and three touchdowns while Rudock added an economical 179 yards on 17-of-23 passing.
But the story, again, was the Michigan defense.
Against an admittedly limited opponent (Northwestern came in ranked 116th nationally in yards per play), Michigan posted its third shutout in a row, with an overall edge of 160-14 in its five-game winning streak. The maize and blue held Northwestern to 168 yards of total offense (130 passing, 38 rushing) and 13 first downs on the day.
But it wasn’t just what happened in Ann Arbor that staked Michigan’s claim as the Big Ten’s best team. Down south, Ohio State struggled with a Maryland team that Michigan blanked 28-0 in College Park just one week ago.
In the end, the question remains unanswered. But that it’s a question at all magnifies the job Jim Harbaugh and company have done this season.