The arrival of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan to take the head coach job was met with unanimous agreement that this move will take the program forward and back to where it belongs. But after an opening week loss, it seems that the five consecutive wins that followed, including three shutouts of opponents, puts the Wolverines ahead of the improvement mark everyone set for them.
Their latest victims? Fellow Big Ten rivals Northwestern, who entered the game undefeated and ranked #13 in the nation. Michigan, 4-1 before the game and #18 in the rankings, held them to 0 points and only 168 yards, while finishing a 38-0 blowout, their fifth consecutive game with at least 28 points while holding their rivals to 7 points or less. They manhandled Northwestern in every possible way. The Wildcats averaged 248.8 rushing yards per game before their Michigan run-in, but managed just 36 on the ground. Their total yardage was 223 below their season average. The Michigan offense also did some work. Northwestern allowed 35 points and 3 touchdowns in its first 5 games, total. They gave up 38 points and five touchdowns in one afternoon at Ann Arbor.
During the 5-game winning streak Michigan have scored more touchdowns (20) than overall points by the opponents (14). They are only the fifth team in AP Poll history (since 1936) to beat two ranked opponents by 28 points in a shutout. Three of the previous four (1945 Army, 1948 Michigan, 1966 Notre Dame) won the national championship. Michigan are 2-0 this season against ranked opponents, after going just 1-10 in the previous three seasons.
There’s also a little bit of history to this all. Michigan have allowed just 38 points through the first six games of the season, outscoring them 177-38. The last time they gave up so few points through the first six games was in 1985 (148-33), when Jim Harbaugh was the team’s quarterback. Coincidence? That team went 10-1-1 under Schembechler, winning the Fiesta Bowl and ranking at #2 at the end of the season. Oklahoma finished on top of both major polls that year.
As for overall in the nation kind of defense, Michigan are number two across the board behind Boston College, who haven’t faced as good of competition as Michigan, even if people love to mock the Big Ten for the quality of competition they put on the table. They allow just 181.3 yards per game with 3.06 yards per play. Along with BC, they’re the only teams giving up less than 200 yards per game so far this season. No other school is even allowing less than 240 yards. Ohio State, for example, the #1 team in the nation and Michigan’s biggest rival, are giving up 300.2 yards per game so far this season. In terms of total offense, Michigan are only 78th in the nation, trailing even Michigan State and are way behind Ohio State.
With all this going on, Michigan are on their way to feeling good about themselves at the end of the season for the first time since the 2011 season. But, losses to both Michigan State and Ohio State might put a very different spin on Harbaugh’s debut season.