Editor’s note: This post will be updated later with a writethru gamer.
By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
Northwestern knows how big of a weapon Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers can be, so it purposely avoided him on Saturday’s opening kickoff.
The Wildcats’ target: Jehu Chesson.
“Big mistake,” Peppers said with a laugh.
Chesson made the Wildcats pay, weaving through blocks until finding an opening on the right side of the field for a 96-yard return to open the game.
“I saw the way he lined the tee up and the way he angled it, so I told Jehu, ‘It’s coming to you. Just follow me, I got your block,'” Peppers said.
Chesson’s return sparked a big day for No. 18 Michigan (5-1, 2-0). Entering the game as a 10-point favorite, it routed No. 13 Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) 38-0 for a third-consecutive shutout.
“To run a kickoff back on the opening kickoff, that definitely sends a statement to the other team,” Peppers said.
Michigan’s win Saturday marks the first time since 1980 that its shutout opponents in three straight games (Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue). It’s a stretch that rarely happens in college football; the last team to post three consecutive shutouts, according to USA Today, was Kansas State in 1995.
But Peppers insists the defense can be better.
“There’s still room for improvement…when you have a group of 11 guys that are all doing their job and hungry to do their job, then the sky is the limit for us,” Peppers said. “We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back and all that stuff.”
The Wolverines abused Northwestern, formerly the best scoring defense in the country, with a stellar offensive game. They led 21-0 after one quarter and tacked on 17 more points the rest of the game.
Jake Rudock won his third career game against Northwestern, going 17-for-23 passing for 179 yards. He started the game completing 10 of his first 11 passes, and added a rushing touchdown in the first quarter.
After missing last week’s win over Maryland, De’Veon Smith returned to carry the Wolverines’ running attack. He rushed for 59 yards on eight carries.
“It was good to have De’Veon back,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We didn’t want to put too much on him but he was running well. It looked like he had no rust at all after being out a week.”
Derrick Green added 47 yards on 12 carries, including a late touchdown, and Karan Higdon made his Wolverine debut after his redshirt was burned.
Michigan utilized all aspects of its offense against Northwestern. Tight ends A.J. Williams (four receptions, 48 yards) and Jake Butt (three receptions, 40 yards) were the Wolverines’ leading receivers, and Joe Kerridge had a big 34-yard run at fullback.
Northwestern boasted the Big Ten’s best rushing offense at 248.80 yards per game. But Michigan was able to shut it down early and often. It allowed 38 rushing yards and made Justin Jackson, one of the conference’s top backs, look powerless.
Jourdan Lewis continued his breakout season, ripping the ball from a receiver and returning it for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Michigan hosts No. 4 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0) Oct. 17. With Big Ten East implications on the line, it’s the biggest matchup in the in-state rivalry in years.