Michigan head coach Brady Hoke made it clear his team needed to focus on itself and its own improvement in the season opener against Central Michigan. Good thing, too, since the Chippewas themselves disappeared like a gambler's coinage at the Soaring Eagle Casino.
The Wolverines cashed in against their Mid-American Conference foes in every way possible, rolling up 463 yards in a 59-9 devastation of the Chips. CMU coach Dan Enos saw his team ride a wheel of misfortune to a meager 210 yards and an afternoon of misery.
"I thought they played very well," Enos said. "On defense they were very aggressive, they tackled very well, got real stubborn when we got the ball down in the red zone a couple of times, and they made big plays.
"Their quarterback had a good day; he is a good player. To start off the game, [tailback] Zurlon Tipton broke his ankle, and then [quarterback] Cody Kater broke his clavicle, so not a real good start for the Chips."
Just like that, they were finished.
The Wolverines took almost no time at all to put the Chips into the wood chipper. The U-M defense held in four plays on CMU's first offensive series, then freshman Dymonte Thomas came storming off the edge on the punt attempt.
The rookie smothered Richie Hogan's punt, with U-M wideout Joe Reynolds scooping it up in stride and churning 29 yards into Michigan's south end zone. Just two minutes and four seconds into the game, the Wolverines led, 7-0, without touching the ball on offense.
"I thought [special teams coach] Dan Ferrigno did a nice job," Hoke said. "He broke it down and we thought we had an opportunity. The guys executed it. Did it give us some momentum? Yeah, because the whole team knew we were going to go after the first punt. When it works, they get excited."
When U-M quarterback Devin Gardner (10-for-15, 162 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) did get his hands on the ball, he didn't keep it long. His second throw of the afternoon sailed right into the hands of CMU's Jarret Chapman at the Michigan 6-yard line. Michigan's defense dug in to keep the Chippewas out of the end zone, but Ron Coluzzi's 23-yard field goal made it 7-3 at the 9:39 mark.
U-M's redshirt junior quarterback might have started the season with swing and a miss, but on the succeeding series underscored his home run capabilities. He took the Wolverines 77 yards in six plays, creating two huge gainers to finish it off.
Gardner (seven carries, 52 yards, two TDs) scrambled to buy time before dumping off to Drew Dileo for a 36-yard gain to the Central 22. On the very next play, Gardner found nobody open, tucked the ball away and put the Chips in a blender, gliding away on an effortless touchdown run.
At 14-3 at the 7:26 mark of the first quarter, the Wolverines found the start they'd trained for the past eight months.
"It's very important," Gardner said. "That's what the game is about early. Coach Hoke always talks to us about special teams and starting fast. You don't want to get behind, and give a team like Central confidence, to where they'll really give you a good game. They were a good team, and we just kept pounding away, so they didn't even have an opportunity."
They continued to roll thereafter, Central going nowhere on offense and unable to stop big plays on defense. A 38-yard reverse to Dennis Norfleet highlighted Michigan's 10-play, 73-yard drive that put the Wolverines on top, 21-3, just four seconds into the second quarter.
Fitzgerald Toussaint (14 carries, 57 yards, two TDs) did the honors, slamming up the middle one yard for the TD. The fifth-year senior who Michigan fans last saw getting carted off the stadium turf with a devastating leg injury demonstrated Brady Hoke wasn't kidding with his "Fitz is back" declaration just prior to the season.
"Physically, I felt great," Toussaint said. "But it was never really about the physical point. The mental point overtook all of that. I feel real good mentally, and I'm just ready to play some more football."
Central made it 21-6 on a 27-yard Coluzzi field goal, set up by Gardner's interception on a bomb down the western sideline, picked off by CMU's Andrew Flory and returned 23 yards to the Michigan 16. When the Wolverines weren't setting the table, though, Dan Enos' crew wasn't eating.
Meanwhile, Gardner drove the Wolverines 76 yards in 11 plays near the end of the half, firing a 16-yard touchdown strike to Jeremy Gallon with 2:04 remaining in the half. Up 28-6, the Wolverines were finding their opening-day mount pleasant indeed.
Cornerback Raymon Taylor then set U-M up for another score, picking off a Alex Niznak throw and racing back 54 yards to the CMU 14. Three plays later, Gardner glided in four yards past the Chippewas defense, allowing the Wolverine to cruise up the tunnel at halftime up 35-6.
The Chips, to their credit, didn't board the busses and cruise surreptitiously out of Ann Arbor during the break.
Upon their return, it only got worse. Gardner unleashed a 45-yard strike to Reynolds, setting up Toussaint's two-yard touchdown burst just three minutes into the second half. One series later, true freshman Derrick Green (11 carries, 58 yards, one touchdown) made his collegiate debut, breaking free on a 30-yard run and smashing through on a one-yard scoring burst to make it 49-6 with 4:55 remaining in the third quarter.
Rookie QB Shane Morris (4-for-6, 59 yards, one interception) then tore off the redshirt, directing an 81-yard, eight-play touchdown drive. His 36-yard rollout toss to tight end Devin Funchess set up Thomas Rawls' five-yard touchdown run.
Coluzzi added a 33-yard field goal in the waning moments, offset by a 30-yarder from Michigan's Brendan Gibbons with 6:59 left.
All in all, the day gave the Wolverines a lot of what they wanted. They saw a chance to get a host of performers experience, work out a lot of bugs, and most of all win, in a dominating fashion. Not that they'll celebrate deep into the night
because of the night that's coming seven days hence.
"I'm pretty sure everybody knows the test we have next week," Gardner said, referring to the Notre Dame game. "And we'll be ready."
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