The New York Philharmonic, which was in town for three shows at UM's venerable Hill Auditorium this weekend, featured their brass section as they joined the Michigan Marching Band on Canham's Carpet for a truly remarkable homecoming halftime show. The two bands were joined by the MMB alumni band to perform Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th Symphony as the halftime's grand finale – which was more than an appropriate selection given what was just witnessed by 110,452 patrons packed inside Michigan Stadium in the first half.
The well-orchestrated halftime show was an impressive spectacle to say the least. Almost as impressive as Michigan's well-orchestrated domination of yet another opponent.
Not to be outdone, the fans who stayed till the end orchestrated their own show-stopper with an epic DE-FENSE chant which could easily be heard as far away as East Lansing and Columbus. There's no question about it anymore, the Big Ten east division title, hell the Big Ten title itself (let's be honest) now goes through Ann Arbor.
Who saw that one coming?
Every once in a while a game comes along where you can just feel things clicking like they haven't clicked in a long time. A game in-which all 3 phases go just as planned. With Saturday's picture-perfect weather matching the equally perfect outcome on the field, its hard to ever want days like that to end. Games like this used to come around every few years. But for the 2015 Michigan football program, these games are coming along one right after another.
It's starting to get to the point where this battle-tested blogger who's seen far fewer ups than downs lately, is now asking himself, "Is this real life?" I was almost delirious in the first half yesterday. I know they say cheering isn't allowed in the pressbox, but what about laughing maniacally?
Saturday's domination of #13 Northwestern followed a similar home field script. Jump out to an early lead, give up one longer-than-comfortable-but-still-scoreless drive then shut down the opponent's offense completely, start pouring on the points and then mercifully let off the gas at halftime. By then the opponent is so demoralized, any hope for a 2nd half comeback is so long gone you wonder if they'll even come out of the locker room. In the 2nd half Michigan just keeps their foot on the throat defensively while the offense coasts to an easy win while keeping the majority of the playbook tucked safely away.
Six weeks ago, no one could have imagined this script playing out once let alone week-in week-out. Sure, it's fun to think these shutouts are going to just keep coming, but surely these can't last much longer – someone has to score on Michigan eventually...right? Conventional wisdom says so, but conventional wisdom never saw this Michigan team coming. The fact that we're even debating how many future wins will be shutouts signals that the impact Jim Harbaugh and his staff have had on this program is much more immediate than anyone reasonably thought it would be.
The defense, I mean, let's just say they're playing at a level not seen around Ann Arbor since the historic 1997 season. The offense? Well, there's measurable improvement, which is encouraging. Jake Rudock looks more and more comfortable in this offense each week. But I think its tough to really gauge just how comfortable he is because frankly, he hasn't had to do very much since the end of the Utah game...which is the last time we really saw him forced to have to make plays with his arm...and he did.
Maybe the most amazing thing about yesterday's performance was that Northwestern could very well run the table in the west division and get to Indy...they're that good...and the B1G west is that wide open. And Michigan...just destroyed them. I mean it was never even close. In a game where everyone predicted Michigan to win, but not by much, the 38-0 final score probably isn't indicative of just how far apart Michigan and Northwestern felt by the end of that game.
My three biggest takeaways from yesterday were...
Michigan owns the trenches
Jake Rudock looks better each week and the running game is better each week because the offensive line is starting to really come together. Holes are there, and when they're not, cutback lanes are there. Pass protection has been stellar since week 1 and continues to improve. Scary to think where this unit is going to be if this momentum keeps up.
And of course on defense, it's the same story. Michigan is only allowing 65.8 rushing yards per game mainly because the of defensive line. Depth, experience and great coaching are all combining to create one of the best front 4 units Michigan has had in recent memory. It sounds like I'm exaggerating...which is funny because I'm totally not.
Special teams is good enough to win games
I'm not saying Jehu Chesson's opening kickoff return for a touchdown won this game, but it was the winning score. But seriously, John Baxter's impact as special teams coach has been felt on the field just as much as Harbaugh's or Durkin's. O'Neill's punts are pinpoint, coverage has been exceptional, and punt returns have become must-see TV thanks to Jabrill Peppers. Even his fair-catches are fun.
It's just a matter of time until Peppers brings one to the house and Michigan gets a punt block. Both have been close a few time this year.
Its everywhere. Defensive line, running back, secondary, tight end. The fact that Bryan Mone was out for the year with his injury in fall camp and hasn't been missed at all is remarkable. The fact that AJ Williams is a pass catching and first down machine after being a glorified offensive lineman in the previous administration just shows how talent is really being evaluated on a whole different level now.
Jourdan Lewis is a realistic all-American candidate. Joe Kerridge is rattling off 30+ yard runs. Willie Henry and Maurice Hurst are sack gods. Jehu Chesson's speed. I mean...man...these guys were all around last year, but not like this. Not like this.
Last week I said if Michigan wins these next two games, Northwestern and Michigan State, then all bets are off for the rest of the season. Northwestern wasn't even close and Michigan State comes in almost a whole touchdown underdog despite being the consensus #2 ranked team in the country just a couple weeks ago.
I'm not going to make any crazy predictions right now, but all I can say is buckle up folks. I don't think we've seen anything yet.