As far as battles go, this year’s battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy wasn’t much of one. After the game, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh described his team as a buzzsaw, and said the 49-0 victory was one of Michigan’s best performances of the season. It’s hard to argue with either assessment.
Michigan jumped on the Spartans early and never let up. The Wolverines scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions and five of their first seven. Factor in an interception returned for a touchdown and Michigan held a 42-0 lead just two possessions into the third quarter - at which point the Wolverines not only enjoyed a six-touchdown advantage, but also had accumulated more than 400 yards of total offense while holding the Spartans to fewer than 60.
Michigan’s reserves would finish the game, and by the time fourth-string quarterback Alex Orji crossed the goal line late in the fourth quarter - much to the jubilation of the predominantly Michigan crowd - the Wolverines had handed the Spartans their worst loss in the history of Spartan Stadium.
Michigan was once again led by quarterback JJ McCarthy. The junior signal-caller completed 21 of 27 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns. It was a typically efficient performance for McCarthy, who ranks second in the nation in both passing efficiency and completion percent. McCarthy’s impact isn’t measured as much in statistics, however, but rather in the way he controls the offense - and the game. But if you want a stat that illustrates the kind of season McCarthy is having, there’s this: Through eight games, McCarthy is averaging one touchdown pass for every two incompletions.
McCarthy connected with Roman Wilson for an early 25-yard touchdown, Wilson’s 10th touchdown reception of the season (good for second in the country), but his favorite targets this night were his tight ends. On the eve of National Tight Ends Day, AJ Barner and Colston Loveland combined to catch 12 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Barner and Loveland were two of ten Wolverines to record at least one reception, on a night that Michigan went deep into its bench.
For Michigan State, the drubbing was the lowest point in a season that’s been full of low points. Spartan fans can look forward to next season, where hope always springs eternal with the introduction of a new head coach, but the rest of this season - with both Ohio State and Penn State remaining on the schedule - will be rough.
For Michigan, the game was more than just a decisive victory over its in-state rival, but the continuation of a season-long trend that’s seen Michigan play better with each passing week. The Wolverines aren’t just beating teams, they’re wrecking them. Since conference play began, Michigan’s margin of victory has increased in each successive week. The Wolverines have defeated their five Big Ten opponents by 24, 38, 42, 45 and now 49 points. Michigan will be hard pressed to continue that trend, but if you listen to Michigan’s players, style points aren’t what’s important.
“The main thing is the main thing” has been a consistent refrain among Wolverine players this season. When asked what the main thing is, McCarthy answered, “The next game. The next opponent.” McCarthy added that the team’s sole focus is on getting better every week. And if you spend much time around this team, you get that sense.
But that doesn’t mean Saturday’s game didn’t have any special meaning for the Wolverines. Leading up to the game, Michigan’s players and coaches said that it would be business as usual, that there was no extra emphasis on this game because of what happened last year. But no one said that last year has been forgotten. Michigan’s senior guard Zak Zinter was asked if the Wolverines were playing with a special purpose because of what happened last year. “We definitely know what happened last year. So yeah, we definitely had a purpose coming into this game.”