- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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This season we’re going to hand out helmet stickers to the top performers or position groups every week. Here are your recipients following the Wolverines’ season-opening blowout win over Central Michigan.
The Michigan offensive line: While the interior offensive linemen were a huge question mark entering the game, they proved to be effective. And yes, they really should’ve been effective, considering the average Michigan starting offensive lineman is more than 30 pounds heavier than the average Central Michigan starting defensive lineman. Nonetheless, the Wolverines’ offensive front was bruising, creating holes and giving the quarterbacks ample time in the pocket. Michigan rushed for 242 yards and passed for 221 yards. Not too shabby for an offensive line whose interior guys accounted for zero combined starts.
QB Devin Gardner: The redshirt junior admitted that he had a few nerves when he took the field Saturday (and that as he ran out of the tunnel he was just focused on not tripping before getting to the “Go Blue” banner). And while he threw two early interceptions -- he said the first was a good pass-bad read situation and the second was because he got hit while passing -- he improved throughout the game as he settled in. He finished the day completing 10-of-15 passes with one passing touchdown. And he hasn’t completely abandoned his dual threat days -- Gardner looked solid on the ground too, scrambling and extending plays with his feet. He rushed for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
WR Jeremy Gallon: If this game shows anything for the rest of the season, it’s that Gardner’s security blanket comes in the form of the 5-foot-8 Gallon. He recorded just four receptions for 47 yards but he also had a few other impressive catches that were called back by penalties. Twice on third downs he caught passes that converted first downs for the Wolverines, and his other two catches put Michigan within one and two yards of a first down. He could be Michigan’s biggest chance for a 1,000-yard receiving season, and while he can’t get there averaging 50 yards a game, his chemistry with Gardner proved evident enough that he could do some major damage against other teams as an offensive weapon.
The defensive depth: There’s no denying there were breakdowns and that the four-man rush can improve. But for Michigan to play 23 different guys on the defensive side of the ball in the first game is pretty remarkable, considering where this team was just a few years ago. Earlier last week, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said he believed Michigan had enough defensive line depth to go three deep at each position, and the Wolverines basically did that. Michigan recorded four sacks and held the Chippewas to 66 rushing yards and an average of 2.3 yards per carry. In the secondary, CMU was able to throw for only 144 yards, even though Michigan was without half of its starting secondary. All things considered, the defense's depth requires a helmet sticker.