Final: No. 18 Michigan 38, Northwestern 0 

Key play: Jehu Chesson returns opening kick for TD

How do you start a headliner game at home against a dominant defense? You take the opening kickoff to the house. I suggested earlier in the week that Michigan was going to get a lift from Chesson with a possible end-around run for six. Instead, Chesson didn’t wait for that opportunity and he gave Michigan its first opening kickoff returned for a touchdown in 23 years. That set the tone for the Wolverines’ dominant first half. And against a Northwestern team that’s been playing with a lead all season, it finally put the Wildcats on their heels.

Telling stat: Michigan scores touchdowns on all three sides of ball

No other stat signified Michigan’s monster day more than that. Amazingly enough, the Wolverines did all of that in the first half. Chesson’s score was followed by a one-yard touchdown run on Michigan’s first offense drive. And Jourdan Lewis took an interception back to the house. This was not like some of the Wolverines’ previous games that the defense came out slow but the offense took a while to get rolling. All three units came out ready to roll for this one. That’s experience, that’s coaching and that’s just flat out skill.

Worth noting:

-Michigan has scored 97 unanswered points 

What. A. Stat. Here’s another. Michigan became the first time in the last 20 years to record three straight shutouts. The Wolverines haven’t done that in 35 years. That’s simply incredible. Nobody in America has dominated in the last few weeks like Michigan. This is the same team that we all projected to win seven or maybe even eight games. But they don’t miss tackles, they force turnovers and they put teams in third-and-longs. That’s a formula for success if I’ve ever seen one. And on a completely lopsided day for Michigan, things only got worse for Northwestern when Matthew Carter was carted off after what looked to be a serious upper body injury.

-Lewis with another big day

Pro Football Focus said that, based on their analytics, no cornerback in America was playing better than Lewis entering Saturday. He played like it on Saturday. When the Wildcats were trying to get back into the game at the end of the first half, he somehow came away with a Clayton Thorson jump ball and took it back to the house. That was only his second pick of the year, but that’s largely because quarterbacks are learning to avoid him. With pressure barreling down on Thorson, he had no choice but to take a chance on Lewis. But like everything Northwestern did on Saturday, it didn’t work out. Perhaps the only blemish for Michigan all day was the fact that James Ross was ejected for targeting, which will sideline him for the first half of next week as well. Other than that, it was all Michigan.

What it means: Michigan is a contender in the East, NU isn’t as polished as we thought

If you had questions about Michigan against actual competition, consider them answered. Jim Harbaugh’s group is here and they’re real. The Wolverines delivered a better performance than we’ve seen from either Michigan State or Ohio State. This team doesn’t appear to be in the rebuilding phase one bit. Northwestern, on the other hand, had some weaknesses exposed. We hadn’t seen what this team would look like if it fell behind two touchdowns early. That goes against everything Pat Fitzgerald wanted to do. As a result, Thorson was forced into several one-dimensional situations and Justin Jackson couldn’t get going. There might not be a quarterback in the country that could’ve overcome that deficit in the Big House on Saturday, much less a redshirt freshman. Nobody wants to go to Ann Arbor right now.