ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Whether they started the game or filed in later as reserves, Michigan freshmen made their presences known during the Wolverines’ 63-3 season-opening win over Hawaii.
In all, a school-record 14 freshmen played, per UM football’s Chad Shepard. No fewer than nine of them registered some type of statistic during the annihilation of the Rainbow Warriors. At final count, at least 17 freshmen had played for the No. 7 Wolverines (1-0).
Sure, a lot of the post-game focus rested on redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight, who looked great during his debut as starter, but a good portion of the conversation centered on Chris Evans, a true freshman who blew the doors off Hawaii’s defense with eight carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
“I knew I’d get a couple (opportunities) so I made sure I made the most of them,” Evans said while surrounded by a massive group of reporters. “Coach Harbaugh made a freshman locker room (for camp) so we were all together.
“Everything we did — workouts in the summer, whatever — we were all together (and) we chilled together. And we knew we had that ‘we’re going to take over’ mindset — and it showed today.”
The new kid from Indianapolis put up numbers equivalent to roughly half of Hawaii’s total offense (232 yards) — a record performance by a Wolverine freshman running back. Throughout camp, players and coaches talked about Evans’ ability to make plays — a generic term that truly came to life on Saturday.
Footwork. Instincts. Speed.
Evans shined the brightest of Jim Harbaugh’s freshmen.
Senior linebacker Mike McCray, who finished with a team-high nine tackles, sat back and watched Evans run with a sense of controlled chaos. Surprised? Nah. He saw this coming.
“For me, it didn’t surprise me at all — going against all the other running backs every day,” McCray said. “I see it in practice all of the time — you kind of expect it to happen,” later adding that Evans would be “pretty good” down the road.
Two days in camp — that’s all Evans needed to impress teammates.
After being locked into a preseason battle for left tackle with sophomore Grant Newsome, true freshman Ben Bredeson began the year as the Wolverines’ left guard, stepping in for senior Ben Braden versus Hawaii and playing well enough for Speight to remind everyone that Bredeson was in high school at this time one year ago.
The sheer level of talent and available stock of freshmen bode well for a program going through a change of identity … or perhaps just an upgrade. The days of youth-related excuses appear to be on their way out of Michigan. The days of “wait until they get reps” have been numbered.
Eddie McDoom, a wide receiver, rushed twice for 34 yards and caught two passes for 15 yards. Harbaugh was impressed by the way McDoom separated from contact and found his way to the edge. For a true freshman, that was an accomplishment. Those small but important details matter most to Harbaugh, who evidently knows how to select recruits.
Khaleke Hudson tallied a tackle as a safety. Josh Uche, an up-and-coming SAM linebacker and pass-rusher, chalked up a quarterback hurry. Cornerback Lavert Hill broke up a pass. Josh Metellus gained reps. Devin Bush, a linebacker, had two tackles. Michael Dwumfour, a defensive lineman, had two take-downs — including one for a loss. Rashan Gary, the former No. 1 recruit of 2016, had three tackles — all solo efforts from the 6-foot-5 giant.
Devin Asiasi cycled through a few times as tight end. Michael Onwenu, who had been one of Harbaugh’s favorites throughout camp, played on the offensive and defensive line. Kekoa Crawford had an 18-yard catch. Sean McKeon, a tight end with a class-high GPA (from high school), had two catches for 10 yards.
Kingston Davis had two carries for 17 yards.
Get the point?
Harbaugh has prepared the next guys for the next phase — a phase that began with Michael Jordan, Charles Woodson, LaMarr Woodley and Derek Jeter on Saturday.
Following the win, Harbaugh said that he wanted to see what his team could do on the field.
His vets did veteran things.
His freshmen, though, went above and beyond.
“It’s been coming for weeks now. The last three weeks, three weeks ago, there were seven or eight who had really earned it and knew they’d be tracking to be in the two-deep,” Harbaugh said of his youth movement. “Less than a week later that was up to 10. Then it was up again and up again and, finally, (I said it’d be) 17-20 when it’s all said and done.
“They’ve earned it.”