ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh likes a lot about his team and yet he also sees room for improvement, heading into the Big Ten season.
Shea Patterson threw three touchdown passes to Donovan Peoples-Jones to help No. 19 Michigan pull away and beat SMU 45-20 on Saturday.
"We're getting closer to being good — really good," Harbaugh said. "We're still not quite there yet."
The Wolverines (2-1) open the conference season at home next week against Nebraska (0-2) hoping to take a step toward winning their first Big Ten title since 2004.
To end the drought, Michigan will have to start and finish much better than it did against SMU
The Wolverines didn't score until Ben Mason converted a fourth down with a 1-yard TD run midway through the second quarter.
The Mustangs (0-3) responded with Ben Hicks' 50-yard pass to James Proche to tie it.
Michigan took control over the last 2:34 of the first half. Patterson threw a tiebreaking, 35-yard TD pass to Peoples-Jones, and Josh Metellus returned an interception 73 yards for a score as time expired.
Patterson threw 7- and 41-yard TD passes to Peoples-Jones in the third, giving the Wolverines a 35-13 lead.
His three TD receptions matched the total scored by Michigan receivers last season.
"I'm more happy about the win," Peoples-Jones said.
Patterson was 14 of 18 for 237 yards with three TDs threw an interception.
Michigan's Chris Evans ran for 85 yards on 18 carries before leaving the field with a strain or a cramp, Harbaugh said. Karan Higdon participated in pregame warmups, but was held out of the game with an apparent injury.
"Didn't feel like he could go," Harbaugh said.
Hicks started and was 7 of 16 for 113 yards with a TD and an interception, which was returned for a TD and led to him being replaced.
"That's three consecutive games at that position that we gave up defensive touchdowns," coach Sonny Dykes said.
SMU freshman William Brown had an extended opportunity to play in the second half, completing 11 of 17 passes for 82 yards and two TDs before leaving the game after getting hit so hard his helmet came off.
SMU: The Mustangs should feel good about their performance relative to their first two games in which they lost by a combined score of 88-35 to No. 16 TCU and North Texas. They're the only team in the country to play two Top 20 teams out of conference over the first three weeks of the season.
North Texas beat Arkansas 44-17 Saturday.
"We're an 0-3 football team, but look who we lost to," Dykes said. "I think you guys see what North Texas is doing to Arkansas right now."
Michigan: The Wolverines should be humbled by their performance coming off a confidence-boosting 49-3 win over Western Michigan. They had 13 penalties for 137 yards and struggled on both sides of the ball at times against an overmatched opponent.
Michigan was called for 14 penalties for 107 yards in its first two games.
"Penalties are hurting us," Harbaugh acknowledged. "And that's something we need to clean up and get better at."
After the Wolverines converted a fourth-and-1 at midfield late in the second quarter, Dykes was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct to give them another 15 yards. On the next snap, Patterson threw his first of three TDs to Peoples-Jones.
"I wasn't happy with the spot, at all," Dykes said. "Shouldn't have gotten the flag. I've been doing this a long time and I know what warrants a flag and what doesn't and I shouldn't have gotten the flag. Still it was a mistake on my part."
Michigan's Zach Gentry, a 6-foot-8, 262-pound tight end, had career highs with four catches and 95 yards receiving.
"What a great, big target he is," Harbaugh said.
Proche, who lived in Detroit for a few years, had 11 receptions for 166 yards and two TDs.
"Me and my uncle talked about playing in the Big House," he said. "He's a Michigan fan. Well, he's an SMU fan now. But it's a dream come true."
Michigan may stay about where it is in the poll, winning with a lackluster showing.
SMU: Hosts the Navy Midshipmen next week in its American Athletic Conference opener.
Michigan: Hosts the Cornhuskers next week in the Big Ten opener. The Wolverines will be without linebacker Khaleke Hudson for the first half after he was ejected for targeting against SMU.