Michigan enters Saturday’s matchup with UMass in a position it hasn’t been in very often in the past couple of seasons: the prohibitive favorite. You can go back to the Delaware State game last October 17 for the last time Michigan was a lock to win a game.
After throttling favored UConn and outlasting Notre Dame in South Bend, Michigan is the talk of college football with electric quarterback Denard Robinson leading the nation in rushing and total offense. The schedule sets up nicely to go 5-0 with UMass, Bowling Green, and Indiana on the slate before rival Michigan State comes to Ann Arbor.
So what does Michigan have to do in the next couple of weeks to get ready for the grind of the Big Ten schedule?
It all starts with staying and getting healthy. The last thing you want to have happen in cakewalk games is an injury to one of your starters.
Robinson will play but certainly won’t need the whopping amount of carries he has had in the past two games. Rodriguez should let him keep his rhythm and build a good lead and then rest him to keep him fresh.
As dynamic as the offense has looked thus far, it’s still missing two players that figured to be big-time playmakers this season, wide receiver Junior Hemingway and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Hemingway has battled injuries his entire career, but when he has been on the field, he has stretched defenses as Michigan’s best deep threat.
Toussaint had a good camp and many considered him to be the best all-around back on the team.
Neither has played yet this season, but may return as soon as this weekend.
On defense, freshman safety Carvin Johnson suffered a knee sprain in the opener, and despite his lack of experience, Michigan needs him back sooner than later, especially given Cam Gordon’s propensity to give up the deep ball.
Secondly, Robinson needs to establish the passing game.
Everybody knows Robinson’s skills on the ground – that was evident from his first collegiate snap. The biggest question mark surrounding Robinson at this point is his passing ability.
He has shown great command of the offense so far this season, completing 69 percent of his passes, but has yet to show he can throw an accurate deep ball.
Rodriguez said the offense will flow depending on how the defense is playing them, so if teams are allowing the run, which is the bread and butter of the spread-n-shred offense, Robinson could keep on running.
But as the season goes along, teams will stack the box to try to stop Robinson, making the passing game all the more important.
Thirdly, find a running game outside of Robinson.
Michigan has a plethora of running backs competing for playing time, but so far Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith have carried the load. They have done okay, but neither has shown much of anything, averaging just 3.0 and 3.2 yards per carry, respectively.
The only other running back to get a carry was freshman Stephen Hopkins who scored from one yard out against Notre Dame.
Michael Cox and Toussaint (if healthy) should at least be given a chance to show what they can do. Michigan desperately needs a back to shoulder some of the load. Shaw, Smith, Hopkins, and receiver Kelvin Grady have combined for 44 carries, compared to Robinson’s 57.
Finally, Michigan needs to find consistency in the secondary.
The defensive line is solid and the linebackers have played well, especially senior Jonas Mouton, but the majority of the big plays given up have been on the thin and inexperienced secondary.
J.T. Floyd and James Rogers have performed admirably on the outside, but safety Cam Gordon has been the culprit for the big plays. It’s not necessarily a reflection on his talent, given that he is a converted wide receiver starting in his first season at safety, but he will only get better with time and experience. The more games he plays, the more he will figure out the position and the more comfortable he will get.
UMass has a pretty good running game, with Jonathan Hernandez averaging 101.5 yards per game and John Griffin averaging 77.5 so far, and quarterback Kyle Havens has completed 65 percent of his passes for 516 yards and three touchdowns. But those two games were against Holy Cross and William & Mary.
The Minutemen find invade Ann Arbor ranked 16th in the Football Championship Subdivision, while Michigan finds itself ranked for the first time in a year, at 20th in the big boy division, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Look for Michigan to set the tone early, jumping out to a comfortable lead by halftime. Robinson will work into the third quarter before giving way to Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner.
Michigan 41 – UMass 21
From their view…
MassLive breaks down what UMass has to do to pull off the upset and also estimates that UMass will bring 2,500 fans to Ann Arbor. The Daily Collegian has UMass coach Kevin Morris declaring, “We’re going to win,” while also talking about how hard it will be to stop Robinson.
The Daily Collegian also features this winner depicting the Minutemen mascot fighting a comic book character with the same name as Michigan’s mascot.