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First Look: #8 Wisconsin

Monday, September 26th, 2016


Sep 5, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; The Wisconsin Badgers mascot Bucky Badger takes the field before the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-226178 ORIG FILE ID: 20150905_lbm_am8_089.JPG

Michigan throttled Penn State in their Big Ten opener on Saturday and now faces their biggest test of the early season when eighth-ranked Wisconsin comes to town. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare four games into the season.

Wisconsin & Michigan statistical comparison
Wisconsin | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 30.8 | 52.0 63 4
11.8 13.8 7 | 11
Rushing Yards 737 919 322 490
Rush Avg. Per Game 184.2 229.8 58 29
80.5 122.5 10 40
Avg. Per Rush 3.9 | 5.4
3.2 3.4
Passing Yards 905 952 786 589
Pass Avg. Per Game 226.2 238.0 70 65 196.5 147.2 39 12
Total Offense 1,642 1,871 1,108 1,079
Total Off Avg. Per Game 410.5 467.8 75 40 277.0 269.8 12 11
Kick Return Average 21.4 15.7 67 121 14.6 20.0 6 | 52
Punt Return Average 6.8 23.6 76 2 17.5 17.5 119 119
Avg. Time of Possession 37:01 32:26 3 31 22:59 | 27:34
3rd Down Conversion Pct 45.2% | 54.4% 43 7
23.9% | 12.0% 11 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 6-30 | 5-34
39 | 29
11-65 | 17-144 32 | 4
Touchdowns Scored 14 28
5 | 7
Field Goals-Attempts 8-9 4-6
4-5 | 2-5
Red Zone Scores (14-18) 78%|(22-24) 92% 89 | 31
(5-7) 71%|(3-5) 60% 21 9
Red Zone Touchdowns (11-18) 61%|(18-24) 75% (3-7) 43%|(2-5) 40%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 27.7 36.6 80 23 14.6 9.1 6 2

Michigan and Wisconsin haven’t met since the 2010 season when Bret Beilema beat Rich Rodriguez 48-28. Jim Harbaugh was in his fourth and final season at Stanford and Paul Chryst was Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator. After a brief stint as Pitt’s head coach, Chryst returned to Madison last season and has maintained the success where Bielema and Gary Andersen left off.

While Michigan has played a weak schedule to date, Wisconsin has beaten two top-10 teams already. The Badgers knocked off 5th-ranked LSU, 16-14, in the season opener in Lambeau Field and blasted 8th-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing this past Saturday, 30-6. In between, they beat Akron (54-10) and Georgia State (23-17).

Wisconsin has done it mostly with its defense, which ranks 12th nationally in total defense (277 yards per game), seventh in scoring defense (11.8 points per game), 10th in rush defense (80.5 yards per game), and 39th in pass defense (196.5 yards per game).

The Badger defense has held three of four opponents under 100 yards rushing. LSU was the only one that cracked 100 behind Leonard Fournette’s 138 yards, but he didn’t find the end zone. Michigan State managed just 75 rushing yards on 27 carries. Georgia State is the only team to score a rushing touchdown against Wisconsin, but that came in a 28-carry, 33-yard performance.

The pass defense hasn’t been quite as dominant as the past two opponents have thrown for at least 250 yards. Georgia State went 20-of-30 for 269 yards and a touchdown, while Michigan State went 20-of-43 for 250 yards, but the Badgers were able to pick off MSU quarterback Tyler O’Conner three times.

Like Michigan, Wisconsin’s defense excels in getting off the field on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 23.9 percent, which ranks 11th nationally. Michigan is the nation’s best, allowing just 12 percent.

Offensively, Wisconsin is statistically comparable to where Penn State was entering last week’s game. The Badgers boast the Big Ten’s eight-best total offense (410.5 yards per game), eighth-best scoring offense (30.8 points per game), seventh-best rushing offense (184.2 yards per game), and ninth-best passing offense (226.2 yards per game).

Wisconsin features a better running game than Penn State, but a weaker passing game. The Badgers rushed for 294 yards and four touchdowns against Akron, but then again, Appalachian State rushed for 307 on the Zips. In the other three games, Wisconsin has averaged 147.7 rushing yards per game and just 3.4 yards per rush. Michigan State’s defense limited the Badger running game to just under three yards per carry on Saturday.

The passing game is pretty much a mirror of the running game. It had a big game against Akron — 292 yards and three touchdowns — but has averaged just 204 passing yards per game in the other three. It didn’t crack 200 yards against MSU on Saturday.

Special teams is an interesting area that Michigan may be able to take advantage of. Wisconsin isn’t dangerous returning kicks or punts, ranking 67th and 76th nationally, and has allowed a punt return for a touchdown. Jabrill Peppers leads the nation in punt return yards by a wide margin and already has one return for a touchdown — and barely missed another one last week.

Overall, Wisconsin is a solid team that is lead by its defense. That alone will keep the game much closer than Penn State was able to, as Michigan won’t be able to rush for 300 yards. Michigan boasts the nation’s fourth-best scoring offense, but expect a much lower scoring contest this Saturday.

M&GB staff predictions

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Michigan opens Big Ten play on Saturday against 2-1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions are three games into a new up-tempo spread offense that has fans in State College excited, but is still in its infancy. They’re also missing their entire linebacking corps.

Joe was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 45 – Colorado 17. He now has the lead in our staff picks challenge. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 48 20
Derick 38 20
Sam 34 10
Josh 38 13
Joe 42 10
M&GB Average 40 15

This game just has the makings of a big Michigan win. The Wolverines faced adversity for the first time this season last week and showed they can overcome it. Now, with that added confidence, they’ll kick off conference play with a convincing win.

Like Michigan’s previous opponents, Penn State will load the box to stop the run and force Wilton Speight to beat them. But the Nittany Lions won’t be able to get consistent pressure on Speight and he’ll approach 300 yards passing. Watch for another big game from Jake Butt, who will capitalize on Penn State’s linebacker inexperience.

On the other side of the ball, Moorhead will try to keep the PSU offense moving quickly, getting the ball out of McSorley’s hands quickly and utilizing his feet. Michigan may give up a few big plays and some points, but it won’t be consistent. McSorley hasn’t faced the type of pressure Michigan will bring and will make a couple of mistakes. Michigan’s defense leads the nation on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 11 percent, while Penn State’s offense ranks 118th, converting just 27.3 percent. That doesn’t spell success with Don Brown bringing the heat.

Michigan 48 – Penn State 20

Derick

I think the up-tempo offensive style of Penn State will give Michigan some issues, but if Jourdan Lewis returns, the secondary will obviously have a huge lift.

On offense, Michigan will have to keep being creative in the running game to open things up for Wilton Speight in the short passing game.

I don’t think Penn State is much better than Colorado, but this might be Michigan’s toughest test to date. With that said, Michigan’s wake up call came last weekend and I expect Jim Harbaugh will have them firing on all cylinders to start Big Ten play.

Michigan will cruise past Penn State, 38-20.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 20

Sam

Michigan cruised through weeks 1 and 2 against clearly inferior competition…then came week 3 against a Colorado team that we also thought would be a mere speed hump (not even a bump!). Alas, as the first quarter was drawing to a close, I was already reasoning with myself that “it’s just a game”.

But the recovery came quickly, and things will hopefully be back on track as Penn State comes to town tomorrow. Wilton Speight is probably not as good as the first two weeks showed, and probably not as bad as last week either.

Will it be enough to win the Big Ten? Only time can tell. But it should be plenty to beat a Penn State team that is going to struggle to find space for Saquon Barkley to run into. Taco Charlton should be back in a big way as Michigan dumps the Nittany Lions.

Michigan 34 – Penn State 10

Josh (1)

Ah, Penn State. What a wonderful team. Wait, no that’s not right. Apparently they have a saying there, “It’s -blank- o’clock and Michigan still sucks.” Yes, Michigan sucks. Clearly they haven’t checked their place in the conference hierarchy lately. Even so, I think they’ll provide yet another stout test for Michigan this week. They have a new spread-y type offense, one of the best running backs in America and a dominating defensive li… What’s that? Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel graduated? And they’re also missing two of three starting linebackers? Oh well then, disregard any mention of their defense. So maybe the defense isn’t a force to be reckoned with anymore, but their new spread offense might be and Michigan will need to be on their best game if they want to avoid getting caught on too many busted plays again.

I’ll go ahead and say it, Saquon Barkley scares me. He is shifty, he has excellent vision and he is fast. Taking the wrong angle on him could end up with six on the scoreboard. Michigan absolutely has to contain him if they are to win this game. That said, it’s been the passing game that has generated the big plays for Penn State this year (4.67 per game, same as Michigan). Luckily, Michigan is getting Jourdan Lewis back this week so that should do wonders for the defense. And maybe Taco too? Either way, this is a game Michigan should win but will likely be test once again.

On offense – I’d like to see Wilton Speight bounce back from an iffy performance with confidence and make some big plays once again. At this point I’m not sure anyone really respects Michigan’s run game (I don’t blame them) so Penn State will probably be content to let Speight try to beat them with his arm. It would be nice to see the run game get some momentum heading into the Wisconsin match-up but my gut says Penn State is going to stack the box so I’m not so sure this is the week we see our traditional run game get going. Thank God for jet sweeps and guys like Jabrill Peppers, Jehu Chesson and Eddie McDooooooooooom. I’d also like to see the left guard spot get sorted out, as neither Ben Braden nor Ben Bredeson has looked all that good there and it’s beginning to become a concern for me as we head into the meat of the schedule.

On defense – I’d like to see them shore up some of the containment/missed assignment issues that plagued them the last two weeks as well as how they adjust to another spread/no-huddle team. Penn State isn’t exactly a tempo spread team, they are no-huddle but don’t run a ton of plays. In fact, they’re averaging almost 5.5 plays fewer per game than Michigan is right now. Either way, I’d like to see how Michigan continues to adjust to a no-huddle team. How they manage to improve upon this could be the difference between 12-0 and 10-2. Hopefully adding Jourdan Lewis back into the mix is a shot in the arm for both the pass and run defense.

For the record, I’m not too worried about Penn State causing issues here as it seems they line up quickly and look to the sideline for the play-call but it could be an issue anyway. Michigan has done a fairly good job of hiding their coverages/blitzes so far but when a defense is spread out it can become tricky to hide those blitzes as well as before. On that note…

Maybe a new wrinkle, or two, as far as formations or crazy blitzes to keep that spread offense from clicking. Don Brown has hung his hat on not only his aggressiveness but also his ability to stop spread teams, with three games under their belts I think now is the time we need to start seeing some progress on that front. Holding Penn State to under three big run plays and two big pass plays would be HUGE in my opinion. Remember, holding an opponent to under six big plays per game would be on par with a top ten ranking (stats-wise) based on 2015 big play stats. This needs to be the game where Michigan really asserts itself on defense and shuts down all those big plays they’ve been giving up lately.

On special teams – All I want to see is Kenny Allen keep his punts out of the endzone, consistently. That and maybe another block/deflection. I won’t be greedy and ask for another special teams score, OK maybe I will.

Michigan is the better team. They have better players and a far superior coaching staff. Any Penn State fan who thinks Franklin will outcoach Harbaugh (I saw it on twitter) clearly needs their head examined. Penn State will put up a fight, probably not a jump-out-to-an-early-lead like Colorado fight but a fight nonetheless. After getting punched in the mouth last week Michigan should come out focused and ready to roll. Michigan wins going away but the game is much closer than the score.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 13

Joe (2)

This is a game where the lines should dominate early and often and wear the Nittany Lions down over the course of four quarters. While the Penn State quarterback is leading the Big Ten in passing yards (second in passing yards per game) he will not have much time to survey his options. Our defensive front should have a field day and generate tons of pressures and quarterback hits. That will lead to turnovers and points for the Maize and Blue.

If Michigan can keep Saquon Barkley in check most of the time and force them to throw, things will get ugly in the second half. Barkley is the best and only option coming out of Happy Valley.

Wilton Speight should come back strong and have a solid day thru the air. I think Michigan will look to establish the run early and then open things up. Speight goes for 250 and three scores through the air with two of them going to Butt. Michigan wins this one big.

Michigan 42 – Penn State 10

#4 Michigan vs Penn State game preview

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


um-penn-state-game-preview-header

Michigan skated through its first two games before receiving a test against Colorado last Saturday. The Wolverines spotted the Buffaloes 14 points and — to paraphrase Jim Harbaugh when he tripped entering his introductory press conference a year and a half ago — a lesser athlete would have gone down.

It remains to be seen over the next 10 weeks, but this year’s Michigan team may be the closest to the Michigan of old that we’ve seen in a decade. This isn’t RichRod’s Michigan. This isn’t Brady Hoke’s Michigan. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan absorbed early blows, shrugged them off, and still won by 17 points, holding Colorado to barely 100 yards of offense over the final three quarters, 70 of which came on one play.

um-psu_small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 40-28 (16-13 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry (3rd season)
Last Season: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 28 – PSU 16 (2015)
All-Time Series: Michigan 12-7
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 6-3
Jim Harbaugh vs PSU 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2015 (28-16)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Penn State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Kent State W 33-13
Pittsburgh L 39-42
Temple W 34-27

Time will tell just how good Colorado is, but it was an important early challenge for Michigan and the Wolverines passed. Now the real season begins. Michigan opens Big Ten conference play tomorrow against Penn State, and although they opened as 16-point favorites, the margin for error will shrink.

For the first time this season the narrative leading up to the game doesn’t center around an opposing coach’s comments towards Harbaugh or previous animosity toward Michigan, although the Penn State beat writers are trying their hardest. They’ve been hard at work sending zingers Harbaugh’s way and submitting applications for the Onion.

No matter how much they try to distract from what’s happening on the field or try to convince themselves that their program is headed in the right direction with better leadership than Michigan, their doing so signals that they have plenty to worry about this Saturday.

Penn State is 2-1 with wins over Kent State (33-13) and Temple (34-27) and a 42-39 loss to in-state rival Pittsburgh. Kent State and Temple stand at 105th and 56th in S&P+ thus far, but Penn State hardly won convincingly. Kent State — whose only win is over Monmouth — was down just 16-13 at halftime and within two scores until Penn State put the game away with two minutes left. Temple — whose only win is over Stony Brook — hung with the Nittany Lions all game and was within as few as three points midway through the fourth quarter.

According to the final score, Penn State played Pitt close — and they did — but they were playing catchup all game after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-7 before scoring just before the half. They made it a game late in the fourth, but Pitt’s lead was too much to overcome.

Let’s be honest. Penn State is an average football team. But that doesn’t mean they have no chance tomorrow. They have plenty of athletes even if they don’t have a lot of depth. Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Penn State has the ball

After a second straight 7-6 season in 2015 that saw Penn State pose one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten — 108th nationally — James Franklin fired offensive coordinator John Donovan. He turned to Joe Moorhead, who guided Fordham to a 38-13 record over the past four seasons. There, he was known for his up-tempo offense that averaged 453.2 yards and 36.8 points per game over the past two seasons. While Penn State has featured a statue at quarterback the past few seasons in Christian Hackenberg, Moorhead’s offense is a spread with a run-pass option that utilizes the quarterback’s ability to run.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley may not be the perfect fit to run Moorhead’s offense — he has just 63 rushing yards, sacks removed, with a long of 17 — but Moorhead is determined to make it work regardless. McSorley is the Big Ten’s second-leading passer through the first three games of the season, averaging 276 yards per game. In terms of total passing yards, he leads the conference with 828. He is completing 64.4 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

In the loss to Pitt, McSorley completed 24-of-35 passes for 332 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. However, is that a reflection of Penn State’s offense or the weakness of Pitt’s secondary. The Panthers allowed 540 passing yards in a 45-38 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday. Yes, the same Oklahoma State that lost to Central Michigan — and threw for just 288 — the week prior.

McSorley has some talented receivers to throw to, most notably junior Chris Godwin, who ranks second in the Big Ten with six catches per game. His 1,101 receiving yards a year ago ranked second in the conference behind only Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge, which was good enough to earn second team All-Big Ten honors. He has 18 receptions for 220 yards and a touchdown so far this season. Senior DaeSean Hamilton and redshirt sophomore DeAndre Thompkins are the other two talented receivers. Hamilton has 12 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown, while Thompkins has seven for 166 yards — a team-leading 23.7 yards per catch. Junior tight end Mike Gesecki has caught nine passes for 158 yards and a score.

Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley is one of the best in the Big Ten. In 2015, he rushed for 1,076 yards — behind only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson — and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. He’s averaging 86 yards per game so far this season on 5.1 yards per carry and has already found the end zone six times. However, there’s not much proven depth behind him. No other back has more than eight carries and true freshman Miles Sanders is the second-leading running back with 27 yards on three carries. By contrast, Michigan has six rushers — including Eddie McDoom and Jehu Chesson — with more than 27 yards, and Jabrill Peppers has 24.

The offensive line has struggled mightily in recent years but hasn’t let up as many sacks in the early season as it did a year ago, though it hasn’t faced a stellar defense yet. Redshirt junior Brendan Mahon is in his first season at left tackle after starting 20 games at left guard and right tackle the past two seasons. He’ll have a tough task against Rashan Gary and Co. Next to him is redshirt freshman left guard Ryan Bates, who will be facing the best defensive line he’s seen to date. Senior center Brian Gaia was the only lineman to start all 13 games last season. Fifth-year senior right guard Derek Dowry has nine career starts under his belt, while redshirt junior right tackle Andrew Nelson has 24. As a unit, they’ve allowed five sacks, which is equal to what Michigan has allowed.

When Michigan has the ball

While the Penn State offense is still a work in progress under new guidance, the defense has been the side of the ball that has carried the team the past few years. But in the third year under Brent Pry, it’s not quite as stout as it once was. The Nittany Lions rank 77th nationally in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), 46th in total defense (345 yards per game), 92nd against the run (176.3 yards per game), and 23rd against the pass (168.7 yards per game).

Pry’s defense has been banged up already and suffered a major loss when fifth-year senior linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White was lost for the season with a torn ACL against Temple. The other two starting linebackers, redshirt junior Brandon Bell and junior Jason Cabinda, both missed the Temple game with injuries and may not play tomorrow eight. That leaves sophomores Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen and redshirt junior Brandon Smith — who had a combined one start heading into the season — to handle the linebacker spots.

That’s an area that Michigan will look to exploit. Even with Wartman-White, Bell, and Cabinda, the Penn State defense got gashed by Pitt for 341 rushing yards on 6.1 yards per carry. Michigan’s running game hasn’t been outstanding, but there are enough playmakers — especially when the jet sweeps with McDoom and Chesson and the wildcat snaps to Peppers are added — that Michigan could have success on the ground this week.

The defensive line lost three starters to the NFL who combined for 45.5 tackles for loss, most notably Carl Nassib, who led the Big Ten with 15.5 sacks and ranked second with 19.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore Torrence Brown and redshirt junior Garrett Sickels are the starting ends. Sickels started 12 games last season and has two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far this year. Redshirt freshman end Shareef Miller leads the team with two sacks. Redshirt freshman Kevin Givens and redshirt junior Parker Cothren are the tackles.

The secondary features the two leading tacklers, junior free safety Marcus Allen and fifth-year senior strong safety Malik Golden. Allen was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season, but Golden started just four games. This season, they have combined for 39 tackles, 3.5 for loss, an interception, three passes defended, and a fumble recovery. The corners, sophomore John Reid and junior Christian Campbell, are first-year full-time starters. Reid has a pair of takeaways, but the secondary as a whole allowed Temple quarterback Phillip Walker to complete 25-of-34 passes for 286 yards last week.

The other third

Redshirt junior kicker Tyler Davis has made all five field goal attempts so far with a long of 40, while freshman punter Blake Gillikin ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 44.3 yards per punt. He has downed seven of his 14 punts inside the 20 with three touchbacks.

The return game has been average, ranking 61st nationally in kick returns and 74th in punt returns. Miles Sanders and redshirt sophomore safety Nick Scott are the main kick returners, averaging 23.4 and 22.4 yards per return, respectively. Reid is the punt returner, averaging 8.8 yards per return. One area in which Michigan might be able to exploit is kick returns as Penn State ranks 122nd nationally with an average of 30 yards allowed per kick return.

Prediction

This game just has the makings of a big Michigan win. The Wolverines faced adversity for the first time this season last week and showed they can overcome it. Now, with that added confidence, they’ll kick off conference play with a convincing win. Like Michigan’s previous opponents, Penn State will load the box to stop the run and force Wilton Speight to beat them. But the Nittany Lions won’t be able to get consistent pressure on Speight and he’ll approach 300 yards passing. Watch for another big game from Jake Butt, who will capitalize on Penn State’s linebacker inexperience.

On the other side of the ball, Moorhead will try to keep the PSU offense moving quickly, getting the ball out of McSorley’s hands quickly and utilizing his feet. Michigan may give up a few big plays and some points, but it won’t be consistent. McSorley hasn’t faced the type of pressure Michigan will bring and will make a couple of mistakes. Michigan’s defense leads the nation on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 11 percent, while Penn State’s offense ranks 118th, converting just 27.3 percent. That doesn’t spell success with Don Brown bringing the heat.

Michigan 48 – Penn State 20

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 3

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016


power-rankings_header

Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2

week-3-power-rankings

*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Michigan and Ohio State remained the top two this week, but the Buckeyes earned all five first place votes, while Michigan State gained some ground on the Wolverines. Nebraska made the biggest leap from 6.0 to 4.0. Wisconsin and Iowa both fell a couple of spots after squeaking by Georgia State and losing to North Dakota State, respectively. Minnesota, Penn State, Maryland, and Indiana all stand roughly equal in the middle of the rankings. Rutgers jumps two spots to 11th, just ahead of Illinois and Purdue, while Northwestern stays in the cellar despite a win over Duke.

Big Ten power rankings – Week 3
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (3-0) Even Beat #14 Oklahoma 45-24  Bye
2. Michigan (3-0) Even Beat Colorado 45-28 Sat. vs Penn State (2-1), 3:30pm, ABC
3. Michigan State (2-0) Up 2 Beat #18 ND 36-28 Sat. vs #11 Wisconsin (3-0), 12pm, BTN
4. Nebraska (2-0) Up 1 Beat #22 Oregon 35-32 Sat. at Northwestern (1-2), 7:30pm, BTN
5. Wisconsin (3-0) Down 2 Beat Georgia State 23-17 Sat. at #8 Michigan State (2-0), 12pm, BTN
6. Iowa (2-1) Down 2 Lost to NDSU 21-23 Sat. at Rutgers (2-1), 12pm, ESPN2
7. Minnesota (2-0) Even Bye Sat. vs Colorado State (2-1), 12pm, ESPNU
8. Penn State (2-1) Up 1 Beat Temple 34-27 Sat. at #4 Michigan (3-0), 3:30pm, ABC
9. Maryland (3-0) Up 1 Beat UCF 30-24 2OT Bye
10. Indiana (2-0) Down 2 Bye Sat. vs Wake Forest (1-0), 3:30pm, BTN
11. Rutgers (2-1) Up 2 Beat New Mexico 37-28 Sat. Iowa (2-1), 12pm, ESPN2
12. Illinois (1-2) Down 1 Lost to WMU 10-34 Bye
13. Purdue (1-1) Down 1 Bye  Sat. vs Nevada (2-1), 12pm, ESPNN
14. Northwestern (1-2) Even Beat Duke 24-13 Sat. vs #20 Nebraska (3-0), 7:30pm, BTN

First Look: Penn State

Monday, September 19th, 2016


penn-state-mascot

Michigan survived its first test of the season on Saturday with a 45-28 win over a resurgent Colorado squad. Now, the Wolverines look toward this coming Saturday when they open Big Ten conference play against Penn State. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare three games into the season.

Penn State & Michigan statistical comparison
Penn State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 35.3 | 53.0 50 4
27.3 15.0 77 | 19
Rushing Yards 335 593 529 420
Rush Avg. Per Game 111.7 197.7 113 52
176.3 140.0 92 57
Avg. Per Rush 3.2 | 4.9
4.2 3.6
Passing Yards 828 763 506 468
Pass Avg. Per Game 276.0 254.3 31 47 168.7 156.0 23 16
Total Offense 1,163 1,356 1,035 888
Total Off Avg. Per Game 387.7 452.0 83 46 345.0 296.0 46 24
Kick Return Average 21.6 19.0 61 91 30.0 19.5 122 | 47
Punt Return Average 6.4 22.9 74 5 1.0 17.5 15 121
Avg. Time of Possession 26:43 31:18 101 48 33:17 | 28:42
3rd Down Conversion Pct 27.3% | 49.0% 118 27
28.6% | 11.0% 27 | 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 5-44 | 5-34
49 | 49
10-73 | 11-87 17 | 11
Touchdowns Scored 13 | 21
10 | 6
Field Goals-Attempts 5-5 4-6
4-6 | 1-4
Red Zone Scores (13-16) 81%|(16-18) 89% 76 | 47
(12-13) 92%|(1-3) 33% 93 1
Red Zone Touchdowns (8-16) 50%|(12-18) 67% (9-13) 69%|(1-3) 33%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 31.0 36.1 54 28 20.5 10.8 14 2

Penn State comes in with a 2-1 record, having beaten Kent State (33-13) and Temple (34-27) and lost to Pittsburgh (42-39).

Offensively, the Nittany Lions rank in the middle third of the Big Ten in most categories. They rank seventh in scoring offense, 11th in total offense, 13th in rushing, second in passing, seventh in passing efficiency. Those aren’t great numbers considering two of Penn State’s three opponents rank 56th (Temple) and 110th (Kent State) in S&P and neither has a win over an FBS program yet. Temple’s lone win is over Stony Brook and Kent State’s only win is over Monmouth.

In the loss to Pittsburgh, Penn State’s offense did put up 406 total yards, but only 74 of those were on the ground for 2.4 yards per carry. They’ve struggled to run the ball this season even with one of the Big Ten’s top running backs, Saquon Barkley. He has been a one-man backfield, accounting for 258 of their 335 rushing yards and six of eight rushing touchdowns. As a team, Penn State has yet to crack four yards per carry in a game this season. They rushed for 3.8 yards per carry in the opener against Kent State, but North Carolina A&T essentially did just as well on the ground against the Golden Eagles the next week.

The passing game, on the other hand, has been strong, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 332 yards against Pitt, but that doesn’t look as impressive after Oklahoma State threw for 540 against the Panthers this past Saturday.

Defensively, Penn State is similar, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in scoring defense, sixth in total defense, 12th in rush defense, second in pass defense, and ninth in pass defense efficiency. Pitt ran all over the Nittany Lion defense, to the tune of 341 yards and three touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry. Kent State and Temple were held in check, but neither features a potent rushing attack. Temple, however, passed for 286 yards — nearly identical to their combined total against Army and Stony Brook. Penn State’s pass defense isn’t as good as its national rank of 23rd indicates, since Pitt had such success on the ground and didn’t need to challenge the Nittany Lion secondary. Through three games, opponents are completing 64.4 percent of their passes on Penn State.

Overall, Penn State looks to be an average team with a few playmakers on both sides of the ball, but not enough talent overall to put a major scare into Michigan. The line opened at Michigan by 16 and it may creep higher before game time.

M&GB staff predictions: Colorado

Saturday, September 17th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Colorado comes to town tomorrow with a 2-0 record, hoping to relive the magic of 1994 when Kordell Stewart’s hail Mary stunned the Wolverines. As a 20-point underdog, a win this time around would be a much bigger stunner. Josh was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 51 – UCF 10. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Colorado
Justin 34 17
Derick 38 14
Sam 41 10
Josh 42 17
Joe 45 17
M&GB Average 40 15

Michigan’s schedule has gradually gotten stronger by the opponent and this will be the biggest test yet. The line has hovered around 20 points, but that will be a tough one for Michigan to cover. Through the first two weeks of the season Colorado ranks in the top 10 nationally in both offense and defense. Like Michigan they have feasted on cupcakes without playing down to their competition, but they have done it better.

Colorado has done a good job taking care of the ball so far this season. They have lost three fumbles — which are mostly random — but Liufau hasn’t thrown an interception yet. Michigan’s defense has forced four turnovers so far — two of which were pick-sixes — and they’ll need to force Liufau to make mistakes.

Offensively, the big question will be whether Michigan can muster a run game. UCF packed eight and nine man boxes a week ago to stop the run, so Wilton Speight aired it out 37 times. The passing game made seven big plays (20 or more yards). But Colorado features a much better secondary than UCF did. Awuzie is one of the best corners Michigan will face this season and will be able to stick with Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh. If the offensive line is unable to get a push and open up running lanes, Speight will be tested more than he has yet in his young career.

This game has the makings of a tight one through the first half that Michigan pulls away in the second. I do think the running game will be able to have some success — Colorado State rushed for 5.6 yards per carry on 33 attempts — and the play action passing game will make enough big plays to ensure the win, but not cover the spread.

Michigan 34 – Colorado 17

Derick

Michigan hasn’t seen a test like Colorado yet this season, but the Buffaloes still aren’t on the same level as most of the Big Ten. In two games against Hawaii and UCF, Michigan ran away from the game in the first quarter.

I expect this game will be closer, but it still shouldn’t be close. Michigan has more firepower offensively than Colorado and should be able to overwhelm the Buffaloes downfield. If the first two weeks are any indication, Michigan will once again struggle to run the ball against a solid Colorado front seven. But Wilton Speight has shown he can beat teams in play action, and I think he will again.

Colorado will hang in there for a half, but Michigan will run away in the third quarter for a win.

Michigan 38 – Colorado 14

Sam

This may be the first “test” for the Wolverines, but I’m resting easy. I still think Michigan’s defense is too good to cede more than a couple fluky touchdowns (even without a couple of major pieces) to Colorado, and Speight has been too good to contain. I like the Maize and Blue to cover the spread for a third straight time before conference season gets underway.

Michigan 41 – Colorado 10

Josh (1)

Colorado is probably better than both Hawaii and UCF, but they haven’t played anyone of note either. There were some concerns about Michigan’s run defense last week, losing ‘contain’ on the quarterback and giving up an 87-yard touchdown run. As I touched on in this week’s ‘The Numbers Game’ post I wouldn’t worry too much, these are issues that will be fixed by the coaching staff. Like last year, Michigan has been very vanilla in both their offense and defense. There’s no need to break out their whole bag of tricks early on and give teams like MSU, Iowa and OSU stuff to scout.

Michigan is much more talented and better coached than Colorado, but they still may give Michigan a test this weekend. Stats-wise, Sefo Liufau has been an efficient passer in his first two games and isn’t a slouch in the run game either. Normally this would be a prime letdown spot for a game — a solid opponent after two weeks of cupcakes. I don’t see Harbaugh letting that happen though. The man didn’t even find Colorado’s fake depth chart amusing (I thought it was rather clever).

That said, I think Colorado will hang with Michigan a lot longer than most people think, despite Michigan being favored by 20-points. They’re a spread team with a high-tempo offense and some solid threats in both the running and passing game. Michigan is missing two defensive linemen (and maybe Jourdan Lewis again too) and it will eventually take its toll resulting in a big run or two, as guys get worn down. Twitter will be panicking early as I think this will still be a competitive game heading into halftime. Michigan will pull away by the fourth quarter making the game look not nearly as close as it actually was.

Some things I’d like to see:

On offense: It would be nice to see the run game get going but I just want to see an efficient offense again, regardless of how they do it. This should be a good test for Speight and I’d like to see him remain calm in the pocket and make the correct reads/progressions as he did last week. On the ground, if they so choose to run a lot, I need to see some more consistency in the blocking and from De’Veon Smith’s decision making regarding which holes to hit and when to cutback, etc.

On defense: The obvious is not let the quarterback run all over them but I won’t be upset by a couple big runs. If they can keep the big plays to under five I’ll be very pleased. What I’d really like though is to see Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark play so well that we don’t need to worry about missing Lewis (if he’s out longer than expected). With Lewis this secondary can be elite; without him they cannot.

On special teams: It’d be crazy to think they can block another kick, or two, right?

Michigan 42 – Colorado 17

Joe (1)

Michigan 45 – Colorado 17

#4 Michigan vs Colorado game preview

Friday, September 16th, 2016


um-colorado-game-preview-header(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

For the third straight week an external storyline has dominated the talk leading up to the game, this time in the form of a fake depth chart from Colorado. In Week 1, Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich told the media that Harbaugh declined his request to send game tape. He later said that he was joking. In Week 2, the talk centered around UCF head coach Scott Frost and his comments about Michigan following the 1997 season that saw his Nebraska Cornhuskers share the national title with Michigan.

um-colorado_small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – BTN
Colorado Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre (4th season)
Coaching Record: 12-27 (2-25 Pac-12)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Darrin Chiaverini (1st season)
Brian Lindgren (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Leavitt (1st season)
Last Season: 4-9 (1-8 Pac-12)
Last Meeting: UM 27 – CU 3 (1997)
All-Time Series: Michigan 3-1
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 2-1
Jim Harbaugh vs Colorado First meeting
Last Michigan win: 1997 (27-3)
Last Colorado win: 1994 (27-26)
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Colorado Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Colorado State W 44-7
Idaho State W 56-7

This week, Colorado decided to poke fun at the fact that Harbaugh hasn’t released a depth chart this season. Colorado sports information director Dave Plati created a fake depth chart that lists the Buffaloes’ quarterback as Elmer Fudd, the halfbacks as the Hanson brothers from the 1977 movie Slapshot, defensive tackle — wearing No. 007 of course — as James Bond, and “weak safety” as Stewie Griffin from Family Guy.

Harbaugh, however, dismissed the tactic in an interview on Thursday morning with 97.1 FM.

“In our preparation for Colorado we’ve had a hard time working humor into the preparations,” Harbaugh said. “They’re a very good football team.”

He continued.

“I saw the depth chart. I was trying to imagine how many people sat around and how many hours they worked on that. We’ve just found, I mean, when it comes to the depth chart — modern technology seems to have made the depth chart an out-dated task by about 20 years. We’ve found studying last week’s film of the opponent is the most accurate way of determining another team’s depth chart.”

No matter who starts for Colorado, a win in the Big House would be a huge lift for a program that had won just 10 games in head coach Mike MacIntyre’s first three seasons in Boulder. It’s a make or break season for Mac and he hopes to recreate the magic that Colorado displayed 22 years ago when Kordell Steward stunned the Wolverines with a hail Mary. The Buffaloes will be wearing those 1994 uniforms tomorrow.

So far this season, Colorado looks much improved over the team that went just 4-9 and 1-8 in Pac-12 play a year ago. The level of competition hasn’t been much as Colorado State ranks 112th nationally in FEI — 31 spots below UCF — and Idaho State ranks 78th in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Still, like Michigan in its first two games of the season, Colorado did what it needed to do, winning both games by a combined score of 100-14.

So could Colorado stun Michigan again? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Colorado has the ball

Co-offensive coordinators Darrin Chiaverini and Brian Lindgren returned just four full-time starters from last season, but they also welcomed a productive junior college transfer and got back a starting offensive lineman who missed all of 2015 due to injury.

Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau entered the season with 29 games of starting experience and 32 games of playing experience under his belt. So far through two weeks he has completed 74.1 percent of his passes for 522 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He has also rushed 20 times for an average of six yards per carry and one touchdown. He missed the final two games of 2015 and all of spring practice with a Lisfranc (foot) injury, but has shown no signs of rust thus far. Entering the season, Liufau held 75 school records and will look to build on that the rest of 2016.

Last year’s leading rusher, junior Phillip Lindsay, is back after rushing for 653 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He has 125 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry so far this season. He shares the backfield with Kyle Evans, a 5-foot-6, 175-pound sophomore who has 93 yards and two scores on 4.0 yards per carry so far. Junior Donovan Lee and freshman Beau Bisharat are averaging six to nine carries a game. Bisharat was a 247 Composite four-star who held offers from Oregon, Michigan State, Stanford, Nebraska, and others before signing with the Buffaloes.

The receiving corps suffered the biggest loss from last season in the form of graduating senior Nelson Spruce, who ranked second in the Pac-12 with 6.8 receptions per game and fifth with 81 yards per game, though he only found the end zone four times. Leading returning receiver Shay Fields, who caught 42 passes for 598 yards and four scores in 2015, leads the Buffs with 157 yards on five catches, but has yet to find the end zone. Junior Devin Ross and junior college transfer Kabion Ento have two touchdown receptions apiece. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Ento has the best size among the receiving corps and he’s coming off a 38-catch, 607-yard, eight-touchdown performance at East Central (Miss.) Community College in 2015. Junior Bryce Bobo is the other impact receiver with seven catches for 106 yards thus far.

The offensive line returned three of last season’s opening day starters, though left tackle Jeromy Irwin suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the second quarter of the second game. He’s back as the anchor of the line after starting 11 games in 2014. The most experienced is senior center Alex Kelley, who has started 27 career games including all 13 a year ago. Left guard Gerrad Kough started 10 games last season while missing three with various injuries. The right side of the line is where the newcomers stepped in. Redshirt freshman Tim Lynott earned the job at right guard and junior Sam Kronshage won the right tackle gig. Kronshage started six games last season, three at left tackle and three at right tackle.

When Michigan has the ball

When Michigan’s 2015 defensive coordinator, D.J. Durkin, left for the Maryland head coaching position after just one season, one of the names that came up as his replacement was former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt. Harbaugh, of course, hired Boston College’s Don Brown instead, and Leavitt ended up in the same position at Colorado. In Boulder, he inherits a veteran defense that looks to take a step forward in his second season.

The defensive line has been a weakness the past few seasons, but returned plenty of experience. Senior nose tackle Josh Tupou, who has started 33 career games, redshirted in 2015 due to a violation of team rules. He was an honorable mention Freshman All-American in 2012 and honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2014, so his return will be a welcome addition for Leavitt. He has six tackles, including one for loss in the first two games. He’s be joined on the line by senior ends Jordan Carrell and Samson Kafovalu, who have combined for nine tackles, 1.5 for loss, and one sack so far.

Like the defensive line and offensive line, the linebacking corps gets back a key piece that missed most of last season. Junior inside linebacker Addison Gillam started 10 games in 2014 and was a first-team Freshman All-American in 2013, but tore his meniscus in Week 2 last season. But he’s not a starter this season and has just two tackles. Inside linebackers Rick Gamboa and Kenneth Olugbode are the second and third leading tacklers so far. Senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert led the team with six sacks last season and has one already this year and a team-leading two tackles for loss. Junior Derek McCartney started the Idaho State game after Christian Shaver started in Week 1. McCartney racked up 70 tackles, 10 for loss, and five sacks in 2015. He has recorded two tackles including one for loss so far.

The secondary returned three starters including preseason Jim Thorpe Award candidate Chidobe Awuzie, who tallied 90 tackles and a team-high 10 pass breakups in 2015. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 performer and has 22 career pass breakups. He leads the team with 10 tackles and also has two pass breakups and an interception so far. Junior Afolabi Laguda is the other corner with six tackles. Safeties Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon have combined for four pass breakups.

The other third

Special teams was a bit lackluster for the Buffaloes last season, so MacIntyre brought in a pair of new coaches to oversee the unit. Former special teams coordinator Toby Neinas was dismissed and landed at Rutgers, and in his place stepped Daniel Da Prato and Matt Thompson. Da Prato was the special teams coordinator at Montana State the past three seasons, while Thompson was a private kicking instructor.

Senior kicker Diego Gonzalez has made all three of his attempts so far this season, but hasn’t attempted one longer than 30 yards. He made just 62.1 percent of his field goal attempts in his first season as the primary kicker last season, but he did show off a big leg with a long of 52. In fact, he went 2-of-3 from 50-plus yards. He struggled mightily from the left hash, making just 5-of-12, but made 13-of-17 everywhere else. Sophomore punter Alex Kinney ranked ninth in the Pac-12 with an average of 40.1 yards per punt as a true freshman. He is averaging 42.8 yards per punt so far this season with one touchback and one downed inside the 20.

Prediction

Michigan’s schedule has gradually gotten stronger by the opponent and this will be the biggest test yet. The line has hovered around 20 points, but that will be a tough one for Michigan to cover. Through the first two weeks of the season Colorado ranks in the top 10 nationally in both offense and defense. Like Michigan they have feasted on cupcakes without playing down to their competition, but they have done it better.

Colorado has done a good job taking care of the ball so far this season. They have lost three fumbles — which are mostly random — but Liufau hasn’t thrown an interception yet. Michigan’s defense has forced four turnovers so far — two of which were pick-sixes — and they’ll need to force Liufau to make mistakes.

Offensively, the big question will be whether Michigan can muster a run game. UCF packed eight and nine man boxes a week ago to stop the run, so Wilton Speight aired it out 37 times. The passing game made seven big plays (20 or more yards). But Colorado features a much better secondary than UCF did. Awuzie is one of the best corners Michigan will face this season and will be able to stick with Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh. If the offensive line is unable to get a push and open up running lanes, Speight will be tested more than he has yet in his young career.

This game has the makings of a tight one through the first half that Michigan pulls away in the second. I do think the running game will be able to have some success — Colorado State rushed for 5.6 yards per carry on 33 attempts — and the play action passing game will make enough big plays to ensure the win, but not cover the spread.

Michigan 34 – Colorado 17

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 2

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016


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Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

big-ten-power-rankings-week-2*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

The top six remain the same from last week, but Week 3 provides an opportunity for movement with Ohio State visiting 14th-ranked Oklahoma, Michigan State visiting 18th-ranked Notre Dame, and Nebraska hosting 22nd-ranked Oregon. Penn State and Northwestern were the biggest losers from Week 2, each falling two spots with losses to Pittsburgh and Illinois State, respectively. Northwestern finds itself in the cellar as the Big Ten’s only two-loss team.

Big Ten power rankings – Week 2
1. Ohio State (2-0) | Even | Beat Tulsa 48-3 | This week: Saturday at #14 Oklahoma (1-1), 7:30pm, FOX
2. Michigan (2-0) | Even | Beat UCF 51-14 | This week: Saturday Colorado (2-0), 3:30pm, BTN
3. Wisconsin (2-0) | Even | Beat Akron 54-10 | This week: Saturday vs Georgia State (0-2), 12pm, BTN
4. Iowa (2-0) | Even | Beat Iowa State 42-3 | This week: Saturday vs NDSU (2-0), 12pm, ESPN2
5. Michigan State (1-0) | Even | Bye | This week: Saturday at #18 Notre Dame (1-1), 7:30pm, NBC
6. Nebraska (2-0) | Even | Beat Wyoming 52-17 | This week: Saturday vs #22 Oregon (2-0), 3:30pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (2-0) | Up 1 | Beat Indiana State 58-28 | This week: Bye
8. Indiana (2-0) | Up 1 | Beat Ball State 30-20 | This week: Bye
9. Penn State (1-1) | Down 2 | Lost to Pittsburgh 39-42 | This week: Saturday vs Temple (1-1), 12pm, BTN
10. Maryland (2-0) |Up 1 | Beat FIU 41-14 | This week: Saturday at UCF (1-1), 7pm, CBSSN
11. Illinois (1-1) | Down 1 | Lost to North Carolina 23-48 | This week: Saturday vs WMU (2-0), 4pm, ESPNN
12. Purdue (1-1) | Up 1 | Lost to Cincinnati 20-38 | This week: Bye
13. Rutgers (1-1) | Up 1 | Beat Howard 52-14 | This week: Saturday vs New Mexico (1-1), 12pm, ESPNN
14. Northwestern (0-2) | Down 2 | Lost to Illinois State 7-9 | This week: Saturday vs Duke (1-1), 8pm, BTN

First Look: Colorado

Monday, September 12th, 2016


colorado

Michigan took care of UCF on Saturday to improve to 2-0 on the season. The Wolverines have now scored 50 or more points in back to back games for the first time since 1992 and the 114 points scored in the first two games are the fourth most in program history — the most since the 1914 team scored 127 points against DePauw and Case.

Now the schedule gets progressively tougher as the 2-0 Colorado Buffaloes come to town with plenty of confidence. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare two games into the season.

Colorado stats & Michigan comparison
Colorado | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 50.0 | 57.0 11 5
7.0 8.5 6 9
Rushing Yards 522 425 197 356
Rush Avg. Per Game 261.0 212.5 20 45
98.5 178.0 30 90
Avg. Per Rush 4.6 | 5.3
4.0 4.3
Passing Yards 653 534 124 207
Pass Avg. Per Game 326.5 267.0 17 42 62.0 103.5 2 9
Total Offense 1,175 959 321 563
Total Off Avg. Per Game 587.5 479.5 7 38 160.5 281.5 1 29
Kick Return Average 20.0 8.2 76 126 23.6 17.2 101 | 33
Punt Return Average 7.0 18.5 66 14 6.0 | 12.0 64 103
Avg. Time of Possession 35:36 31:10 14 50 24:24 | 28:50
3rd Down Conversion Pct 62.2% | 60.0% 4 6
23.3% | 12.0% 21 3
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 1-6 | 2-12
7 | 27
3-27 | 7-59
79 | 17
Touchdowns Scored 13 15
2 | 2
Field Goals-Attempts 3-4 3-3
0-0 | 1-3
Red Zone Scores (15-16) 94%|(13-14) 93% 36 | 37
(2-2) 100%|(0-1) 0% 93 1
Red Zone Touchdowns (12-16) 75%|(10-14) 71% (2-2) 100%|(0-1) 0%
OFEI/DFEI N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ N/A | N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A | N/A

After going 4-9 a year ago, Colorado has started the 2016 season with back to back wins. The Buffaloes beat in-state rival Colorado State 44-7 in the season opener and then topped Idaho State of the Football Championship Subdivision 56-7 on Saturday. Although Colorado won three of its first four games last season — and only won one of the remaining nine — it’s the way they’re getting it done this season that have those in Boulder excited.

Colorado ranks in the top 11 nationally in both scoring offense (11th) and scoring defense (sixth). Even better, they rank in the top seven nationally in both total offense (seventh) and total defense (first). This is a team that is getting it done on both sides of the ball.

The running game has been as consistent as it can be through the first two games. The Buffaloes rushed for 260 yards on 56 carries in Week 1 and 262 yards on 57 carries in Week 2. The 261 rushing yards per game ranks 20th nationally and are 48.5 more rushing yards per game than Michigan thus far.

The passing game has also been pretty consistent, throwing for 318 yards on 23-of-33 passes in the opener and 335 yards on 22-of-31 passes against Idaho State. Their 326.5 passing yards per game rank 17th nationally are 59.5 yards more than Michigan averages.

Consistency and balance have been the name of the game for Mike MacIntyre in this all important season if he hopes to keep his job. The Buffaloes have allowed just one sack, which ranks seventh nationally, and have converted 62.2 percent of their third downs. Only three teams — TCU (67.5), Ole Miss (62.5), and Toledo (62.5) — have converted more.

Defensively, first year defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has his defense among the nation’s best to date. The Buffaloes have allowed just a touchdown in each of their first two games. Colorado State scored at the beginning of the fourth quarter after Colorado already had a 37-0 lead. Idaho State didn’t get on the board until 1:48 remained in the game when the Buffs lead 56-0.

Idaho State only managed 96 total yards, averaging 2.5 yards per carry and 1.5 yards per pass attempt. But this not only an FCS school, it’s one that went just 2-9 a year ago and currently ranks 78th in the FCS.

The win over Colorado State was slightly more impressive as the Rams were a bowl team a year ago with a 7-6 record. They’re at least comparative, and probably better than Michigan’s first two opponents, Hawaii and UCF. Colorado held CSU to just 225 total yards. While Colorado State only managed 63 passing yards, they averaged a respectable 4.6 yards per carry on 35 attempts. But they turned the ball over four times.

Michigan opened the week favored by 20 points. That line will likely come down slightly before Saturday, but Colorado isn’t exactly the pushover most thought they would be prior to the season. Just how real they are remains to be seen, but Michigan will need to put together a complete game to cover the spread.

M&GB staff predictions: UCF

Friday, September 9th, 2016


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Michigan disposed of Hawaii in Week 1 and the schedule doesn’t get any tougher this week with the UCF Knights coming to town. Joe was the winner of our picks last week with his prediction of Michigan 49 – Hawaii 3. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan UCF
Justin 56 13
Derick 56 7
Sam 50 3
Josh 51 10
Joe 54 7
M&GB Average 53 8

Michigan had no problem steamrolling Hawaii, and although UCF currently leads the nation in points allowed (zero) they haven’t been tested. South Carolina State was an FCS school that was predicted to finish fourth in its conference this season. Michigan should have similar success moving the ball as it did a week ago. UCF’s defense actually ranked worse than Hawaii’s last season and they hired an offensive-minded coach who runs an up-tempo scheme. That’s all good when they’re scoring like Oregon does, but when they aren’t, that puts their defense on the field for a long time.

Michigan will have another big day on the ground and continue to work on getting Wilton Speight comfortable commanding the offense. Defensively, Michigan will slow down the spread and hold UCF to a field goal in the first half.

After last week’s injuries to Bryan Mone, Taco Charlton, and De’Veon Smith, Harbaugh won’t risk leaving the starters in longer than he has to in this one. Expect to see a lot of young guys in the second half. When all is said and done Michigan’s backups will give up a few points but it will be another comfortable win for the Maize and Blue.

Michigan 56 – UCF 13

Derick

Michigan simply overwhelmed Hawaii, and I think we’ll see something similar this weekend. UCF was even worse than Hawaii last season and is coming off its first win in about 20 months.

Teams like Tennessee and Michigan State showed us what happens to teams that look shaky against bad competition, so Michigan can’t afford to let UCF hang around.

The offense will be too much for the Knights and the defense should be swarming around the backfield once again. Scott Frost will have some film of Don Brown’s defense at Michigan, but it shouldn’t help much. Michigan will win big.

Michigan 56 – UCF 7

Sam

Did you see last week’s game? Tomorrow should be deja vu.

Michigan 50 – UCF 3

Josh

We’re still in the part of our schedule where Michigan plays opponents who aren’t in the same league, and Harbaugh coached teams will beat the teams they’re supposed to beat, so in lieu of a normal prediction (Michigan is going to win big) I’d like to touch on couple things I’d like to see out of our boys in Maize & Blue.

On offense: I’d like to see the running game get going early again. Yes, I want to see more of Chris Evans just like you but I’d also like to have it open up the play-action pass game. Which leads to my next item: I want to see Speight throw it 20-plus times. He was good in his small sample size last week and I have no problem with back-ups getting game time in blowouts, but I think Speight needs as many game reps as possible before teams like Penn State and Wisconsin come to town. Of course, Jim Harbaugh may not agree with me but I’d like to see Speight sling it around some more anyway.

On defense: After the injury scares to Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone (it appears both will be back by conference play) it will open up more playing time (and should become a blessing in disguise) for guys like Rashan Gary, Michael Dwumfour, and Michael Onwenu (who oddly are both No. 50). Gary showed off his lightning quick first step and strength but did not register any tackles for loss. Mercy rules were apparently in effect as he was held numerous times. With more snaps, and perhaps less of a blowout, I’d like to see him finally knock down a quarterback and register that first sack (of what should be many more to come). Hawaii got some momentum going late in the first half with their dink and dunk slant game, and I’m interested to see what adjustments Don Brown makes on that front because Scott Frost most definitely saw that and will look to exploit it.

UCF isn’t very good. This won’t be much of a game for long, and that’s fine. Michigan will pick up where they left off last week and continue to get the younger guys as many snaps as possible. Michigan wins big as Harbaugh is reminded of Scott Frost’s denigration of the 1997 Michigan team and keeps his foot on the gas until midway through the fourth quarter. UCF gets a late touchdown against the third stringers in garbage time to help them reach double digits.

Michigan 51 – UCF 10

Joe (1)

Teams are supposed to show the most improvement between weeks one and two, so this one should be fun to watch. I’m very interested to see how the quarterback play improves from Week 1. I don’t see much throwing in the second half due to a big lead so the first half will have most of my attention. I think this one gets ugly early and Michigan continues to roll. The offense looks solid behind a new crowd favorite at running back. Chris Evans looks like a stud but will obviously share some carries this week. Look for him to get into the end zone twice more.

The defense looks “as advertised” and is ELITE. They get after the quarterback and force several turnovers and a pick-six. Michigan wins big.

Michigan 54 – UCF 7