photo Michigan-Display-Ad-728x90-Die-Hard-Fans-only_zpskcnarkrk.jpg  photo MampGB header 2015 v6_zpsdluogxnr.jpg

Archive for the ‘Preview/Prediction’ Category

#17 Michigan at Indiana game preview

Friday, October 13th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Michigan tasted defeat for the first time this season last Saturday, dropping a rainy, windy, ugly affair to its bitter in-state rival, Michigan State. While the Michigan defense was dominant after allowing a pair of first half scores, the offense was impotent, unable to move — or hang on to — the ball, drawing criticism from throughout the fan base.

Quick Facts
Memorial Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Indiana Head Coach: Tom Allen (1st season)
Coaching Record: 3-3 (all at IU)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike DeBord (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Mark Hagen (1st season)
Last Season: 6-7 (4-5 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 20 – IU 10 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 56-9
Record in Bloomington: Michigan 18-2
Jim Harbaugh vs Indiana 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (20-10)
Last Indiana win: 1987 (14-10)
Current Streak: Michigan 21
Indiana schedule to date
Opponent Result
#2 Ohio State L 21-49
at Virginia W 34-17
Georgia Southern W 52-17
at #4 Penn State L 14-45
Charleston Southern W 27-0

Jim Harbaugh doesn’t care about fan criticism though. He’s focused on the task at hand and that task is beating a team Michigan has handled 21 straight times and 36 of the last 37.

Indiana has a different look this season than the offensive beast it has the been past few now that Kevin Wilson is the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. Wilson was forced out last December for player mistreatment and Allen, the defensive coordinator assumed the reins for the Foster Farms Bowl, which the Hoosiers lost to Utah. Allen remained the head coach and brought in former Michigan offensive coordinator Mike DeBord to run his offense, signaling a marked change from Wilson.

He also added former Michigan star running back Mike Hart as his running backs coach and former Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan as his quarterbacks coach.

They had a tough first assignment with Ohio State to open the season and actually held a 14-13 halftime lead before surrendering five second-half touchdowns. They bounced back in Week 2 with a 34-17 win at Virginia, which looks better and better each week as the Cavaliers are now 4-1.

Indiana got an unexpected bye week in Week 3 when Hurricane Irma forced their matchup with Florida International to be canceled. A 52-17 win over Georgia Southern was as expected — the Eagles are 0-4 with an average margin of defeat of more than 24 points.

The Hoosiers then had to travel to Happy Valley where they were summarily handled by the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions. Penn State raced out to a 28-0 first quarter lead and cruised to a 45-14 win. But Indiana got back in the win column last week, topping Charleston Southern of the FCS, 27-0. IU held the Buccaneers to just six first downs and 134 total yards.

So how good is Indiana in its first season post-Wilson? Who really knows. They’ve beaten an FCS team, an 0-4 Sun Belt team, and a perennial ACC bottom-feeder that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011, and they’ve lost to the top two teams in the Big Ten.

It could be said that Michigan is the first happy medium on the Hoosiers’ schedule. Granted, Michigan was ranked 7th nationally just a week ago, but the way the offense is playing Michigan is nowhere near a top-10 team. The defense may be the nation’s best, but unless the offense shows significant midseason progress with its backup quarterback, it will continue to hold the team back and give teams like Indiana a fighting chance.

Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Indiana offense

(IU Sports)

Mike DeBord has had a long and winding career since playing NAIA football in northern Indiana in the late 1970s. He worked his way up the coaching ranks as an offensive line coach at Fort Hays State, Eastern Illinois, Ball State, Colorado State, and Northwestern before landing at Michigan under Gary Moeller. He was kept on staff by Lloyd Carr and was named offensive coordinator for the first time in 1997, helping guide the Wolverines to the national title.

Following the 1999 season, he left to take his first head coaching position at Central Michigan, where he went just 12-34 before retuning to Michigan for the remainder of Carr’s career. From there, he spent two years with the Seattle Seahawks and three with the Chicago Bears and returned to the college game as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons before moving to Bloomington.

So far this season, DeBord’s offense ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 69th nationally in total offense (408.4 yards per game), fifth and 67th in scoring (29.6 points per game), ninth and 78th in rushing (148.8 yards per game), and fifth and 46th in passing (259.6 yards per game) — a far cry from the high-powered offenses under Wilson.

Unlike Harbaugh, who will stick with his starting quarterback until he can’t anymore, DeBord began the season utilizing a two-headed quarterback system at IU. Fifth-year senior Richard Lagow and redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey split time through the first four games before Ramsey got the full-time nod against Charleston Southern last week. I’m not sure how telling a 32-of-41, 321-yard performance is against a team that ranks 75th in the FCS in pass efficiency defense, but the Cincinnati native was a combined 11-of-20 for 88 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in limited time against Ohio State and Penn State. Lagow, meanwhile, was the Big Ten’s second-leading passer last season, but is completing just 56.3 percent of his passes this season.

True freshman Morgan Ellison has taken command of the running game, averaging 71.6 yards per game. The three-star product from Ohio State’s back yard (Pickerington Central) did most of his work this season against Georgia State, rushing for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. He did manage 5.9 yards per carry against Penn State, but got just nine carries as IU fell behind by 28 points in the first quarter. Ramsey is the second-leading rusher with 171 yards on 3.5 yards per carry, while redshirt freshman Cole Gest is the only other Hoosier with more than 100 yards and he leads the team with 6.1 yards per carry.

Simmie Cobbs seems like he has been at Indiana forever and leads the team with 33 receptions for 370 yards and three touchdowns. The redshirt junior was an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer in 2015, ranking third in the league with 1,035 yards, but suffered a season-ending injury a year ago. He was unstoppable in the opener against Ohio State, catching 11 passes for 149 yards and a score. He also caught 10 passes for 98 yards against Charleston Southern and leads the Big Ten with 6.6 per game.

Fellow redshirt junior Luke Timian is second on the team with 22 receptions out of the slot, but is ahead of only third-down back Mike Majette with 6.4 yards per reception. Junior Donovan Hale and redshirt freshman Taysir Mack are both tall targets on the outside with a combined 245 yards and three touchdowns so far. Mack had a big game against Charleston Southern, catching seven passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while Hale leads the team with 16.6 yards per reception. Senior tight end Ian Thomas is the team’s second-leading receiver with 254 yards and three scores.

The offensive line is middle of the pack in the Big Ten with 2.2 sacks allowed per game (Michigan allows 3.2) but struggles on the interior and hasn’t been able to get much push in the running game.

Indiana defense

(Sam Riche, AP)

Defensive coordinator Mark Hagen is a former IU linebacker who spent about a decade building his resume at Purdue before returning to his alma mater in 2011. He left to coach linebackers and defensive tackles at Texas A&M from 2013-15 and came back to Bloomington as the assistant defensive coordinator last season. When Allen was promoted to head coach he gave Hagen the reigns of the defense.

His senior-laded Hoosier defense ranks eighth in the Big Ten and 47th nationally in total defense (357.8 yards per game), ninth and 59th in scoring defense (25.6 points per game), 12th and 67th in rush defense (152.4 yards per game), and seventh and 42nd in pass defense (205.4 yards per game). But while those stats don’t show much, IU’s defense ranks 22nd nationally in S&P+.

The most notable player on the Indiana defense is senior linebacker Tegray Scales, who was a second-team All-American last season while leading the nation with 23.5 tackles for loss. He led the Big Ten with 126 tackles. So far this season he’s slacking off, only ranking fifth in the conference in both tackles (42) and tackles for loss (6.5). The linebacker corps is made up of experienced seniors and Chris Covington and Tony Fields join Scales. Covington, who started his career at IU as a quarterback, recorded a sack and fumble against Michigan last season and ranks second on the team with 32 tackles. Fields has 23 tackles and two for loss.

Indiana’s defensive front is led by fifth-year senior nose tackle Nate Hoff, who takes on double teams and clogs the middle effectively. He notched 1.5 tackles for loss against Michigan a year ago. Junior Jacob Robinson and redshirt freshman Jerome Johnson split time at the three-tech and have a combined 15 tackles, three for loss, and two sacks. Seniors Greg Gooch and Robert McCray II aren’t stars, though they may look like it against Michigan’s tackles. The ends and have combined for three tackles for loss and two sacks this season.

Fifth-year senior Rashard Fant is one of the Big Ten’s best corners after recording 39 pass breakups the past two seasons. He was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season. He has three pass breakups so far this season and will present a very tough challenge for Michigan’s young receivers. Redshirt sophomore Andre Brown Jr is the other, less heralded corner and has 12 tackles and one pass breakup. Junior Jonathan Crawford and senior Chase Dutra are a pair of experienced safeties that have combined for 45 tackles, a tackle for loss, an interception, and four pass breakups so far this season. Crawford was honorable mention All-Big Ten last season.

Indiana special teams

Placekicker Griffin Oakes is the top kicker in Indiana history with 58 career field goals and a 74.4 percent career clip. He was the Big Ten’s Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year in 2015 and has made all five attempts so far this season with a long of 51. Redshirt sophomore punter Hayden Whitehead is an Aussie who ranks ninth in the Big Ten with an average of 40.3 yards per punt. He has downed 12 of 36 inside the 20 with three touchbacks.

Redshirt junior receiver J-Shun Harris II is a dangerous punt returner coming off an ACL injury in 2016. He leads the Big Ten with 22.8 yards per return and two touchdowns. Running back Devontae Williams is the main kick returner, averaging a modest 18.2 yards per return.

Prediction

I’m not looking forward to this game. I’m not worried about Michigan’s defense slowing down a Mike DeBord offense, but I am worried about this Michigan offense doing much against a pretty good IU defense. Unlike last week, weather shouldn’t be a problem with 80 degrees and sun expected in Bloomington, but weather was one of just many problems a week ago. This game has all the makings of a defensive slugfest.

Michigan’s receivers are going to have a hard time getting open in the secondary, so John O’Korn will have to rely on his tight ends. Indiana’s defense ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 2.8 sacks per game and Michigan’s line hasn’t protected its quarterbacks, so with tight coverage, O’Korn could be running for his life quite a bit. Perhaps Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton will develop a different game plan this week, but it’s hard to see Michigan’s offense moving the ball consistently.

On the other side, there’s no way Indiana should more than about 10 points. Indiana is at its best in the air, but Michigan features the top pass defense in the nation. The Hoosiers may get a big play or two through the air, and may get another from Ramsey’s legs, but won’t get much from its running game.

Michigan wins a low-scoring game that doesn’t leave us feeling much better heading into a showdown at Penn State.

Score Prediction: Michigan 17 – Indiana 10

#7 Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Saturday, October 7th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Note: Work sent me to Atlanta and Charlotte for the week, so my writing time has been sparse. I had planned to write the game preview on my flight home, but Southwest’s in-flight wifi had other plans. So here I am at midnight on Friday night, fighting a cold and a lack of sleep, so this will just be a brief one this week.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (11th season)
Coaching Record: 110-60 (93-43 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (5th season)
Dave Warner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (2nd season)
Harlon Barnett (3rd season)
Last Season: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 32 – MSU 23 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 69-35-5
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 34-19-3
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU 1-1
Last Michigan win: 2016 (32-23)
Last MSU win: 2015 (27-23)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Michigan State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 35-10
Western Michigan W 28-14
Notre Dame L 18-38
Iowa W 17-10

The tide has begun swinging back to Ann Arbor in the state’s biggest rivalry and Michigan State fans are struggling to come to grips with the loss of the bragging rights they have enjoyed for much of the past decade.

They were the biggest beneficiary of The Great Experiment that Michigan undertook when it hired Rich Rodriguez in 2008 to transform Michigan football and then swung the pendulum in the opposite direction with Brady Hoke after just three years.

When Rodriguez started deemphasizing recruiting the top players in the state of Michigan Mark Dantonio welcomed them with open arms and took the upper hand in the rivalry. Hoke came in and won his second attempt — 12-10 on a last-second field goal — but lost the other three.

Jim Harbaugh reestablished the Wolverines as the premier destination for the state’s top recruits, securing commitments from the top two in the 2016 class, then the top six and seven of the top eight in the 2017 class. In his first season, Harbaugh had a big win over the Spartans secured until a fluke botched punt in the closing seconds handed MSU their seventh win in the last eight seasons. In 2016, Michigan finished the job, topping Michigan State 32-23 in East Lansing, a game that was closer than it should have been, but given the recent history, it was a welcome win.

Now, after a loss that should have been a win, and then a narrow win, the pattern would say a resounding win is in the cards for Harbaugh. Michigan is, after all, coming off a bye week, which means they had an extra week to prepare.

But as we all know, nothing is guaranteed against Michigan State. Dantonio has mastered the art of playing with a chip on their shoulder, especially when it comes to playing Michigan. It simply means more, and Spartan players are constantly reminding us that they do a little extra every day to prepare for Michigan.

Prediction

Michigan State has already matched last season’s win total and looks good on paper. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that they’ve beaten a bad Bowling Green team, a Western Michigan squad that isn’t close to the darling it was a year ago, and a so-so Iowa. The one good team MSU has faced, Notre Dame, pounded the Spartans, 38-18.

Their leading rusher is quarterback Brian Lewerke, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But their rushing offense is right about on par with Michigan’s, averaging about three yards more per game. It’s not going to scare a Michigan defense that leads the nation against the run — especially with a pair of running backs (L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes) who are averaging less than 3.8 yards per carry. The passing game isn’t much to be concerned about either, averaging just 208 yards per game in the three games that it wasn’t playing from behind all game. I’m not worried at all about Michigan’s defense stopping the MSU offense. They’ll have success for a couple of drives, like Purdue did, but when the scripted plays run out, the Don Brown defense will take over.

What I am worried about, however, is Michigan’s offense moving the ball consistently. This certainly isn’t the Pat Narduzzi defense, but it is more solid that it was a year ago. Iowa managed just 19 rushing yards on 25 carries last week, and Michigan hasn’t shown that it can run the ball consistently yet this season. The Wolverines have done well at big plays via the run, but those are hard to rely on, especially when you’re getting stuffed at the line. But Michigan State’s defense is allowing more than four big runs (10 yards or more) per game, so there is hope.

Where I see Michigan having some success is in the air — that is, if the rain holds off. If it rains throughout the game, it’s anyone’s guess. But if not, it will all depend on whether the offensive line can keep John O’Korn clean, of course. I see a big game for tight ends Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon. Michigan State’s defense will try to keep O’Korn out of rhythm, but he’ll find comfort with his tight ends and finish with a nice passing number.

The forecast currently calls for a 35-50 percent chance of showers throughout the game with thunderstorms starting later on. If they hold off, I think Michigan wins comfortably, but not in a blowout. If the heavens open up, we can pretty much just flip a coin. I’ll make my prediction based on a mostly dry ballgame. Michigan is the more talented team and will win a relatively low-scoring affair.

Score Prediction: Michigan 23 – Michigan State 9

First Look: Michigan State

Monday, October 2nd, 2017


Michigan opened Big Ten play with a 28-10 win over Purdue, dominating the Boilermakers in the second half after trailing 10-7 at the break. Sitting at 4-0, the Wolverines got a bye week this past Saturday to get healthy and work out any issues that plagued them over the first four weeks.

This week, Michigan returns to action against bitter in-state rival Michigan State. The Wolverines finally got the best of their rival last season and will look to make it a streak on Saturday. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare through the first third of the season.

Michigan State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
24.5 95th 31.5 58th PPG 18.0 21st 13.5 8th
750 737 Rush Yds 384 277
187.5 48th 184.3 50th Rush/Gm 96.0 16th 69.3 1st
4.5 4.3 Rush Avg 3.1 2.2
968 892 Pass Yds 609 536
242.0 60th 223.0 72nd Pass/Gm 152.2 9th 134.0 4th
1,718 1,629 Total Off. 993 813
429.5 52nd 407.3 73rd Total Off./Gm 248.2 5th 203.3 1st
24.0 31st 17.6 104th KR Avg 27.2 116th 15.9 14th
5.7 75th 13.5 20th PR Avg 5.0 48th 2.8 25th
34:37 6th 33:18 18th Avg TOP 25:23 26:42
49% 12th 35% 94th 3rd Down% 27% 12th 19% 3rd
6-26 39th 12-69 109th Sacks-Yds 9-58 52nd 18-125 1st
13 13 TDs 9 6
2-3 (67%) 11-13 (85%) FG-ATT 3-3 (100%) 4-7 (57%)
11-16 (69%) 119th 12-13 (92%) 28th Red Zone 6-8 (75%) 29th 5-6 (83%) 63rd
9-16 (56%) 4-13 (31%)  RZ TD 5-8 (63%) 3-6 (50%)
OFEI/DFEI
28.0 66 32.5 39 S&P+ 20.1 16 12.6 2

Michigan State has already matched last season’s win total just four games into the season. The Spartans opened with a pair of cupcake wins over Bowling Green (35-10) and Western Michigan (28-14) before laying an egg at home against Notre Dame, falling 38-18 in a game that wasn’t really that close. They returned to the win column with a 17-10 victory over Iowa last Saturday.

This Saturday will be Michigan State’s first trip away from East Lansing this season, and although it’s only about 70 miles, the Big House presents different beast than the friendly trash tornado confines of Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State’s offense has been middle-of-the road nationally in terms of moving the ball — though better than Michigan’s — but has had trouble scoring, averaging a full touchdown per game less than Michigan does. Granted, Michigan has scored three defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown. The Spartan offense has scored 12 touchdowns and its defense has one. Comparatively, Michigan has just nine offensive touchdowns, so MSU’s offense has found the end zone more often. But even when you throw out defensive and special teams touchdowns, Michigan’s offense has still outscored MSU’s 87-78 thanks to 11 made field goals by Quinn Nordin.

MSU is averaging 187.5 rushing yards per game, which is essentially the same as what Michigan is averaging (184.3). Two Spartans have more than 200 rushing yards, but the leading rusher is quarterback Brian Lewertke, who is averaging 62 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. L.J. Scott, who nearly reached 1,000 yards on 5.4 yards per carry in 2016, is managing a meager 3.7 yards per carry so far this season. While the 48th-ranked rushing offense is above average, it did most of its work against Bowling Green and Western Michigan, rush defenses that 117th and 79th nationally. Notre Dame’s 64th-ranked rush defense held the Spartans to 151 yards and Iowa’s 57th-ranked rush defense held them to just 88 yards on 40 carries. Michigan has the nation’s best rush defense, allowing just 69.3 rushing yards per game.

Lewertke is leading a passing game that ranks 60th nationally, averaging 242.0 yards per game. It did most of its work while playing from behind against Notre Dame. In the other three games, Lewertke averaged just 27 pass attempts, but against Notre Dame he threw the ball 51 times, gaining 35 percent of his 963 passing yards on the season. Michigan State trailed 28-10 early in the third quarter and 35-10 midway through and ran just 12 rushes compared to 28 called passes in the second half. In the other three games, State averaged just 208 passing yards, which would rank 82nd nationally.

Defensively, Michigan State has been much closer to the defense that carried the Spartans through the early part of this decade than it was last season. They currently rank 21st nationally in scoring defense (18.0 points per game), 16th in rush defense (96.0 yards per game), 9th in passing (152.2 yards per game), and 5th in total defense (248.2 yards per game).

But the Spartans haven’t exactly faced good offenses yet this season. Only Notre Dame (30th nationally) ranks among the top 90 in total offense. Bowling Green ranks 103rd, Western Michigan 91st, and Iowa 102nd. And we know how that Notre Dame game turned out.

Still, Michigan State’s defense held Bowling Green to just 67 rushing yards and Iowa to just 19(!) rushing yards on 25 carries. Now, 19 yards is a remarkable statistic (Michigan held Florida to just 11 in the season opener) but Iowa’s offense has only eclipsed 164 yards once all season and it was against North Texas, so the Hawkeyes don’t exactly boast a potent rushing attack. Iowa did, however, top 200 yards passing — the only team to do so against Michigan State so far this season.

Overall, Michigan State is a solid team this season. They’re not as good as they were when they were taking advantage of the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke years, but they’re much better than they were a year ago. They’ll be a tough test for a young Michigan team that features many players playing in the first big rivalry game of their career. Both teams feature very good defenses and so-so offenses, so expect a defensive battle on Saturday night.

#8 Michigan at Purdue game preview

Friday, September 22nd, 2017


(Kaitlyn Cole)

Previously this week: First Look: Purdue, Tailgate Tuesday: Fried pork tenderloin sammy with fire roasted green chile jam and savory corn casserole, The Numbers Game: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer

With three games under their belt, the talk surrounding Michigan’s fourth game of the season is sounding much like it was entering the first. Prior to the offseason, most national so-called experts thought the Wolverines would lose to Florida because they lost too many starters to the NFL and they couldn’t match the SEC speed. All Michigan did was win 33-17 and hold the Gators to just 192 total yards and 11 on the ground.

As the Wolverines head into Big Ten play at Purdue tomorrow, they find themselves on the wrong end of the trendy upset pick in Week 4. It seems nearly every neutral observer is picking Purdue.

Quick Facts
Ross-Ade Stadium – 4p.m. EST – FOX
Purdue Head Coach: Jeff Brohm (1st season)
Coaching Record: 32-11 (2-1 at Purdue)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Brian Brohm (1st season)
Tony Levine (1st season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Nick Holt (1st season)
Anthony Poindexter (1st season)
Last Season: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 44 – Purdue 13 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan 44-14
Record in West Lafayette: Michigan 16-9
Jim Harbaugh vs Purdue First meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (44-13)
Last Purdue win: 2009 (38-36)
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Purdue schedule to date
Opponent Result
#16 Louisville L 28-35
Ohio W 44-21
at Missouri W 35-3

I mean, if you’re looking for an upset to pick it’s not hard to see why many outside observers would take the Boilermakers. Despite winning all three games by double digits, Michigan’s offense has had trouble converting red zone trips into touchdowns (1-of-10). And despite winning just three games last season and only three Big Ten Conference games combined in the last four years, Purdue has looked much better under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm.

Brohm replaced Darrell Hazell after spending the past three seasons at Western Kentucky and leading the Hilltoppers to two bowl games, two Conference USA East Division titles, and a 30-10 record. He’s a former quarterback at Louisville where he passed for 5,451 yards and 38 touchdowns while going 15-10 from 1991-93.

After bouncing around the NFL and playing in just eight career games, he started seven games in 2001 for the Orlando Rage of the XFL before starting his coaching career in the Arena Football League. He worked his way up from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator at Louisville, then quarterbacks coach stints at Florida Atlantic and Illinois, offensive coordinator at UAB and Western Kentucky before taking the reigns at WKU in 2014.

While he has quickly transformed a Purdue program that has been a Big Ten laughingstock the past decade, one of his players made his job a bit tougher this weekend.

Purdue receiver Gregory Phillips issued some bulletin board material on Thursday by saying, “It’s going to be a surprise when people see us beat Michigan. I wish we played Ohio State, too, because nobody can stop us except ourselves. If we don’t beat Purdue and turn over the ball, we win every game.”

The last statement could be true for most teams. If you don’t beat yourself and turn the ball over, you’ll generally have a good chance of winning. But his assertion that the Boilermakers will beat Michigan and would beat Ohio State too won’t sit well with Wolverines players and coaches.

Phillips also must have a short memory as his team already has one loss this season. Purdue opened the season with a 35-28 loss to 16th-ranked Louisville, though they did perform much better than anyone expected, holding a 28-25 lead in the fourth quarter before surrendering 10 points in the final nine minutes. The Boilers won their next two games, 44-21 over Ohio University and 35-3 at Missouri.

So does Purdue have what it takes to pull off the upset in West Lafayette tomorrow? Or will Michigan stay perfect on the season and put the doubters to rest? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Purdue offense

Through the first three games of the season, Purdue’s offense ranks 45th nationally in total offense (459.7 yards per game), 43rd in scoring (35.7 points per game), 63rd in rushing (173.0 yards per game), and 35th in passing (286.7 yards per game). While that doesn’t sound like a world-beater by any means, it’s impressive when you consider that last season Purdue ranked 80th, 101st, 125th, and 21st in those categories, respectively.

Brohm brought in his younger brother, Brian Brohm, to run the offense. He followed in his brother’s footsteps as a quarterback at Louisville, though he did so with greater success, throwing for 10,775 yards and 71 touchdowns while going 25-9. He was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2006 and led the Cardinals to their first BCS victory in 2007.  He spent a couple seasons as an NFL backup, then a couple in the UFL and three more in the CFL before starting his coaching career with his brother at Western Kentucky last season.

Although the Brohms inherited a team that hasn’t seen much success, they did inherit a good situation at quarterback to work with. Junior David Blough led the Big Ten with 279.3 passing yards per game in 2016, although he also led the conference with 21 interceptions and ranked last in pass efficiency. The talent is certainly there and having two former quarterbacks to tutor him can only help clean up the mistakes. In the first three games of 2017, Blough ranks just ninth in the Big Ten with 199.0 passing yards per game, but he leads the conference with a completion percentage of 76.1. He has completed 51-of-67 passes for 592 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions. Blough split time in the season opener with redshirt sophomore Elijah Sindelar, who had a very 2017 Wilton Speight-like performance, completing 15-of-31 passes for 118 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick.

Blough’s favorite receiver is redshirt freshman Jackson Anthrop, who has caught 17 passes for 157 yards and four touchdown. He leads all Big Ten receivers in touchdowns so far. Only Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor have more (five each). Anthrop caught seven passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the opener against Louisville. Phillips is a senior who hasn’t played a major role the past three seasons, but ranks second on the team with 13 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown so far this year. Senior Anthony Mahoungou is the other receiver with at least 100 yards. He has nine receptions for 119 yards and a score.

Junior tight end Cole Herdeman has just seven catches, but he’s made the most of them, leading the team with 200 yards and leads Big Ten pass catchers with 28.6 yards per catch (with a minimum of seven receptions). Fellow tight end, redshirt sophomore Brycen Hopkins, has also caught nine passes for 141 yards and ranks second on the team with two touchdowns. Brohm loves to use his tight ends — his tight end at WKU caught 38 passes for 563 yards last season — so these two will be ones to watch.

Redshirt sophomore running back Tario Fuller ranks seventh in the Big Ten in rushing with an average of 87 yards per game. He rushed for 142 yards on 8.9 yards per carry against Ohio’s 64th-ranked rush defense and 90 yards on 4.7 yards per carry against Missouri’s 91st-ranked rush defense. But Louisville’s 43rd-ranked rush defense limited him to just 29 yards on eight carries. Fuller is the only other Boilermaker back with at least 100 yards rushing. Sophomore Brian Lankford-Johnson is second on the team with 76 yards on 4.4 yards per carry.

Purdue defense

While the offense is significantly improved from last season, the defense still has a ways to go. Under co-defensive coordinators Nick Holt and Anthony Poindexter, Purdue’s defense ranks 68th in total defense (374.3 yards per game), 41st in scoring (19.7 points per game), 53rd against the run (129.7 yards per game), and 83rd against the pass (244.7 yards per game).

They allowed Louisville’s offense to rack up 524 total yards, 378 of which came through the air. Reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson completed 65 percent of his passes for 378 yards and also rushed 21 times for 107 yards, accounting for a Denard Robinson-like 93 percent of Louisville’s offense. The Boilermakers also let Ohio accumulate 396 total yards, 223 of which came through the air, and 4.6 yards per carry on the ground, but the stiffened against Missouri, holding the Tigers to just 203 total yards, 70 on the ground, and forcing three turnovers.

Most of Purdue’s front seven is back from last year and they added Western Kentucky graduate transfer will linebacker T.J. McCollum, who ranks third on the team with 19 tackles so far this season. He brought 25 career starts, 197 tackles, and 15.5 tackles for loss with him to West Lafayette. Senior Ja’Whaun Bentley is back as the starting middle linebacker. He brings 25 career starts, 175 tackles, and 18 tackles into the season and leads the team with 24 tackles and two forced fumbles through three games. Redshirt sophomore Markus Bailey is the team’s leading returning tackler with 97 a year ago in addition to four interceptions. He has recorded 15 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery so far this season.

Purdue lost 21.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks from last year’s defensive tackles, but moved senior Gelen Robinson in from end. Robinson, the younger brother of former Michigan basketball star Glenn Robinson III, led Purdue with five sacks last season, but has had a slow start to 2017 with just eight tackles so far. Seniors Austin Larkin and Danny Ezechukwu are the starting ends. Larkin had 2.5 sacks last year and has six tackles so far in 2017. Ezechukwu is a hybrid linebacker/end, has recorded Purdue’s lone sack on the season, leads the team with three tackles for loss, and has recovered two fumbles. The other tackles spot has been a mix of sophomore Lorenzo Neal and redshirt junior Keiwan Jones, neither of which have made much impact yet this season.

Whereas the front seven brings plenty of experience back from last season, the secondary has little to show in terms of proven experience. Seniors Josh Okonye and Da’Wan Hunte are the starting corners. Okonye is a graduate transfer from Wake Forest and brings experience — if not starting experience — to a secondary that lacks it. He leads the team with three passes defended so far this season. Hunte is the lone returning starter in the secondary after starting 10 games a year ago. Junior college transfer T.J. Jallow had 67 tackles and an interception in two years at East Mississippi Community College and is the starter at free safety, while redshirt junior Jacob Thieneman is the strong safety. He ranks second on the team with 20 tackles through the first three games.

Purdue special teams

Like Michigan’s special teams unit, Purdue’s is extremely young and inexperienced. In Michigan’s case, answers were found in Week 1 with kicker Quinn Nordin setting a school record with two 50-plus field goals. In Purdue’s case, it’s still a question as sophomore J.D. Dellinger and junior Spencer Evans have made just 3-of-6 attempts so far this season. Dellinger at least has experience after connecting on 10-of-14 as a freshman in 2016, but his long was just 42 yards. Unlike Michigan, Purdue has a punter with experience in junior Joe Schopper, who averaged 40.6 yards per punt a year ago (eighth in the Big Ten) and 40.2 yards in 2015. He’s showing improvement so far in the young 2017 season with 12 punts for a Big Ten best average of 48.8 yards.

In the return game, Purdue has left a lot to be desired so far this season, ranking 120th nationally in kick return average and 98th in punt return average. Freshman receiver KeyRon Catlett is averaging an abysmal 12.4 yards per kick return, while junior running back Markell Jones isn’t much better at 14.5. Anthrop is the main punt returner, but is averaging just 2.6 yards on five returns with a long of six. Purdue hasn’t done a great job of defending returns either, ranking 94th in kick return defense and 87th in punt return defense. Against Louisville, they allowed a 43-yard kick return and a 33-yard punt return, so Donovan Peoples-Jones could have some room to run.

Analysis
Purdue running game vs Michigan rush defense
Purdue Michigan 

In three games against average to below average rush defenses, Purdue is averaging 173.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers racked up the majority of their rushing yards (263 on 6.0 yards per carry) against Ohio’s 64th-ranked rush defense. The Bobcats haven’t exactly faced solid running games this season, holding Hampton to just 47 yards on 1.5 yards per carry and Kansas to 108 yards on 3.7 yards per carry. Hampton is an FCS school that had a losing record last season and Kansas ranked 116th nationally in rushing last season. The Jayhawks managed just 73 rushing yards against Southeast Missouri State and 147 against Central Michigan in Week 2. Against Louisville, Purdue managed just 51 rushing yards on 2.4 yards per carry.

So Purdue’s Louisville performance is the most relevant to tomorrow’s game and Michigan’s defense doesn’t allow anyone to run on them. The Wolverines held Florida to just 11 rushing yards, Cincinnati to 68, and Air Force’s triple-option to just 168. Michigan has the clear advantage here.

Purdue pass game vs Michigan pass defense
Purdue Michigan

On the other side of the coin, Purdue has found success with their passing game this season, averaging 286.7 yards per game, which ranks third in the Big Ten. Their 10 passing touchdowns are tied with Penn State and Iowa for most in the conference. While they don’t have superior athletes to Michigan’s defense, they’ll succeed in chunks as a result of Brohm’s scheme which relies heavily on misdirection. They passed for 293 yards on Louisville (on 57 attempts) but had more success against Ohio with 295 yards on just 24 attempts. Against Missouri, it was similar with 272 yards on 34 attempts.

Michigan’s pass defense has been surprisingly solid this season, but has shown it is prone to mistakes, which makes sense with such a young and inexperienced secondary. Yes, they’ve scored three defensive touchdowns, but they’ve also given up some big plays, including a 64-yard touchdown pass by Air Force last week. That was simply a case of Tyree Kinnell getting sucked in by the Falcons’ run game, but it’s a sure bet that Brohm will game plan to attack Michigan’s young corners and force them to make mistakes. I’m putting this category as even based mostly on scheme.

Purdue rush defense vs Michigan running game
Purdue Michigan 

Michigan’s running game has been defined by big plays so far this season. It has had trouble gaining positive yards consistently, but then gains a big chunk of yards on one run. This is most evident in Ty Isaac, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 112 rushing yards per game, but has had 38.3 percent of his carries go for one yard or less. This is because he already has 10 runs of 10 or more yards and is averaging 24 yards apiece on those 10. He’s averaging an explosive run more than every five carries. Chris Evans’ one yard or less rate is even higher at 42.4 percent, but he only has four explosive runs with an average gain of 15 yards.

Purdue’s rush defense has given up 129.7 yards per game on the ground — 11th in the Big Ten — but it has done well at preventing big runs. They’ve allowed 13 runs of 10 or more yards through three games, but none has gone for more than 24. Louisville had a long of just 15 yards and Missouri’s long was just 13. Can Michigan’s running game move the ball consistently without big, explosive runs? That remains to be seen, but just because Purdue hasn’t allowed big runs doesn’t mean Michigan won’t break one, so I’m giving Michigan a very slight edge here.

Purdue pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Purdue Michigan 

This, to me, is one of the more intriguing battles to watch tomorrow. Wilton Speight has been erratic in the early season, throwing a pair of interceptions and often overthrowing open receivers. But — like in the running game — he has hit a fair amount of explosive plays. Six different Michigan receivers have caught a pass of at least 33 yards (three of them for touchdowns). Purdue’s defense has given up 11 explosive pass plays, which is tied with Ohio State and Rutgers for worst in the Big Ten. They’ve also only gotten to the quarterback once in three games, which is dead last nationally.

Receivers can get open, and Speight will have time to throw, but will he hit them? He’ll be without his top big-play receiver, Tarik Black, who is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Donovan Peoples-Jones has shown explosiveness and will need to step into Black’s role. I’m expecting an expanded role for Michigan’s tight ends this week. Zach Gentry has shown great potential with two explosive receptions for an average of 33 yards, and at 6-foot-7 with good speed, he’s a very tough matchup for a linebacker.

I’m giving Michigan a slight edge here, and if Speight shows the accuracy he had through the first two-thirds of last season, Michigan could have a far bigger edge in the passing game.

Purdue special teams vs Michigan special teams
Purdue Michigan 

One of the big questions coming into the season, special teams has been a major asset for Michigan through the first three games. Nordin leads the nation with 11 made field goals and Peoples-Jones has been dynamic in the punt return game, taking one 79 yards for a touchdown last week. Purdue is ripe for allowing a long return with a punter who is averaging nearly 49 yards per punt and a return defense that is allowing nine yards per return. Purdue has been woeful in its own return game and has made just 3-of-6 field goals, so Michigan has the clear edge in this category.

Coaching
Purdue Michigan 

Jeff Brohm may not have the depth of proven success that Jim Harbaugh has, but he’s one of the most exciting young minds in the college football game right now. He comes from the Bobby Petrino school of coaching, which has been successful over the past couple of decades. Many are salivating over the matchup of Brohm’s offense against Don Brown’s defense and it will be fun to watch. Brohm’s offense will test the aggressiveness of Brown’s defense with play-action, screens, and misdirection, and could cause fits if the blitzes can’t get home in time. Michigan gets a slight edge here due to the track record of the entire coaching staff, but I won’t discount Brohm’s ability to challenge it.

Atmosphere and Intangibles
Purdue  Michigan 

Michigan’s young team handled the AT&T Stadium atmosphere just fine in Week 1, but it was still a very friendly crowd as a neutral site. Tomorrow is their first true road game, and while Ross-Ade Stadium isn’t one of the most feared in the Big Ten, it will be a homecoming crowd that is tasting success for the first time in a decade and thinks it has a real chance to knock off a top-10 team, so the late afternoon kickoff will make for a hyped up crowd and a classic Big Ten environment. How will the young Wolverines respond, especially if they fall behind early? Jumping out to a quick lead is important in this one, but for now, I’ll give Purdue the edge.

Edge Average: Michigan 6.2 – Purdue 3.8
Score Prediction: Michigan 41 – Purdue 20

Prior to the season, it was weird to consider Purdue a big game, but here we are with many picking the Boilermakers to pull off the upset. I think it’s a statement game for Michigan similar to how it was against Florida in Week 1. Many were writing them off and they came out and won convincingly. Maybe that Michigan State-like “chip on the shoulder” mentality is what this young team needs. Purdue will hang around through the first half, but Michigan is simply too athletic on defense to give Brohm’s offense a big day, and many of the offensive struggles the Wolverines have faced in the first three games will be a distant memory come Saturday night.

Four bold predictions:

Michigan’s offense shows some new looks, gets the tight ends more involved, and Wilton Speight tops 300 yards passing
The offense also converts all of its red zone attempts
 Donovan Peoples-Jones scores two touchdowns — one on offense and, yes, another punt return
 The defense gives up two long pass plays, but holds Purdue’s offense to less than 250 total yards

First Look: Purdue

Monday, September 18th, 2017


Michigan’s offense struggled for the second week in a row but defense and special teams helped the Wolverines to another double-digit victory. Michigan closed out the non-conference slate with five offensive touchdowns, three defensive touchdowns, one special teams touchdown, 11 field goals, and a safety. In other words, the special teams has scored 48 points, the offense has scored 30, and the defense 20.

This Saturday, Michigan faces a stern test in its Big Ten conference opener in West Lafayette. Raise your hand if you thought you’d hear that sentence prior to the season. No one? Ok, let’s take a look at how the team’s compare through the first fourth of the season.

Purdue & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
35.7 43rd 32.7 57th PPG 19.7 41st 14.7 24th
519 598 Rush Yds 389 247
173.0 63rd 199.3 41st Rush/Gm 129.7 53rd 82.3 9th
4.5 4.7 Rush Avg 4.1 2.3
860 608 Pass Yds 734 377
286.7 35th 202.7 84th Pass/Gm 244.7 83rd 125.7 12th
1,379 1,206 Total Off. 1,123 624
459.7 45th 402.0 72nd Total Off./Gm 374.3 68th 208.0 5th
13.5 120th 18.0 94th KR Avg 22.2 94th 15.4 14th
2.6 98th 14.8 18th PR Avg 9.0 87th 2.0 28th
34:35 12th 31:25 45th Avg TOP 25:25 28:35
40% 69th 34% 102nd 3rd Down% 35% 50th 24% 13th
8-40 98th 8-41 98th Sacks-Yds 1-7 129th 13-85 6rd
14 9 TDs 7 5
3-6 (50%) 11-13 (85%) FG-ATT 4-4 (100%) 3-6 (50%)
13-13 (100%) 1st 9-10 (90%) 39th Red Zone 9-11 (82%) 60th 3-4 (75%) 35th
10-13 (77%) 1-10 (10%)  RZ TD 5-11 (45%) 2-4 (50%)
OFEI/DFEI
29.4 66 32.0 49 S&P+ 29.9 75 12.8 2

Purdue is 2-1 under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm and has looked surprisingly un-Purdue-like so far. They hung with Louisville in the season opener, leading 28-25 in the fourth quarter before allowing 10 unanswered points in the final nine minutes. In Week 2, the Boilermakers topped Ohio University 44-21, and this past Saturday they traveled into SEC country and whooped Missouri, 35-3. Missouri is hardly the Mizzou of the past decade, but it’s becoming clear, neither is Purdue.

Brohm has already topped the 2013 season long win total, tied the 2015 total, and needs just one more win to tie 2014 and 2016’s. He has done so with a revamped offense that ranks in the top third nationally in most categories. Last season, in Darrel Hazel’s final year at the helm, Purdue ranked 11th in the Big Ten in scoring, but actually led the conference in passing. Three games into 2017, the Boilers are fourth in the conference in scoring, and sixth in total offense — ahead of Michigan in both categories.

Purdue is averaging 11 more points per game so far than they did a year ago, and that’s not simply because of schedule strength. Despite playing 16th-ranked Louisville this year — compared to a poorer non-conference slate last year — the Boilers have scored 18 more points than they did in the first three games of 2016.

They’ve done it with a strong passing game that is averaging 286.7 yards per game and ranks 35th nationally. They threw for 294 yards against Louisville, which is relatively the same as what the Cardinals allowed to 3rd-ranked Clemson this past Saturday. They followed that up with 295 yards against Ohio and 272 against Missouri. What’s more is that they’ve completed 65 percent of their passes with a 10-4 touchdown to interception ratio.

Purdue is less potent on the ground, ranking 63rd nationally with an average of 173 yards per game. That’s about 26 yards fewer than Michigan on a per game basis, though they’re averaging just 0.2 yards per carry fewer than the Wolverines. Louisville’s defense, which ranks 43rd nationally against the run, held the Boilers to just 51 rushing yards on 21 carries in the opener, so there’s precedent for Michigan’s defense.

Before we get carried away by the success of Purdue’s offense in the early season, let’s also point out that their two wins came against two poor defensive teams. Ohio ranks 69th in scoring defense, 64th against the run, 70th against the pass, and 65th in total defense. Missouri is even worse at 112th in scoring defense, 91st against the run, 98th against the pass, and 102nd in total defense. Louisville is worse yet, ranking 115th in scoring defense, 43rd against the run, 122nd against the pass, and 104th in total. Granted, the Cardinals have played Clemson, who may very well wind up in the College Football Playoff once again this season.

Defensively, Purdue isn’t quite as stout as their offense, ranking 41st in scoring (19.7 points per game), 53rd against the run (129.7 yards per game), 83rd against the pass (244.7 yards per game), and 68th in total defense (374.3 yards per game).

Purdue’s defense let Lamar Jackson throw for 387 yards and two touchdowns and rush for another 107 yards in the opener, but held Missouri to just 203 total yards and 70 rushing yards on 2.4 yards per carry. They did, however, give up nearly 400 total yards to Ohio, letting the Bobcats rush for 4.6 yards per carry and pass for 223 yards. Purdue has struggled to get into the backfield with just one sack and eight tackles for loss through three games. By comparison, Michigan has 13 sacks and 27 tackles for loss so far.

Unlike the Air Force matchup, Michigan will face a more traditional offense this Saturday, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. It will be the best passing offense the Wolverines’ young defense has faced so far this season. Purdue hasn’t been great at protecting the quarterback — they’ve allowed eight sacks just like Michigan has — so expect Don Brown to dial up plenty of blitzes to keep quarterback David Blough out of rhythm.

If Michigan can survive its first road test of the season the Wolverines will head into the bye week at 4-0 with an extra week to prepare for a rivalry game against Michigan State and a pair of road games at Indiana and Penn State the weeks following.

#7 Michigan vs Air Force game preview

Friday, September 15th, 2017


Michigan played an ugly, mistake-filled game against Cincinnati last Saturday and still won by 22 points thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns by Tyree Kinnel and Lavert Hill. Now the Wolverines play host to Air Force at noon on Big Ten Network.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – BTN
Air Force Head Coach: Troy Calhoun (11th season)
Coaching Record: 78-53 (all at Air Force)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Thiessen (10th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Russ (4th season)
Last Season: 10-3 (5-3 MWC)
Last Meeting: UM 31 – AFA 25 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan 2-0
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 2-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Air Force First meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (31-25)
Last Air Force win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Air Force schedule to date
Opponent Result
VMI W 62-0

Air Force had the rare Week 2 bye after dismantling the Virginia Military Institute of the Football Championship Subconference (FCS), 62-0, in Week 1. VMI went just 3-8 last season and hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. In fact, you have to go back to 1977 to find the last time the Keydets won more than six games in a season and 1959 to find the last time they won more than seven.  Never have they won 10 games. They went 9-0 in 1920 and 9-1 in 1923 and that’s about it. Needless to say, success isn’t party of the VMI football tradition, and last week, they lost to mighty Catawba College, a Division II liberal arts school of 1,300 students, 27-20.

So it’s hard to glean much off of Air Force’s schedule to date. Sure, they rushed for 457 yards in the opener and racked up 647 total yards, but VMI’s defense also allowed 415 total yards to Catawba. For those keeping track, that’s more than Michigan’s defense allowed to Florida and Cincinnati combined.

Regardless, Air Force features the triple-option offense that military academy teams tend to run, which will most certainly be a challenge for the Wolverines’ defense, and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for just that.

Head coach Troy Calhoun has been very successful in Colorado Springs, with the exception of the 2012 and 2013 seasons when the Falcons went a combined 8-17. Since then, they are 29-12 with a Mountain West Mountain Division title and two bowl wins.

However, last year’s schedule wasn’t exactly a gauntlet. They beat Abilene Christian, Georgia State, Utah State, Navy, Fresno State, Army, Colorado State, San Jose State, Boise State, and South Alabama. The Boise State win was a big one, keeping the 19th-ranked Broncos out of the MWC title game, but the other nine opponents went a combined 43-69 for a winning percentage of just 38.4 percent.

So how good is Air Force? Who knows. But let’s take a look at the matchup.

Air Force offense

(Ray Carlin, USA Today Sports)

Simply looking at this season’s offensive stats is misleading since Air Force has played just one game and it was against the aforementioned VMI squad that can’t even beat a liberal arts school the size of my high school. Last season, Air Force ranked 36th nationally in total offense (452.2 yards per game), 30th in scoring (35.2 points per game), third in rushing (317.4 yards per game), and 123rd in passing (134.8 yards per game).

It’s no secret that running the ball is the Falcons’ forte as they’ve ranked highly in each of the past four seasons (4th in 2015, 6th in 2014, and 12th in 2013, and 2nd in 2012). A year ago, after a three-game scuffle mid-season, quarterback Nate Romine went down with an injury and Arion Worthman came in and led the Falcons to six straight wins to close the season.

Now the full-time starter even though Romine was granted a medical redshirt, Worthman ran an efficient offense in the season opener. He completed 8-of-12 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 33 yards and another score. Romine, meanwhile, went 2-of-2 for 18 yards and carried the ball twice for 32 yards.

The most impressive part of the game was the number of backs that carried the ball. Sixteen different players had at least two carries and the team still averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Granted, the Falcons probably could have pulled someone from the stands and gain positive yards on VMI’s defense, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Senior running back Tim McVey led the way with 98 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He was the team’s second-leading rusher last season with 708 yards and 10 touchdowns and entered this season as Air Force’s career leader in rushing average at an astounding 8.4 yards per carry. And yes, that average went UP in the season opener.

Michigan’s run defense has allowed a total of just 79 rushing yards in two games, holding opponents to an average of less than 1.4 yards per carry.

Fullbacks play a major role in Air Force’s option offense and Calhoun had to replace the top two, who carried the ball a combined 20.5 times per game last season. But junior Parker Wilson led all Falcons with 16.0 yards per carry against VMI, racking up 48 yards and a touchdown on just three carries.

While the rushing offense is the bread and butter, the passing offense does just enough to mix it up — and nothing more. The Falcons threw just 150 passes in all of 2016. By comparison, Michigan threw 370 passes and has already thrown 55 through two games this season. Air Force had just one game last season of 20 or or more pass attempts (24) and eight games of 10 or fewer.

But that doesn’t mean the passing game doesn’t work. In fact, the infrequency of the passing game is precisely why it does work. Air Force averaged 11.68 yards per pass attempt last year and 25.76 yards per completion. Michigan averaged 7.45 yards per attempt and 12.09 per completion. That means the average Air Force pass completion was a quarter of the football field and more than twice that of Michigan.

It wasn’t quite that dramatic in the season opener as Air Force threw 14 passes and completed 10 for an average of 13.6 yards per completion, but that’s still more than Michigan averaged in 2016. Last year’s top receiver is gone, meaning Worthman will have to find a new go-to target. Jalen Robinette’s 35 receptions for 959 yards and six touchdowns were by far more than the next closest receiver — McVey — who had just eight for 193 and two. In fact, Robinette’s production was two receptions and 166 yards more than all other receivers combined. McVey led the way against VMI with three catches for 77 yards. But sophomore Geraud Sanders made the most of his two receptions, taking them both for touchdowns from 57 yards and five yards out. Junior Marcus Bennett is the other starting receiver and caught two passes for 24 yards.

The offensive line lost a pair of all-Mountain West performers, but has four seniors with starting experience and with the running system that the Falcons have offensive line is essentially a plug and play position in Colorado Springs.

Air Force defense

(Mike Kaplan, U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force defense under Steve Russ has been steadily improving since Russ took full reign of the unit after spending 2012 and 2013 as co-defensive coordinator. In 2013, the defense ranked 114th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense. In Russ’ first season as the lone defensive coordinator, the Falcons improved to 60th in total defense. In 2015 they were 32nd and last season they maintained that performance at 33rd. However, Air Force ranked 49th in scoring defense last season (26.2 points per game). They ranked 10th against the run (114.2 yards per game) and 94th against the pass (250.7 yards per game).

The bad news for Russ this season is that, like Michigan, he had to replace 10 of 11 starters on the defense. And it wasn’t just starters, it was depth as well as 32 seniors departed. Six of the top seven linemen and four of the top five linebackers are gone.

The lone returning starters is senior middle linebacker Grant Ross, who ranked third on the team with 67 tackles and also had 2.5 sacks last season. He has 16 starts under his belt and he recorded three tackles and 1.5 for loss in the opener. Senior Jack Flor is the other middle linebacker and led the team with eight tackles in the opener. He averaged 7.3 tackles per game in three starts a year ago. Senior Ja’Mel Sanders and senior Matt Evans started at the outside linebacker spots but recorded a combined three tackles.

Junior Kyle Floyd is a first-year starter at free safety and nearly matched his career tackles (four) in the season opener (three), while fellow junior Garrett Kauppila played in his first career game against VMI, recording three tackles. Senior Marquis Griffin and junior Robert Bullard are the starting corners. Griffin started two games last season and recorded five tackles, one for loss, and a pass breakup against VMI. Bullard made his first career start and recorded one tackle.

The defensive line is made up of junior nose guard Cody Gessler, senior three-tech Cody Moorhead, and senior weakside end Santo Coppola. The latter is the most experienced returner along the line with seven career starts. He leads all returning linemen with two sacks in 2016 and recored another one against VMI. Moorhead has played in 21 career games entering this season but recorded just two total tackles. He made one in the opener. The VMI game was the career debut for Gessler and he collected one tackle.

Air Force special teams

Senior kicker Luke Strebel ranked ninth nationally with 1.69 field goals per game a year ago. He made 22-of-25 and all 51 point after attempts, setting a Mountain West record with 22 straight field goals made after missing his first three of the season. He didn’t get a chance to kick a field goal against VMI. Sophomore punter Charlie Scott booted two punts for an average of 41.5 yards in his debut.

Junior receiver Ronald Cleveland is back to handle punt returns after averaging 10.7 yards per return in 2016. He had two returns for a total of nine yards to start the season.

Analysis
Air Force run game vs Michigan rush defense
Air Force Michigan

This may be the only game this season that Michigan’s run defense doesn’t hold the advantage. Michigan’s defense held both Florida and Cincinnati under 100 yards rushing, but Air Force hasn’t been held below 100 rushing yards in at least the past two seasons. Last season, their low was 149 yards on just 3.8 yards per carry in a 35-26 loss to Wyoming, a team that finished 92nd nationally against the run. Navy was the only other team to hold the Falcons below 200 yards (173) and Army was the only team to do it in 2015 (196). No matter how good Michigan’s run defense is, it will take a major feat to stop the Air Force rushing attack, which leads to…

Air Force pass game vs Michigan pass defense
Air Force Michigan 

Michigan’s pass defense has the edge here, and I certainly don’t expect Air Force to put up many passing yards, but there are two reasons I have this closer than it should be. First of all, Cincinnati exposed a little bit of a weak spot in the Michigan defense last week with some screens that picked up a decent chunk of yardage. Teams will play on the aggressiveness of Don Brown’s defense until he can fix it. Secondly, although Air Force doesn’t pass often, it makes the most of its pass attempts. I’m slightly worried by Michigan’s young secondary getting too lulled to sleep by the run and then giving up big plays through the air.

Air Force rush defense vs Michigan running game
Air Force Michigan 

Michigan gets a slight edge here based on how well Ty Isaac has been running the ball, but it remains to be seen whether or not the offensive line can pave the way for a consistent running game. Chris Evans has yet to find much running room and Air Force’s defense is geared around selling out to stop the run. The Falcons held eight opponents below 100 yards rushing last season, though they did surrender 373 rushing yards to New Mexico.

Air Force pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Air Force Michigan 

While Air Force sells out to stop the run it makes their pass defense very vulnerable if opposing quarterbacks have enough time to throw. They ranked 94th in passing yards allowed and 83rd in pass efficiency defense last season, allowing nine opponents to throw for 200-plus yards and six to top 300. Wilton Speight has been erratic through the first two games of the season but I have to believe he’ll settle down and regain the accuracy that he displayed in the first half of last season prior to his injury at Iowa. As long as the line can keep him clean, Michigan should have the clear edge here.

Air Force special teams vs Michigan special teams
Air Force Michigan

There’s not much separating the two teams in the special teams matchup. Air Force has the more experienced kicker who has made 22 straight field goals, while Michigan has a big-legged kicker who doesn’t have much experience. He nailed two from 50-plus in the opener against Florida, but also missed two field goals in the same game. Neither team has an experienced punter. Air Force ranked 9th and 19th nationally last season in kick and punt returns while Michigan has new returners.

Coaching
Air Force Michigan 

It’s not quite the Jim Harbaugh-Luke Fickell disparity, but I would still give Harbaugh the edge over Calhoun, though the man in Colorado Springs has put together an impressive run. He has carried on the success of his predecessor, Fisher DeBerry, with very few hiccups. It’s not easy to sustain success at a service academy, but he has done so, and that warrants respect. It seems Calhoun is rumored for coaching jobs every offseason but he has chosen to remain at his alma mater where he could be a legend someday.

Atmosphere and Intangibles
Air Force Michigan 

Air Force won’t be intimidated by the Big House, but — assuming the boo birds don’t come out again — Michigan has the clear home field advantage. It’s also a noon game on the East Coast, which means it’s 10am body time for the Falcons. They might not be affected by that as much as other teams, but it has to count for something.

Edge Average: Michigan 6.4 – Air Force 3.6
Score Prediction: Michigan 33 – Air Force 17
Four bold predictions:

Two good:
• Ty Isaac is held in check but Chris Evans has a breakout game, using his speed to beat the aggressive Air Force rush defense and breaks a long touchdown run
• Wilton Speight hits a few deep balls, doesn’t make any major mistakes, and holds off the boo birds for another week
Two bad: 
• Michigan’s run defense holds Air Force to its lowest rushing output in the past three seasons but the Falcons still break 100 yards
• Air Force scores two passing touchdowns on an overly aggressive Michigan defense

First Look: Air Force

Monday, September 11th, 2017


Michigan followed up its big win over Florida with lackluster showing against Cincinnati in the home opener on Saturday. The offense struggled to move the ball consistently, but the defense lived up to its billing, holding the Bearcats to just 200 total yards and scoring two touchdowns of its own.

Now, the Wolverines close out the non-conference portion of the schedule against an Air Force team that went 10-3 last season. Let’s take a look at how the team’s compare.

Air Force & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
62.0 1st 34.5 51st PPG 0.0 1st 15.5 31st
473 408 Rush Yds 55 79
473.0 1st 204.0 46th Rush/Gm 55.0 10th 39.5 3rd
7.1 4.7 Rush Avg 2.0 1.4
190 439 Pass Yds 40 313
190.0 98th 219.5 75th Pass/Gm 40.0 1st 156.5 34th
663 847 Total Off. 95 392
663.0 1st 423.5 63rd Total Off./Gm 95.0 1st 196.0 9th
N/A N/A 19.0 85th KR Avg 17.2 32nd 15.6 18th
4.5 81st 6.6 65th PR Avg -2.0 1st 2.0 41st
35:21 17th 32:20 35th Avg TOP 24:39 27:40
70% 2nd 33% 96th 3rd Down% 21% 15th 25% 24th
2-16 70th 6-30 104th Sacks-Yds 1-16 92nd 10-58 3rd
9 7 TDs 0 4
0-0 (–%) 6-8 (75%) FG-ATT 0-0 (–%) 1-3 (33%)
7-7 (100%) 1st 5-6 (83%) 74th Red Zone 0-0 (–%) 1st 2-2 (100%) 94th
7-7 (100%) 1-6 (17%)  RZ TD 0-0 (–%) 2-2 (100%)
OFEI/DFEI
S&P+

Air Force had a Week 2 bye week after opening with a 62-0 win over VMI. The Falcons rushed for 457 yards on 6.8 yards per carry and totaled 647 yards. Their defense held VMI to just 95 total yards. It was a thorough domination, but VMI isn’t exactly a quality opponent. They went 3-8 last season and had the 96th-ranked total defense in FCS a year ago.

Even so, the armed forces teams always present a unique challenge with their spread option offenses that are different than what most other teams run. When Michigan hosted Air Force in 2012 it took a heroic effort from Denard Robinson to overcome 417 yards allowed.

In Air Force’s win over VMI, the Falcons had 16 different players with at least two carries. Their 437 rushing yards would rank 27th nationally through two weeks even though Air Force did that in just one game. Their rushing yards per game average is first by more than 50 yards over fellow armed force, Army. It was so good that even though they rank 98th in passing offense, they’re still first nationally in total offense. They’re also first in red zone scores with seven touchdowns in seven trips.

Defensively, they’re also first in several categories including scoring, pass defense, total defense, punt return defense, and red zone defense. They held VMI to just 95 total yards, a 21 percent third-down conversion, and no visits to the red zone. Air Force controlled the ball for so long that VMI ran just 47 plays.

Michigan will have its hands full with Air Force’s running game despite the fact that the Wolverine defense ranks third nationally against the run. But Don Brown will have Michigan’s defense ready. The question is, will the offense be able to move the ball and limit mistakes?

#8 Michigan vs Cincinnati game preview

Friday, September 8th, 2017


Michigan passed its first big test of the season last Saturday with a resounding 33-17 win over 17th-ranked Florida. The Wolverines dominated the game, outgaining Florida 433 to 192, and holding the Gators to just 11 rushing yards and three offensive points, but gave up two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the second quarter and missed two second half field goals to keep the score much closer.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Cincinnati Head Coach: Luke Fickell (1st season)
Coaching Record: 7-7 overall (1-0 at UC)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Denbrock (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Marcus Freeman (1st season)
Last Season: 4-8 (6-2)
Last Meeting: First meeting
All-Time Series: First meeting
Record in Ann Arbor: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs UC First meeting
Last Michigan win: First meeting
Last Cincinnati win: First meeting
Current Streak: First meeting

Yes, Florida was missing 10 players due to suspension — two of which were starters — but the Gators were still a very good team and certainly one of the top four or five teams the Wolverines will face all season. That means Michigan gets a few “tune-up” games to improve on what went wrong and refine what could have been done better before the meat of the schedule begins.

Cincinnati is up next, which brings Luke Fickell back to the Big House where he lost to Brady Hoke in his only other visit as a head coach. He bridged the gap between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer at Ohio State, going 6-7 as an interim head coach before spending five more seasons as a defensive coordinator in Columbus. In the offseason he made the 100 mile move down I-71 to take his first real head coaching position at Cincinnati after the Bearcats fired Tommy Tuberville.

Fickell is Mr. Ohio, having played for Ohio State and spent his entire 18-year coaching career in the state between OSU, Akron, and now Cincinnati. He inherits a program that has taken a steady nose dive the past few seasons.

From 2007-2012, the Bearcats won at least 10 games in five of six seasons spanning Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, winning the Big East four of those years and reaching a BCS bowl twice. Even the Tuberville began promising with nine-win seasons in 2013 and 14, but he followed those up with a 7-6 record in 2015 and 4-8 a year ago.

The Fickell era opened with a 26-14 win over Austin Peay on Saturday, an outcome that was much too close for comfort considering the Governors are one of the worst teams in the FCS, carrying a 28-game losing streak, which is the longest in the nation. Austin Peay had the 120th-ranked defense in FCS last season, allowing 506.6 yards per game, and held Cincinnati to just 248 yards and only 97 on the ground. Still, that didn’t stop Cincinnati running back Mike Boone — who rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on Saturday — from confidently declaring that the Bearcats could “shock the world” this Saturday.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Cincinnati offense

Last season, Cincinnati’s offense ranked 99th nationally in total offense (374.1 yards per game), 123rd in scoring (19.3 points per game), 117th in rushing (118.2 yards per game), and 44th in passing (255.9 yards per game). Fickell brought in former Notre Dame offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Mike Denbrock to run his offense, promising an up-tempo spread. Denbrock spent the past seven seasons in South Bend and coordinated the offense in 2014, which ranked 32nd in total offense and 38th in scoring. That’s the team that beat Michigan 31-0 in Brady Hoke’s final season.

Quarterback Hayden Moore started two games as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and earned the starting job entering last season but injured his ankle in the third game and missed the next five. He finished the year with 1,744 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions on 57.3 percent passing, but he closed out the season with a 371-yard, three touchdown performance against Tulsa. Last Saturday, he completed 17-of-28 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns. He’s not a major threat to run with just a 0.7 yard per carry average, sacks included.

Boone, a senior running back, had good freshman and sophomore seasons in 2014 and 2015, totaling 1,399 yards and 18 touchdowns on 6.8 yards per carry. But last season, he managed just 388 yards and two scores, recording six games of less than four yards per carry, five of which were under three. He began his senior campaign with a nice game last Saturday, rushing 19 times for 100 yards and one touchdown, but will have a much tougher test against a Michigan defense that held Florida to just 11 rushing yards last week.

Sophomore Thomas Geddis led the team with four receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown last week. He had just seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman last season, but at 6-foot-5 he has size to cause problems for Michigan’s young defensive backs. Junior Kahlil Lewis is perhaps Cincinnati’s best receiver, coming off a 48-catch, 605-yard, five-touchdown season. He caught four for 41 and a score last weekend. Senior Devin Gray is a former junior college transfer who became the first Bearcat receiver to tally 100 yards in his debut a year ago. He caught 58 passes for 860 yards and five touchdowns last season but managed just two for 18 against Austin Peay. Sophomore Jerron Rollins, like Lewis, is a former three-star recruit, and caught two passes for 22 yards last week.

Cincinnati’s offensive line paved the way for the fewest rushing touchdowns in FBS last season, but has senior left tackle Korey Cunningham back as an anchor. He’s the only full-time returning starter on the line.

Cincinnati defense

Fickell is a defensive minded coach, but has always had Ohio State’s recruits to work with. He doesn’t have four-stars and five-stars to plug in now, but he did bring one of those with him to Cincinnati as his defensive coordinator. Marcus Freeman was a linebacker at Ohio State from 2004-08 and has been working into the coaching ranks, beginning with a graduate assistant position at OSU in 2010 and linebackers coach at Kent State in 2011-12 and Purdue 2013-16. This is his first coordinator position and he inherits a defense that returns eight of its top 10 tacklers from 2016.

Last season, the Bearcats ranked 72nd nationally in total defense (422.8 yards per game), 55th in scoring (26.9 points per game), 75th against the run (189.6 yards per game), and 74th against the pass (233.3 yards per game).

Redshirt junior defensive end Kevin Mouhon led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and ranked fifth with 50 tackles, while redshirt sophomore Bryan Wright is primed for a breakout year after a strong finish to last season. On the inside, junior tackle Marquise Copeland is the leader with 59 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and a sack last season. Redshirt junior tackle Cortez Broughton was a second-team All-AAC performer last season with five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

Freeman has his hands full trying to replace the entire starting linebacking corps, which combined for 196 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 14 passes defended. Senior middle linebacker Jaylyin Minor is a junior college transfer and is the unit’s leading returning tackler with 29. He made 10 tackles in the season opener. Sophomore Will linebacker Perry Young ranked eighth on the team in tackles last season and tallied 17 tackles — 10 solo — and three for loss against Austin Peay. Redshirt junior Sam linebacker Tyrell Gilbert played just eight games last season due to injury but recorded 40 tackles, three interceptions, and forced two fumbles. Last weekend, he recorded Cincinnati’s lone sack.

While the linebackers are new, the secondary is mostly the same except for safety Zach Edwards, but his replacement, junior Malik Clements, had himself a day with 18 tackles last weekend. Senior strong safety Carter Jacobs started three games last season, while corners Grant Coleman and Linden Stephens are experienced seniors.

Cincinnati special teams

Senior kicker Andrew Gantz is one of the most experienced kickers in the nation having made 39 of 49 career attempts with a long of 51. He’s coming off a hip injury that caused him to miss most of last season and missed his lone attempt last weekend. The punter is freshman James Smith, an Aussie who averaged 42.2 yards per punt last weekend.

Gray is the main punt returner and averaged 10.5 yards per return on four returns last week, while Geddis and freshman Michael Warren II handle kick returns.

Analysis
Cincinnati run game vs Michigan rush defense
Cincinnati Michigan 

Cincinnati running back Mike Boone did have a 100-yard game last week but that was against one of the worst defenses in FCS and the Bearcats’ running game itself was very pedestrian last season. Despite Boone’s claim that Cincinnati could shock the world on Saturday, Michigan has a big edge here.

Cincinnati pass game vs Michigan pass defense
Cincinnati Michigan 

With a young and unproven Michigan secondary, the Wolverines don’t have much of an edge here against some talented Cincinnati receivers, but they did still hold Florida without a passing touchdown last week. Sure, they gave up a few long pass plays, but they didn’t break. Cincinnati will likely hit on a couple long passes, but if they can’t run the ball, Michigan’s pass rush will tee off on Moore like it did Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire last week.

Cincinnati rush defense vs Michigan running game
Cincinnati Michigan 

The Bearcats allowed 224 rushing yards to Austin Peay last week, while Michigan’s running game racked up 215 yards on Florida’s stout defense. Sure, the Wolverines had several runs that were stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, but the big plays — mostly by Ty Isaac — made for a good day on the ground. Cincinnati’s rush defense won’t have much success stopping Michigan’s deep and talented stable of backs.

Cincinnati pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Cincinnati Michigan 

Austin Peay threw just 19 passes last week and completed nine for 89 yards. Wilton Speight had his share of struggles last week, throwing back to back pick sixes and overthrowing open receivers at other times. I’m giving this one a push this week until Speight can prove consistent with Michigan’s young receiving corps.

Cincinnati special teams vs Michigan special teams
Cincinnati Michigan 

This was a big question mark for Michigan heading into last week, but sophomore kicker Quinn Nordin answered those questions with four field goals including two from 50-plus. Still, he missed two in the fourth quarter and Michigan gave up a blocked punt in the second quarter, so there are still some questions. Cincinnati’s kicker missed his only field goal try last week, so we’ll give Michigan a slight edge here.

Coaching
Cincinnati Michigan 

Jim Harbaugh vs. Luke Fickell. One has turned around multiple programs, won a BCS game, won an NFL conference, nearly won a Super Bowl, and took a 5-7 team to back to back 10-win seasons. The other is a first-year full-time head coach who lost to Brady Hoke.

Atmosphere and Intangibles
Cincinnati Michigan 

The first home game of the season in the Big House will be a great atmosphere, giving Michigan a clear home field advantage. The Bearcat seniors have experience of playing at Ohio State in 2014, but no one else on the team has played in a setting like that.

Edge Average: Michigan 7.4 – Cincinnati 2.6
Score Prediction: Michigan 48 – Cincinnati 10

First Look: Cincinnati

Monday, September 4th, 2017


All the talk heading into Michigan’s season opener was about the Wolverines’ inexperience after losing 15 starters including 10 from the defense alone. But there was plenty of young talent remaining to shut down Florida’s offense and capture a 33-17 victory. It was an important first road block cleared by the baby Wolverines and now they get a few games against less talented teams to refine things before the meat of the schedule begins.

Cincinnati is the first victim — I mean, opponent — and the early line has Michigan favored by 33 points. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Cincinnati & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
26.0 81st 33.0 55th PPG 14.0 34th 17.0 44th
97 215 Rush Yds 224 11
97.0 89th 215.0 44th Rush/Gm 224.0 99th 11.0 3rd
3.3 4.4 Rush Avg 3.7 0.4
151 218 Pass Yds 89 181
151.0 99th 218.0 68th Pass/Gm 89.0 12th 181.0 46th
248 433 Total Off. 313 192
248.0 107th 433.0 58th Total Off./Gm 313.0 48th 192.0 17th
20.5 58th N/A N/A KR Avg 19.3 63rd 17.8 50th
10.5 29th 8.0 42nd PR Avg 1.0 58th N/A N/A
22:19 113th 34:13 25th Avg TOP 37:41 25:47
27% 100th 33% 80th 3rd Down% 19% 18th 15% 14th
0-0 1st 5-22 112th Sacks-Yds 1-6 69th 6-35 3rd
4 3 TDs 2 2
0-1 (00%) 4-6 (67%) FG-ATT 0-0 (–%) 1-2 (50%)
4-5 (80%) 74th 3-4 (75%) 84th Red Zone 2-4 (50%) 25th 0-0 (–%) 1st
4-5 (80%) 1-4 (25%)  RZ TD 2-4 (5-%) 0-0 (–%)
OFEI/DFEI
S&P+

Cincinnati won its opener against Austin Peay 26-14 on Saturday in the head coaching debut of former Ohio State defensive coordinator and interim head coach Luke Fickell. Austin Peay is an FCS team that went 0-11 last season, has a 28-game losing streak, and featured the third-worst (120th-ranked) total defense in FCS. The Governors allowed 506.6 total yards per game last season and held Cincinnati to just 248 yards on Saturday. They were also dead last in FCS in scoring defense, allowing 47 points per game, and they held Cincinnati to 26. Either they’ve made major improvements defensively, or Cincinnati’s offense is pretty bad this year.

The Bearcats went 4-8 in 2016 and had the nation’s 99th-ranked offense, but still compiled at least 80 yards more in each game last season than they did on Saturday. Now they have to face a Michigan defense that held Florida to just 191 total yards and 11 yards rushing. Cincinnati managed just 97 yards on the ground on Saturday against a run defense that allowed 257.8 yards per game in 2016. Cincinnati had the nation’s 117th-ranked running game a year ago and it doesn’t appear to be much better this fall.

Quarterback Hayden Moore completed 17-of-28 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns, which is a positive for the Bearcats. He had a career touchdown to interception ratio of 20-to-18 entering Saturday.

Defensively, Cincinnati allowed Austin Peay to compile 313 total yards including 224 on the ground. The Governors ran the ball 60 times compared to just 19 passes, but clearly they felt they could run on the Bearcats’ defense, which bodes well for Michigan’s running game this week. In fact, first-year Austin Peay head coach had an interesting comment after the game.

“There’s nothing that Cincinnati did that stopped us on offense,” quarterback JaVaughn Craig said after the game. “We stopped ourselves. I do give credit to Cincinnati’s defense. They’re very physical, they run to the ball and they play hard. I just feel like we can control and do things a lot better on the offensive side of the ball.”

Yes, a quarterback of a team that has the longest losing streak in the nation — FBS or FCS — played the “we stopped ourselves” card. Michigan ran for 215 yards on a stout Florida defense and should run all over Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati pass defense allowed just 89 passing yards on 9-of-19 passing, but the Bearcats ranked 74th against the pass last season. Fickell is a defensive coach, but Michigan’s passing game will get a chance to give the young receivers plenty of work.

Cincinnati.com opined that Fickell may have been holding back on Saturday given the opponent so as to not show Michigan and future opponents much of anything. That’s a bit hard to believe since it was a six point game until five minutes left. Even if it’s true, there’s only so much the Bearcats can improve, and Michigan presents the toughest test they’ll face all season.

#11 Michigan vs #17 Florida game preview

Friday, September 1st, 2017


The long offseason is finally over. When we wake up tomorrow morning College Gameday will fill our TV screens and college football will be upon us. Sure, it started last weekend with a few tomato can games and Ohio State and Indiana gave us a nice little appetizer on Thursday night, but tomorrow is the first full Saturday of the season. Most importantly, it’s the first Michigan football game of the season.

Quick Facts
AT&T Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
Florida Head Coach: Jim McElwain (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 41-24 overall (19-8 at UF)
Offensive Coordinators: Doug Nussmeier (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Randy Shannon (1st season)
Last Season: 9-4 (6-2)
Last Meeting: Michigan 41 – UF 7 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-0
Record in regular season: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs Florida 1-0
Last Michigan win: Jan 1, 2016 (41-7)
Last Florida win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 3

For the second straight game, Michigan faces a team from the state of Florida. The Wolverines closed the 2016 season with a 33-32 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl and now faces Florida to open the 2017 season. Michigan is 3-0 all-time against the Gators with the most recent win coming at the end of the 2015 season when Michigan throttled Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. This will be the teams’ first regular season meeting as they also faced off in the 2003 Outback Bowl and the 2008 Capital One Bowl.

Florida has had an eventful offseason that will leave them shorthanded on Saturday. Seven players were initially announced as suspended when news came of a debit card scheme involving using school-issued funds and then trying to claim them lost or stolen. Starting wide receiver Antonio Callaway was among them. Then, just this week, two more players were announced as suspended for the same issue, including starting running back Jordan Scarlett. Freshman wide receiver was suspended for a separate incident involving marijuana possession.

That leaves ten Gators on the sidelines for Saturday and puts Michigan in a bad position. If the Wolverines win, pundits will place an asterisk next to it because Florida wasn’t at full speed. Remember last December when Michigan was penalized for beating Colorado without Sifo Liufau — who the Wolverines knocked out of the game — and beating Penn State without a couple of starting linebackers. If the Wolverines lose, it won’t go down as a “good loss” at the end of the season, but rather, will look worse since Florida was depleted.

Regardless, Michigan can do only what it can control, and that is win the game by as many points as possible; leave no doubt who the better team is, suspensions be damned.

Most national pundits have been predicting a Florida win based on the number of starters and production Michigan lost to the NFL in the offseason. But Jim Harbaugh’s third squad figures to be faster and more athletic than his first two and there is still plenty of talent — albeit young — remaining to keep the Wolverines in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Tomorrow’s game won’t change that, but it has a chance to set the tone for the season and put the college football landscape on notice. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Florida offense

Michigan fans will remember Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who coordinated the Michigan offense in Brady Hoke’s final season. He was the big hire in the 2014 offseason out of Alabama as Hoke’s final attempt to right the ship, but his offense failed to produce a winning season. He hasn’t had much success at Florida either, guiding the Gators to the 111th and 116th-best total offense and 100th and 107th best scoring offense in his first two seasons.

Nussmeier finds himself in a quarterback quandary entering 2017 and will start redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who has yet to play a college game. The 6-foot-6, 219-pound Crawfordville, Fla. native threw three interceptions in his first four passes in the 2016 spring game, but had a much better spring this year, completing 8-of-14 for 119 yards and a touchdown. With good size, he also has decent mobility and reportedly has a big arm, and that was enough for head coach Jim McElwain to name him the starter over Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire and upperclassman Luke Del Rio. It’s a pretty good bet to assume that Zaire will see the field as well due to his experience.

Wish Scarlett sidelined, Florida will turn to sophomore Lamical Perine, who rushed for 421 yards on 91 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown last season. He was one of just eight FBS true freshmen to rush for 100 yards in multiple games against Power Five opponents last season when he recorded 105 against Kentucky and 106 against Missouri.

Even with Callaway suspended, Florida boasts a deep collection of talent at receiver that will test Michigan’s young and inexperienced secondary. Sophomores Tyrie Cleveland (14 catches, 298 yards, 2 touchdowns), Josh Hammond (14 catches, 177 yards), and Freddie Swain (8 catches, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns) are all former four-star recruits, and senior Brandon Powell (45 catches, 387 yards, 2 touchdowns) was the team’s second-leading receiver last season out of the slot. Both tight ends, senior DeAndre Goolsby (38 catches, 342 yards, 3 touchdowns) and junior C’yontai Lewis (18 catches, 184 yards, 2 touchdowns) are also back.

The Florida offensive line has been pretty poor the past few seasons but there is optimism around Gainesville for a step forward this fall. Junior Martez Ivey, the No. 2 overall player in the 2015 class, is locked in at left tackle, while Jawaan Taylor is back at right tackle after starting 12 games as a true freshman last season. Redshirt sophomore center T.J. McCoy started four games last season, while true freshman Brett Heggie has looked good in the offseason and junior Fredrick Johnson, who has 10 career starts, are the guards.

Florida defense

Like Michigan, Florida has boasted one of the nation’s best defenses the past couple years, but McElwain’s defensive coordinator from those two seasons, Geoff Collins, bolted for the Temple head coaching position in the offseason. Up steps Randy Shannon, who has been on the staff as associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach the past two seasons.

Shannon was perhaps college football’s best defensive coordinator in the 2000s, guiding Miami’s defenses to 6th, 7th, 2nd, 28th, 4th, and 7th from 2001-06. He became head coach in 2007 but had just middling success and has worked his way back up since then through TCU, Arkansas, and now Florida.

He inherits the nation’s 5th-best total defense and 6th-best scoring defense from 2016, but has some holes to fill, most notably in the secondary where cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson and safety Marcus Maye are gone. Another safety, Marcell Harris, who started eight games last season, tore his Achilles in the offseason is out for the year.

McElwain said on Thursday that there could be four freshmen playing at a time in the secondary on Saturday. Marco Wilson, a four-star recruit in the most recent class, is likely to be one of them getting the nod at one corner spot, while senior Duke Dawson is the elder statesman of the group, having started eight career games. Fifth-year senior Nick Washington, who has started 10 games over the past three seasons, and sophomore Chauncey Gardner, who started the final three games last season, are the likely starters at safety.

Linebacker is another position that has some holes to fill, replacing Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, who combined for 113 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and five sacks. Farmington, Mich. native David Reese, and redshirt sophomore Kylan Johnson are the most experienced returning linebackers, having started the last four and five games of the season, respectively. Reese finished the season as the team’s fifth-leading tackler and is ready to step in as the middle linebacker. Johnson recorded 26 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the final five games. Sophomore Vosean Joseph is the other assumed starter. He played mostly on special teams last season but earned his first career start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa and recorded six tackles and one for loss.

The defensive line is the most experienced position group returning, though it does have to replace tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie. Redshirt junior Taven Bryan is in line to start at defensive tackle and has three starts under his belt the past two seasons, while fellow redshirt junior Khairi Clark should get the nod at nose tackle. Sophomore CeCe Jefferson and redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga are the starting ends. Jefferson was the No. 7 overall recruit in the 2015 class. Fifth-year senior Jordan Sherit, who recorded five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, will also be a key part of the rotation.

Florida special teamsM

While Michigan lost both its kicker and punter, Kenny Allen, Florida returns two good ones in sophomore kicker Eddy Pinero and fifth-year senior punter Johnny Townsend. Pinero connected on 21-of-25 field goal attempts as a true freshman last season including all three tries from 50-plus. Townsend led the nation with a 47.9-yard punting average. Powell or redshirt freshman receiver Dre Massey will handle punt return duties in Callaway’s absence. Powell averaged 4.6 yards per return a year ago. Massey may be in the running to handle kickoff returns as well.

Analysis

As a new feature of our weekly game preview this year, we will break down each unit battle to determine where each team has an edge, and by how much. These will be graded on a 1-10 scale where five is a push, one is a clear advantage for Florida, and 10 is a clear advantage for Michigan.

Florida run game vs Michigan rush defense
Florida Michigan 

Even with Scarlett in the Florida backfield, Michigan’s stout rush defense would still hold the edge, but with Scarlett out the Wolverines should have no trouble shutting down the Florida running game. Michigan held eight of 13 opponents under 100 yards rushing last season and the Gators ranked 113th nationally in rushing.

Florida passing game vs Michigan pass defense
Florida  Michigan

Florida gets a very slight edge here because of their returning talent at receiver and tight end. Michigan has a lot of talent in the secondary, but at this point it’s unproven, so like Ohio State’s young corners on Thursday night, it could struggle a bit in the opener.

The reason Florida doesn’t have more of an edge is the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Feleipe is mobile and has a big arm, but has no experience and will have to deal with Rashan Gary and the rest of the Michigan pass rush. If Florida’s offensive line is able to hold it off, Florida could put up a big passing number on Saturday. But I’d say Michigan’s pass rush is able to keep Feleipe off balance enough to make this a close position battle.

Florida rush defense vs Michigan running game
Florida Michigan

I’m giving this one a push because the improvement of Michigan’s offensive line is one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. Florida doesn’t quite have the depth it had last year on the defensive line and the run defense wasn’t their strength anyway.

While the defense as a whole was one of the nation’s best, the run defense ranked just 38th nationally. Five of the final eight opponents last season rushed for over 200 yards against Florida, and although Michigan’s running game wasn’t outstanding, it still ranked 33rd and it should be better this year with a sophomore Chris Evans in addition to Karan Higdon, Ty Issac, and Kareem Walker. If Michigan’s offensive line is significantly improved, Michigan has the edge here, but that’s still an unknown.

Florida pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Florida Michigan 

This unit battle is an interesting one simply because of all of the unknowns. Michigan lost most of its receiving production in Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt, and Florida lost most of its top-notch secondary. But Wilton Speight gives Michigan the edge here as the one consistent piece of the passing game. He faltered down the stretch last season after suffering an injury against Iowa, but has the experience to help his new young receivers come along against a young and inexperienced secondary.

Florida special teams vs Michigan special teams
Florida  Michigan

If the game comes down to a last-second field goal, are we confident that sophomore Quinn Nordin can make it? He was the nation’s top kicker in the 2016 class and has a big leg, but has yet to see the field. He made a 48-yarder in the spring game, but that’s not the same as the atmosphere he will face on Saturday. Pinero, meanwhile, was ultra-reliable for the Gators last season, especially from long range.

Florida has the edge at punter as well with the nation’s top returning punter. The return game is anyone’s guess. Michigan will have to replace Chesson and Jabrill Peppers and Florida will be without Callaway. Because of experience in the kicking game, Florida has a good edge here.

Coaching
Florida Michigan 

Jim McElwain has had success everywhere he has been, turning Colorado State from a doormat to a Mountain West contender in three seasons, and then reigniting a stagnant Florida program with nine-plus wins in each of his first two seasons after the Gators had just one in the previous five. But Jim Harbaugh has a longer resume, having achieved similar rebuilding jobs at San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers, and now Michigan. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl, won a BCS bowl at Stanford, and lead Michigan to back-to-back 10-win seasons after inheriting a team that went 5-7 in 2014. Also, Harbaugh whipped McElwain in the 2016 Citrus Bowl so he holds the head-to-head edge as well.

Atmosphere and intangibles
Florida Michigan

Although AT&T Stadium is geographically closer to Gainesville than Ann Arbor, Michigan fans will travel well and represent the Wolverines in Dallas. The neutral site gives neither team the advantage. How each team responds to the big stage and the Jerry World dome will be interesting to watch, but both are young so neither team has the edge there either.

Edge Average: Michigan 5.3 – Florida 4.7
Score Prediction: Michigan 27 – Florida 16
Four bold predictions:

Two good:
• Wilton Speight looks solid and throws for 250 yards as Michigan’s passing game looks exciting
• Chris Evans starts and runs well, but Karan Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing
Two bad: 
• Michigan’s young secondary struggles but the pass rush, led by Chase Winovich, mitigates the damage
• Two missed Michigan field goals keep the game closer than it should be