(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)
For the third straight week an external storyline has dominated the talk leading up to the game, this time in the form of a fake depth chart from Colorado. In Week 1, Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich told the media that Harbaugh declined his request to send game tape. He later said that he was joking. In Week 2, the talk centered around UCF head coach Scott Frost and his comments about Michigan following the 1997 season that saw his Nebraska Cornhuskers share the national title with Michigan.
This week, Colorado decided to poke fun at the fact that Harbaugh hasn’t released a depth chart this season. Colorado sports information director Dave Plati created a fake depth chart that lists the Buffaloes’ quarterback as Elmer Fudd, the halfbacks as the Hanson brothers from the 1977 movie Slapshot, defensive tackle — wearing No. 007 of course — as James Bond, and “weak safety” as Stewie Griffin from Family Guy.
Harbaugh, however, dismissed the tactic in an interview on Thursday morning with 97.1 FM.
“In our preparation for Colorado we’ve had a hard time working humor into the preparations,” Harbaugh said. “They’re a very good football team.”
“I saw the depth chart. I was trying to imagine how many people sat around and how many hours they worked on that. We’ve just found, I mean, when it comes to the depth chart — modern technology seems to have made the depth chart an out-dated task by about 20 years. We’ve found studying last week’s film of the opponent is the most accurate way of determining another team’s depth chart.”
No matter who starts for Colorado, a win in the Big House would be a huge lift for a program that had won just 10 games in head coach Mike MacIntyre’s first three seasons in Boulder. It’s a make or break season for Mac and he hopes to recreate the magic that Colorado displayed 22 years ago when Kordell Steward stunned the Wolverines with a hail Mary. The Buffaloes will be wearing those 1994 uniforms tomorrow.
So far this season, Colorado looks much improved over the team that went just 4-9 and 1-8 in Pac-12 play a year ago. The level of competition hasn’t been much as Colorado State ranks 112th nationally in FEI — 31 spots below UCF — and Idaho State ranks 78th in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Still, like Michigan in its first two games of the season, Colorado did what it needed to do, winning both games by a combined score of 100-14.
So could Colorado stun Michigan again? Let’s take a look at the matchups.
|When Colorado has the ball|
Co-offensive coordinators Darrin Chiaverini and Brian Lindgren returned just four full-time starters from last season, but they also welcomed a productive junior college transfer and got back a starting offensive lineman who missed all of 2015 due to injury.
Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau entered the season with 29 games of starting experience and 32 games of playing experience under his belt. So far through two weeks he has completed 74.1 percent of his passes for 522 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He has also rushed 20 times for an average of six yards per carry and one touchdown. He missed the final two games of 2015 and all of spring practice with a Lisfranc (foot) injury, but has shown no signs of rust thus far. Entering the season, Liufau held 75 school records and will look to build on that the rest of 2016.
Last year’s leading rusher, junior Phillip Lindsay, is back after rushing for 653 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He has 125 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry so far this season. He shares the backfield with Kyle Evans, a 5-foot-6, 175-pound sophomore who has 93 yards and two scores on 4.0 yards per carry so far. Junior Donovan Lee and freshman Beau Bisharat are averaging six to nine carries a game. Bisharat was a 247 Composite four-star who held offers from Oregon, Michigan State, Stanford, Nebraska, and others before signing with the Buffaloes.
The receiving corps suffered the biggest loss from last season in the form of graduating senior Nelson Spruce, who ranked second in the Pac-12 with 6.8 receptions per game and fifth with 81 yards per game, though he only found the end zone four times. Leading returning receiver Shay Fields, who caught 42 passes for 598 yards and four scores in 2015, leads the Buffs with 157 yards on five catches, but has yet to find the end zone. Junior Devin Ross and junior college transfer Kabion Ento have two touchdown receptions apiece. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Ento has the best size among the receiving corps and he’s coming off a 38-catch, 607-yard, eight-touchdown performance at East Central (Miss.) Community College in 2015. Junior Bryce Bobo is the other impact receiver with seven catches for 106 yards thus far.
The offensive line returned three of last season’s opening day starters, though left tackle Jeromy Irwin suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the second quarter of the second game. He’s back as the anchor of the line after starting 11 games in 2014. The most experienced is senior center Alex Kelley, who has started 27 career games including all 13 a year ago. Left guard Gerrad Kough started 10 games last season while missing three with various injuries. The right side of the line is where the newcomers stepped in. Redshirt freshman Tim Lynott earned the job at right guard and junior Sam Kronshage won the right tackle gig. Kronshage started six games last season, three at left tackle and three at right tackle.
|When Michigan has the ball|
When Michigan’s 2015 defensive coordinator, D.J. Durkin, left for the Maryland head coaching position after just one season, one of the names that came up as his replacement was former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt. Harbaugh, of course, hired Boston College’s Don Brown instead, and Leavitt ended up in the same position at Colorado. In Boulder, he inherits a veteran defense that looks to take a step forward in his second season.
The defensive line has been a weakness the past few seasons, but returned plenty of experience. Senior nose tackle Josh Tupou, who has started 33 career games, redshirted in 2015 due to a violation of team rules. He was an honorable mention Freshman All-American in 2012 and honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2014, so his return will be a welcome addition for Leavitt. He has six tackles, including one for loss in the first two games. He’s be joined on the line by senior ends Jordan Carrell and Samson Kafovalu, who have combined for nine tackles, 1.5 for loss, and one sack so far.
Like the defensive line and offensive line, the linebacking corps gets back a key piece that missed most of last season. Junior inside linebacker Addison Gillam started 10 games in 2014 and was a first-team Freshman All-American in 2013, but tore his meniscus in Week 2 last season. But he’s not a starter this season and has just two tackles. Inside linebackers Rick Gamboa and Kenneth Olugbode are the second and third leading tacklers so far. Senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert led the team with six sacks last season and has one already this year and a team-leading two tackles for loss. Junior Derek McCartney started the Idaho State game after Christian Shaver started in Week 1. McCartney racked up 70 tackles, 10 for loss, and five sacks in 2015. He has recorded two tackles including one for loss so far.
The secondary returned three starters including preseason Jim Thorpe Award candidate Chidobe Awuzie, who tallied 90 tackles and a team-high 10 pass breakups in 2015. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 performer and has 22 career pass breakups. He leads the team with 10 tackles and also has two pass breakups and an interception so far. Junior Afolabi Laguda is the other corner with six tackles. Safeties Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon have combined for four pass breakups.
|The other third|
Special teams was a bit lackluster for the Buffaloes last season, so MacIntyre brought in a pair of new coaches to oversee the unit. Former special teams coordinator Toby Neinas was dismissed and landed at Rutgers, and in his place stepped Daniel Da Prato and Matt Thompson. Da Prato was the special teams coordinator at Montana State the past three seasons, while Thompson was a private kicking instructor.
Senior kicker Diego Gonzalez has made all three of his attempts so far this season, but hasn’t attempted one longer than 30 yards. He made just 62.1 percent of his field goal attempts in his first season as the primary kicker last season, but he did show off a big leg with a long of 52. In fact, he went 2-of-3 from 50-plus yards. He struggled mightily from the left hash, making just 5-of-12, but made 13-of-17 everywhere else. Sophomore punter Alex Kinney ranked ninth in the Pac-12 with an average of 40.1 yards per punt as a true freshman. He is averaging 42.8 yards per punt so far this season with one touchback and one downed inside the 20.
Michigan’s schedule has gradually gotten stronger by the opponent and this will be the biggest test yet. The line has hovered around 20 points, but that will be a tough one for Michigan to cover. Through the first two weeks of the season Colorado ranks in the top 10 nationally in both offense and defense. Like Michigan they have feasted on cupcakes without playing down to their competition, but they have done it better.
Colorado has done a good job taking care of the ball so far this season. They have lost three fumbles — which are mostly random — but Liufau hasn’t thrown an interception yet. Michigan’s defense has forced four turnovers so far — two of which were pick-sixes — and they’ll need to force Liufau to make mistakes.
Offensively, the big question will be whether Michigan can muster a run game. UCF packed eight and nine man boxes a week ago to stop the run, so Wilton Speight aired it out 37 times. The passing game made seven big plays (20 or more yards). But Colorado features a much better secondary than UCF did. Awuzie is one of the best corners Michigan will face this season and will be able to stick with Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh. If the offensive line is unable to get a push and open up running lanes, Speight will be tested more than he has yet in his young career.
This game has the makings of a tight one through the first half that Michigan pulls away in the second. I do think the running game will be able to have some success — Colorado State rushed for 5.6 yards per carry on 33 attempts — and the play action passing game will make enough big plays to ensure the win, but not cover the spread.
|Michigan 34 – Colorado 17|