A look through Michigan football’s record book reveals very few opponents that can boast a winning record against the Wolverines, but tomorrow’s opponent is one of them. Brigham Young overcame a 17-10 fourth quarter deficit to beat Bo Schembechler’s squad 24-17 in the 1984 Holiday Bowl. Redshirt sophomore Jim Harbaugh watched from the sidelines — he broke his arm in the fifth game of the season — as the Cougars claimed the national title.
Tomorrow, Harbaugh gets a chance to atone for that loss, but once again he’ll be on the sidelines, albeit in a far different capacity. He’ll try to do one of the few things his idol couldn’t: beat BYU.
|Michigan Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – ABC
|BYU Head Coach:
||Bronco Mendenhall (11th season)
||92-40 (all at BYU)
||Robert Anae (3rd season)
||Nick Howell (3rd season)
|Returning 2014 Starters:
||15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
||BYU 24 – UM 17 (1984)
||BYU leads 1-0
|Record in Ann Arbor:
|Record in Michigan Stadium:
|Jim Harbaugh vs BYU:
|Last Michigan win:
|Last BYU win:
It won’t be easy as the Cougars come to town already battle tested with wins over Nebraska (33-28 on the road) and 20th-ranked Boise State (35-24), and a near-upset of No.10 UCLA in Pasadena. Twenty-one years ago this week, Michigan suffered defeat at the hands of Colorado via the same method of victory BYU has used so far this season: the Hail Mary.
In the season opener, BYU completed a 42-yard Hail Mary with no time remaining to stun the Cornhuskers. A week later, BYU trailed Boise State by three in the closing minute, and facing 4th-and-7, completed a 35-yard Hail Mary to take the lead and ultimately win. The luck ran out last Saturday against UCLA as the Bruins scored with three minutes left to take a one-point lead and the Cougars comeback fell short.
But BYU enters tomorrow’s tilt as the college football darling and a sexy upset pick to beat the Wolverines, although the Cougars are the ranked team. Michigan secondary coach Mike Zordich spent much of the week discussing his team’s preparation for the Hail Mary and BYU’s tall receivers.
“It’s tough to watch, especially as a secondary coach, to see those kinds of throws from the quarterback,” Zordich said. “But it just adds to our challenge.”
It will be a challenge for sure, and a great test of how far Michigan has progressed since the season opening loss to Utah. Let’s take a look at the matchups.
When BYU has the ball
Through the first fourth of the season, BYU ranks 55th nationally in total offense (432.3 yards per game), 111th in rushing (121.7 yards per game), 24th in passing (310.7 yards per game), 70th in pass efficiency (132.61), and 72nd in scoring (30.3 points per game).
The Cougars suffered a huge setback in the season opener against Nebraska when starting quarterback Taysom Hill — a darkhorse Heisman candidate — suffered a season-ending injury for the third time in four years. But that bitterness quickly turned sweet when his backup, 22-year-old freshman Tanner Mangum, executed the late-game comeback to stun Lincoln and followed it up with another against Boise State. He has completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 664 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions, and although the college football world is just now hearing about him, he was a highly prized recruit in the 2012 class. He was ranked the third-best pro style quarterback in the class, was named MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game and co-MVP of Elite 11 along with some guy named Jameis Winston.
Mangum has a solid group of receivers to throw to in junior Mitch Juergens, senior Mitch Mathews, and senior Devon Blackmon. Juergens is the leading receiver with 244 yards and two touchdowns on 13 catches, but Matthews is the big play guy with 17 receptions for 185 yards and three scores. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, he’s a tough matchup for defensive backs, and he’s the one that caught the Hail Mary to beat Nebraska. Juergens caught the one against Boise State. Blackmon, meanwhile, has 14 catches for 171 yards, but no scores. The fourth wide out with more than 100 yards receiving is 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior college transfer Nick Kurtz, who has nine catches for 161 yards.
While the passing game is dynamic, the running game leaves a lot to be desired. Expected starter Jamaal Williams withdrew from school in August for personal reasons, leaving senior Adam Hine to carry the load. He’s already more than halfway to Williams’ 2014 yardage total with 279 yards on 46 carries (6.1 ypc), but he isn’t getting much help. Hill’s 72 yards in the first game before his injury are second on the team by a wide margin, and since Mangum isn’t a running threat — though he is nimble in the pocket — the Cougars’ offense has taken on a much more pass-heavy look. Junior running back Algernon Brown has the second most rushing yards by a running back with just 23 yards on eight carries (2.9 ypc).
The offensive line returned three of last year’s starters with 62 career starts among them. Senior left tackle Ryker Mathews leads the way with 20, while junior left guard Kyle Johnson brings 11 and sophomore center Tejan Koroma has 16. The right side of the line is less experienced, although sophomore Ului Lupuaho has started 11, but the right tackle spot is a work in progress. Junior Brad Wilcox, who brought just one career start into this season, started the first three games.
When Michigan has the ball
Defensively, BYU is traditionally tough, partly because Mendenhall is a former safety and linebacker and has spent his whole career coaching defense, and partly because most of the players are physically older and more mature than those from schools that don’t require a two year mission. This season, BYU’s defense ranks 86th in total defense (402.7 yards per game), 74th in rush defense (162 yards per game), 86th in passing yards allowed (240.7 per game), 59th in pass efficiency defense (120.73), and 75th in scoring defense (25.3 points per game). Despite winning the first two and nearly pulling off the third, the Cougars have allowed at least 24 points in all three contests.
Last season’s sack leader (seven), defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, is the leader of the line in Mendenhall’s 3-4 defense. He has two tackles for loss and a sack so far this season. The other end is senior Graham Rowley, who has half a sack. Junior nose tackle Travis Tuiloma was the starter in the middle, and the team’s best defensive player according to Mendenhall, but suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for a few more weeks. In his place is a combination of sophomore Kesni Tausinga (who loves burritos, according to his profile on the team page) and senior Columbus native Logan Taele. Taele has three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far.
The linebacker unit is led by junior middle linebacker Harvey Langi, who has a team-high four tackles for loss and three sacks to go along with 20 tackles and two interceptions. Fellow middle linebacker Manoa Pikula has 18 tackles, two for loss, and one sack. The outside linebackers are sophomore Fred Warner and senior Jherreymya Leuta-Douyere. The pair has combined for 25 tackles and 1.5 tackle for loss.
The secondary has allowed 240.7 passing yards per game, but free safety Kai Nacua has already picked off four passes and broken up three. The other safety, senior Michael Wadsworth, leads the team with 22 tackles. Michael Davis and Micah Hannemann are the starting corners and have combined for 19 tackles, one pass breakup, and an interception.
The other third
Senior kicker Trevor Samson has made all five field goals he has attempted so far this season with a long of 45 yards. All five have been between 32 and 45 yards. While Michigan has an Aussie punter, BYU counters with New Zealander Johnny Linehan, who is averaging 42.6 yards per punt. Blackmon and junior defensive back Eric Takenaka handle kick returns. The latter is a transfer from Snow Junior College, where he led the nation with 44.1 yards per kick return. Hannemann is the main punt returner with three returns for 16 yards thus far.
After winning 10 games or more in five of his first seven seasons in Provo, Mendenhall’s Cougars have finished 8-5 in each of the last three seasons. A 3-1 start in a very tough September schedule very well could set BYU up for 10 wins this fall since the remainder of the slate features UConn, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Wagner, San Jose State, Missouri, Fresno State, and Utah State. A loss to Michigan would mean winning out to reach 10.
For Michigan, meanwhile, BYU provides a good measuring stick before heading into Big Ten play. The season-opening loss at Utah showed that despite a heralded new coach, there are still missing pieces. Wins over Oregon State and UNLV showed some promise, but Michigan was expected to win both of those. BYU gives Michigan a chance to beat a ranked team for the first time since topping Notre Dame in 2013. It’s a swing game for both teams, but BYU’s swing is higher and Michigan’s swing is lower.
The most terrifying matchup tomorrow is Jake Rudock against BYU’s pass defense. Although the Cougars rank just 86th nationally in passing yards allowed, they lead the nation with seven interceptions. Rudock has already matched his 2014 season total with five. Nebraska and Boise State were able to take advantage of the Cougar secondary, combining for 616 passing yards. But UCLA, with freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, managed just 106 yards and three picks on 23 attempts.
The good news, however, is that UCLA showed the path to success on the ground, rushing for 296 yards with an average of 7.8 yards per carry. But Mendenhall is sure to stuff the box to stop the run and force Rudock into obvious passing situations and then try to take advantage of his miscues. The quick outs and receiver screens will be big for Michigan’s receivers to gain yards, and I predict this will be the game in which Rudock finally connects on a deep throw, giving Amara Darboh a nice American citizenship present.
Defensively, Michigan will likely give up a scoring drive early on and then settle in. Jourdan Lewis, who leads the Big Ten with six pass breakups, will have his hands full with Mathews and Juergens, but Michigan’s defensive line should be able to keep enough pressure on Mangum to keep him out of rhythm. UCLA got to him four times, Boise State five, and Nebraska three. The 13 sacks allowed are the most in the nation and that’s where Michigan has the advantage.
In a low-scoring game, Michigan will win the special teams battle, finally get a big play from Rudock, and hold Mangum in check. Kenny Allen hits a field goal late to make BYU have to drive the field for a touchdown, and the defense prevents another Hail Mary.
Michigan 20 – BYU 16