Michigan opens its season against Hawaii tomorrow, which means it’s time for our staff to make our picks. Last season, Sam collected the most weekly wins (five) and Derick won the season-long point spread title, just three points better than Justin. Here are our picks for tomorrow’s game:
Cal quarterback Davis Webb showed Michigan how to carve apart a porous Hawaii defense, but with Wilton Speight making his first career start, it’s a safe bet to assume he won’t be given the opportunity to chuck it up 54 times. Instead, Jim Harbaugh will look to make a statement on the ground and Michigan fans will get their first chance to see how much the offensive line has improved — although that won’t be truly evident until the Wolverines face a good team.
Last season, Hawaii traveled to Columbus and hung with Ohio State in the first half, trailing just 14-0 at halftime, but the Buckeyes wore them down for a 38-0 route. With a better offense under Rolovich this season, Hawaii would like to at least put some points on the board, but Michigan features one of the nation’s best defenses. I don’t think Michigan gets the shutout here, but I don’t think it’ll be close either.
Michigan scores early and often, Speight looks crisp and make smart decisions, the running back trio of De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans wear down Hawaii’s defense for over 250 yards, and Michigan rolls to an easy victory. The defense allows 10 points just as it did the last time Harbaugh faced Hawaii, as a quarterback in 1986, but the offense scores more than the 27 it did back then.
Michigan 52 – Hawaii 10
For the first time in almost a decade, Michigan kicks off the football season with championship expectations. The Wolverines are ranked in the preseason top 10 and have enough talent to play with any team in the conference on any given day.
The road begins with a home matchup against Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors were awful last season and already got waxed by California in their opener last week. Their greatest weakness in 2015 was defending the run, and Michigan will want to force the issue on the ground Saturday, especially if it builds a big lead. If things get ugly, expect to see some of the athletic freshmen Jim Harbaugh is so excited about.
On offense, Hawaii faces the tall task of blocking a Michigan front loaded with NFL talent. Redshirt senior quarterback Ikaika Woolsey took over the starting job this season, so star defensive backs Jourdan Lewis and Delano Hill will be looking to capitalize on any mistakes. Pay attention to how Michigan uses Jabrill Peppers, who moved to linebacker but could move all over the field.
Michigan will probably get ahead early and turn to the ground game to speed up the clock. I see the Wolverines winning big.
Michigan 45 – Hawaii 7
As Jim Harbaugh recently pointed out, college football is one of the few sports that has no preseason. If we’re being honest with ourselves, however, Michigan will open their Path to the Playoffs with something that should closely mimic an exhibition. All signs point to Wilton Speight leading an offense riddled with playmakers onto the field while captain Chris Wormley will trot out alongside a potentially devastating defense. Tomorrow, we’ll get our long-awaited first look at some touted prospects (looking at you, Rashan), our first taste of Michigan Football in Fall 2016, and our first glimpse of what we all hope is a special year in Harbaugh’s second season home. If the game isn’t decided by halftime, I’d be shocked. I’ll take Michigan.
Michigan 48 – Hawaii 7
Hawaii is not a very good team overall, but they did manage to put up a total of 12 big plays (8 run and 4 pass) on Cal last week. No, Cal does not have the best defense but the potential is there. So I went back and watched the game and about half of those big runs and all of the big pass plays aren’t ones that would have gone very far against Michigan.
Running back Diocemy Saint Juste’s 54-yard touchdown was aided by not one but two defensive linemen having him dead to rights and missing tackles behind the line and several linebackers and defensive backs taking bad angles and just plain whiffing. Michigan would have had Saint Juste for a loss. That said, breakdowns happen and Michigan hasn’t had any actual live fire, if you will, with their new defense. I think Hawaii will bust a few big runs that will lead to a score or two.
Michigan will win this handily, that is not in doubt, but I’m interested in seeing a few things as the ‘kinks’ are worked out with a new quarterback and a new defensive scheme.
When Michigan has the ball: What is their run/pass balance? I think we’ll see more runs than pass attempts (since there are several running backs that could be contributors this year) but I don’t expect anything exotic. Harbaugh will keep things close to the vest, as he does, and much like last year he’ll roll out new wrinkles every week. What is Wilton Speight’s (assuming internet rumors are true) command of the offense? I was never in the ‘O’Korn as the heir apparent’ camp. I think Speight’s floor is much higher and Harbaugh was going to sacrifice upside for a steady hand at quarterback given the defense they have. I think Speight will look better than most expect — not late season Rudock but definitely better than early to mid-season Rudock. I think we’ll see something we can all get behind and say “this guy can lead us to a Big Ten title” but not a “holy cow this guy is gonna break all the passing records.” And I’m fine with that.
When Hawaii has the ball, I don’t expect a ton of blitzes. Some, yes, but not a lot. Again, Harbaugh is gonna keep things close to the vest. I mean, this is the guy who refused to give Hawaii some scrimmage tape before the game, so why would he tip his hand to future opponents? I am very interested in seeing how Rashan Gary plays, as we all are, but more importantly I want to see how much havoc the defensive line as a whole creates. If they can be who we think they can be then the linebacker depth/experience does not become an issue later on. Yes, caveats apply here as Hawaii is not very good but if Michigan is not completely dominant then I might have some concerns.
On the back end I’d like to see a pick or two. Ikaiaka Woolsey is not an accurate passer (50 percent) and if he’s being pressured I think we’ll see a few errant throws. Michigan needs to take advantage of these opportunities this year. Remember, only SIX teams forced fewer turnovers than Michigan did in 2015. If they want to compete for a playoff spot that has to change, and taking advantage of opportunities to pick off some passes is where it will likely come.
Harbaugh is not opposed to playing his starters deep into games nor is he afraid to run up the score (ask Pete Carroll or Rutgers) but I think we’ll see plenty of the back-ups in the fourth quarter of this one.
Michigan 45 – Hawaii 13
It’s really here. I can’t believe we start the season in less than 24 hours. The build-up has been like nothing I’ve ever seen as a Michigan fan and I hope it lives up to the hype. I think this one goes Michigan’s way from the first play and is lead by a stout defensive line. They will get after a tired Hawaii team from the very start. We will see a constant rotation of bigger, stronger, and faster Wolverines against an inferior Hawaii squad.
Coach Brown will attack initially and try and set the tone to build on. I think we will see a lot of pressure from the linebacking corps as well as the defensive line. This will lead to several turnovers and give the good guys great field position.
As far as the offense goes, I think Speight will get the nod and lead the Wolverines to several first quarter touchdowns. Michigan will establish the running game and wear down the Rainbows with an elite offensive line. This one gets ugly early and fun to watch late as the Wolverines win big.
Michigan 49 – Hawaii 3