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#7 Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3: Opening statement

Monday, September 5th, 2016


WoodleyWoodsonHarbaughJordanJeter(MGoBlue.com)

The dream of any quarterback is to win the starting job, take the field on opening day and immediately lead the team down the field. Those dreams then continue with a national championship, being drafted first in the NFL Draft, winning the Super Bowl, and being elected into the Hall of Fame. But for Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, the dream started off unlike he had ever imagined it would.

“I don’t think that’s how he wanted to start his career,” said junior center Mason Cole. “He probably pictured it a thousand ways and that probably wasn’t one of them. But he’s fine. I don’t know what happened on that play but he threw a pick and he got over it. Next drive he came out and drove it 98 yards.”

The junior from Richmond, Va., who won the starting job in fall camp over fellow junior John O’Korn, took the first snap of Michigan’s season at his own 29 yard line, rolled to his right and fired a pass toward senior tight end Jake Butt. But with Hawaii defensive back Damien Packer dropping back into coverage, the pass never had a chance to reach Butt, and suddenly Michigan’s defense was back on the field.

“Obviously that wasn’t the start I was imagining,” Speight said after the game. “I was kind of rolling to our sideline and my momentum carried me right into Coach. He just grabbed me and held me and kind of starting laughing.”

The defense stood tall with a three-and-out and Harbaugh’s commitment to Speight never wavered. Michigan re-took possession on its own 2-yard line and this time Speight looked like a seasoned veteran, marching the Wolverines 98 yards in 11 plays for the game’s first touchdown. On the drive, Speight converted a 3rd-and-7 from the Michigan five with a 16-yard bullet to Jehu Chesson. He also hit Amara Darboh on a screen for a 31-yard pickup on 3rd-and-7 from the 39. He closed the drive with a perfecly thrown fade to Grant Perry for a 12-yard touchdown.

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Final Stats
Michigan Hawaii
Score 63 3
Record 1-0 0-2
Total Yards 512 232
Net Rushing Yards 306 81
Net Passing Yards 206 151
First Downs 26 16
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 3-33 8-60
Punts-Yards 0-0 6-256
Time of Possession 27:55 32:05
Third Down Conversions 7-of-7 1-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 4-41 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 9-for-9 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 0-of-1
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-6 0-of-1
Full Box Score

Harbaugh never thought twice about his decision to leave Speight in the game after the interception and said that he used it as an opportunity.

“It’s very difficult to throw an interception on a series and then come right back and lead a touchdown drive on the following series,” Harbaugh said after the game. “It’s something I’ve always been fascinated in watching (with quarterbacks) and the really good ones can do that. They can think (too much and say) ‘I’m not going to make another bad mistake.’ That’s what some do. Good ones don’t.

“And then to see him start the next drive on the 2-yard line. I mean, that’s as much adversity as you can have for a quarterback starting a series. You’ve thrown an interception in the first throw of the game and then you find yourself on the 2-yard line. But he responded.”

Two hours later, when the clock read zero and Michigan had collected a 63-3 victory — the seventh-largest in school history and the largest since 1975 — Speight’s interception remained one of the few mistakes the Wolverines made all day. Harbaugh said afterward that he didn’t see a single mistake defensively for the first two-and-a-half quarters…

“Watching our defense go through the first half, and even the third quarter, there wasn’t a mistake made,” Harbaugh said. “There wasn’t a linemen mistake made. There wasn’t a stance alignment mistake. They were right with their eyes and right with their feet.”

In a season opener, no one truly knows what to expect. It’s why most good teams front-load their schedule with cupcakes, to work out the kinks before the real season — conference play — begins. But aside from Speight’s first pass, it was as perfect a season opener as one could expect.

Playing in front of a who’s who of sporting greats — Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Charles Woodson — Harbaugh used a program record 17 true freshmen. Eleven different players carried the ball, 11 different players caught a pass, four different quarterbacks played, and three lead scoring drives. For just the fourth time in program history, Michigan went an entire game without punting. Only four of Michigan’s 59 plays for the game — Speight’s interception on the first play and three running plays to run out the clock — were not part of touchdown drives.

The defense, which entered the season with expectations to be one among the nation’s best, lived up to its billing, holding Hawaii to negative yards until midway through the second quarter, and only about 140 total yards until the vast majority of defenders on the field were freshmen and backups. Michigan’s secondary, which was playing without All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was held out due to injury — not only picked off two passes but returned them both for touchdowns.

Season openers against overmatched opponents are typically boring affairs, but even as the lead continued to widen, this one kept interest throughout. It was evident that there is more talent and more depth on this team than Michigan has fielded in a decade. It was evident that the 2016 recruiting class was ranked so highly for a reason.

True freshman Chris Evans backed up the fall camp hype with 112 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. Fellow true freshman Eddie McDoom flashed his speed, taking two end arounds for 34 yards and also caught a pair of passes. Kekoa Crawford caught an 18-yard pass and freshman tight end Sean McKeon caught two passes. Ben Bredeson didn’t start, but showed his talent on the offensive line, while mammoth freshman Michael Onwenu played on both lines. The nation’s top recruit, Rashan Gary, notched three tackles in his debut and looked like he fit the part.

It was a blowout, yes, but aside from injuries to Bryan Mone (leg), Taco Charlton (ankle), and De’Veon Smith (ribs), it had everything a Michigan fan could want to see from a season opener. Speight looked good enough after the interception and it remains to be seen whether he can build on it. And his coach thinks he can.

“It bodes really well for his career,” Harbaugh said. “To have done that, off an interception and then have the very next drive go 98 yards for a touchdown. Now he knows he can do it. Now we can expect him to do it.”

Game ball – Offense

Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
World, meet Chris Evans. The freshman out of Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Ind. showed the quickness and burst that Michigan hasn’t seen out of the backfield in years. While senior De’Veon Smith started the game and fellow senior Ty Isaac was the second back in, Evans made his mark early. On Michigan’s third series and his first carry was a 7-yard gain on 3rd-and-2 to help set up Michigan’s second touchdown. On the next series he raced 21 yards to put Michigan in the red zone and set up another touchdown. One series later, he found the endzone himself from 18 yards out. He then got the scoring started in the second half with a 43-yard run that showcased his burst as he hit the hole and outraced everyone to the endzone.

After the game, Harbaugh praised Evans as a special football player who will have a much bigger role as the season goes on. Harbaugh noted that he didn’t even show everything he can do, such as catch passes out of the backfield, line up in the slot, and return kicks. He may not replace Jabrill Peppers on offense, but he fits the same role and provides the same type of athleticism that can make a good offense that much better.

Game ball – Defense

Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Injuries have kept Mike McCray off the field so far in his career, but now finally healthy he showed what he’s capable of. In his first career start, McCray lead the team with nine tackles, 3.5 for loss, and two sacks. His speed was a noticeable upgrade from last year’s linebacking corps as he was seemingly in on every play and all over the Hawaii backfield. If McCray can stay healthy and keep up that level of play, one of the only question marks about Michigan’s defense will be much less of a question.

 

#7 Michigan vs Hawaii game preview

Friday, September 2nd, 2016


UM-Hawaii game preview header

Previously this week: First Look: Hawaii, Tailgate Tuesday: Cedar planked scotch eggs, Five-Spot Challenge, Hawaii game poster, A word from our sponsors, History says Michigan’s “Harbaughfense” will be more explosive in Year 2

A long and eventful offseason full of National Signing Day spectacles and satellite camps, Jim Harbaugh subtweets and rap videos, first pitches and White House meetings, finally comes to an end tomorrow. Michigan kicks off its 2016 season against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at high noon in Michigan Stadium.

UM-Hawaii_small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ESPN
Hawaii Head Coach: Nick Rolovich (1st season)
Coaching Record: 0-1
Offensive Coordinators: Brian Smith (1st season)
Craig Stutzmann (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Lempa (1st season)
Last Season: 3-10 (0-8)
Last Meeting: Michigan 48 – UH 17 (1998)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 2-0
Record in Ann Arbor: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs Hawaii 1st meeting as a coach
Last Michigan win: 1998 (48-17)
Last Hawaii win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 2

While Harbaugh has dominated the headlines since the 2015 season ended with a Citrus Bowl thumping of SEC East champion Florida, new Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich has done his part to get in on the action. In May, after Harbaugh announced a satellite camp in Hawaii, Rolovich jokingly tweeted out a flyer for his own camp at “Dockers High School” in Michigan. He also issued a challenge to Harbaugh for a pre-game quarterback battle. Rolovich was a star quarterback at Hawaii a decade ago. Harbaugh, who worked the Hawaii satellite camp alongside Rolovich, told media this week that he would be open to it.

At the beginning of this week, Rolovich said that he asked Harbaugh to give Hawaii some scrimmage film to even the playing field since Hawaii already played a game — they lost 51-31 to California in Sydney, Australia last Friday — but Harbaugh declined. Of course, the media took the denial and ran with it, but Rolovich claimed yesterday that he was just joking. He then tweeted an apology to Harbaugh.

Tomorrow, the non-football shenanigans come to an end and both Harbaugh and Rolovich will face off on opposing sidelines. So what can we expect? As mentioned above, we’ve already had a chance to see Hawaii in action in a game that yielded 82 combined points, over 1,100 combined yards, and 57 combined first downs. Although they came out on the losing end, the offensive performance was at least enough to excite Hawaii fans after a 3-10 season a year ago.

In that opening loss to Cal, Hawaii piled up 482 total yards of offense including 248 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per carry. But before you get worried about whether Michigan’s defense can stop them, consider that Cal’s defense ranked 108th nationally last season in total defense and 105th against the run. Michigan’s, of course, ranked fourth and 16th, respectively.

The main reason for excitement tomorrow based on Hawaii’s first game is the performance of their defense. Hawaii surrendered 630 total yards including 441 through the air and didn’t force a turnover. That fits right in line with their 2015 defense, which allowed 35.6 points (105th) and 448.8 yards (104th) per game.

So what can we expect tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Hawaii has the ball

Last season, the Hawaii offense ranked 120th nationally last season in total offense (316.3 yards per game), 118th in scoring (17.6 points per game), 115th in rushing (123.9 yards per game), 98th in passing (192.4 yards per game), and 118th in team passing efficiency (97.08). But with nine returning starters, Rolovich and co-offensive coordinators Brian Smith and Craig Stutzmann should be able to improve on those numbers.

It starts with senior quarterback Ikaika Woolsey, who has 19 career starts under his belt but split time with USC transfer Max Wittek last season. While Wittek started the first eight games and completed just 47.2 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and 15 interceptions, Woolsey took over for the last five and fared slightly better with a 49 percent completion percentage for five touchdowns and six picks. Woolsey completed 17-of-34 passes for 234 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against Cal. He also rushed six times for 33 yards.

The backfield returns its top five rushers, including Woolsey, most notably fifth-year senior Paul Harris, who became the first Hawaii back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since 2010. His 1,132 yards and 5.7 average was the highlight of Hawaii’s offense that still ranked 115th nationally on the ground. That’s because there wasn’t much behind him. But Harris barely saw the field last Friday. It was redshirt junior Diocemy Saint Juste who stole the show. An injury in fall camp kept Saint Juste out of last season, but he returned with 14 carries for 118 yards (8.4 ypc) and a touchdown against Cal. Senior Steven Lakalaka carried 11 times for 61 yards and a score, while Harris managed 36 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

If Woolsey can prove to be efficient passer the Rainbow Warriors should be able to improve on their 98th-ranked passing offense with nine of their top 10 receivers returning. Senior Marcus Kemp and redshirt sophomores Devan Stubblefield and Dylan Collie weren’t quite the three-headed monster in 2015 that Michigan had with Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt, but they caught a combined 95 passes for 1,256 yards and seven touchdowns. Stubblefield didn’t play against Cal, but Kemp lead the team with 73 yards and one touchdown on four receptions. Redshirt freshman John Ursua caught five passes for 70 yards.

The offensive line had to replaced left tackle Ben Clarke, who started 50 career games, but returned four starters with a combined 66 career starts between them. Redshirt junior Dejon Allen slides over to left tackle after starting 12 games at right guard and one at left guard a year ago. With redshirt sophomore Asotui Eli, who started 11 games at center last season, moving to right guard, the big question mark will likely be at center where fifth-year senior Leo Koloamatangi stepped in with seven career starts. Redshirt junior John Wa’a remained at left guard where he started one game last season and two in 2014. Fifth-year senior R.J. Hollis is back at right tackle after starting all 13 games there in 2015.

When Michigan has the ball

While the Hawaii offense was bad in 2015, the defense was not much better. It ranked 104th nationally in total defense (448.8 yards per game), 105th in scoring defense (35.6 points per game), 118th in rush defense (239.8 yards per game), 42nd in passing yards allowed (208.9 yards per game), and 104th in pass defense efficiency (143.42).

The only real connection between Michigan and Hawaii comes in the form of the new defensive coordinator Rolovich brought in. Kevin Lempa was the defensive backs coach at Boston College the past three seasons under new Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. He’ll know Brown’s philosophies and aim to bring some of them to Hawaii. Their Boston College defense led the nation in 2015 and the pass defense ranked sixth.

The best player on Hawaii’s defense last season, defensive end Kennedy Tulimasealli, was arrested twice over the offseason and subsequently dismissed from the team in June. Tulimasealli ranked second in the MWC with 18.5 tackles for loss. Nobody else returning had more than 4.5.

Fifth-year senior Mekani Kema-Kaleiwaher and redshirt junior David Manoa are the starting ends, while redshirt freshman Manly Williams will rotate in. Kema-Kaleiwaher notched a sack against Cal while Manoa managed just one tackle. Fifth-year senior nose tackle Kory Rasmussen is the lone returning starter on the front line and his 4.5 tackles for loss last season are the second-most of any returning player. He made three tackles last Friday. The other tackle spot belongs to sophomore Zeno Choi, who played sparingly a year ago.

Redshirt sophomore Jahlani Tavai moved from end to middle linebacker this season. His five tackles for loss and three sacks lead all returning players and he picked up right where he left off by leading the team with 12 tackles against Cal, including one for loss. Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams was the leading tackler in 2015, but was suspended for the Cal game. In his place was junior Russell Williams, who recorded five tackles, one for loss. Redshirt sophomore Malachi Mageo is the SAM linebacker but managed just three tackles last week.

The secondary is thin but did return some talent and was supposed to be the relative strength of the defense. A pair of fifth-year seniors should hold down the corner spots. Jalen Rogers started seven games last season and ranked third on the team with five pass breakups, while Jamal Mayo played in all 13 games as a reserve and broke up two passes. They combined for 13 tackles against Cal and Rogers had one pass breakup. Junior strong safety Daniel Lewis Jr. returns with 13 career starts, but like Garcia-Williams, sat out the Cal game with a suspension. Fifth-year senior Damien Packer started in his place and made 10 tackles. Free safety Trayvon Henderson returned from an injury that limited him to just two games last season. He ranked second on the team with 63 tackles in 2014 and also picked off a pair of passes. Against Cal, he tied Tavai for the team lead with 12 tackles.

The other third

If there’s one unit that was somewhat respectable in 2015 it was the special teams unit, which ranked 60th nationally in kick returns (21.32 yards per return), 71st in punt returns (7.73 yards per return), sixth in net punting (41.51 yards per punt), and 31st in special teams efficiency. Hawaii didn’t cover kicks very well (111th in kick return defense and 99th in punt return defense) but at least they were fairly good at something.

Senior Rigoberto Sanchez handled everything kick related in 2015, going 8-of-11 on field goals with a long of 50, 23-of-24 on PATs, punting 74 times for an average of 45.1 yards, and handling kickoff duties. Last week, he made his only field goal attempt, from 42 yards, made all four extra point attempts, and punted four times for an average of 37.3 yards.

Redshirt junior receiver Keelan Ewaliko is back to return kicks after averaging 26.3 yards per return last season, while Ursua will get a chance to show what he can do on punt returns. Ewaliko returned five kickoffs against Cal but averaged just 18.4 yards. Harris returned three for an average of 17.7.

Prediction

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 55 – Hawaii 10