by Mark Edwards
It’ll be really difficult this Saturday to not look at the Cincinnati sideline and think “Bobby Boucher isn’t coaching the Bearcats.” Why? Not because UC will have a linebacker that is all over the place but because Luke Fickell is a doppleganger. Seriously. Take a look.
Movie reference aside, this week will answer a lot of questions. Was the defense THAT fast? Has Wilton Speight regressed? Can Michigan clean up mistakes against a program that is in year one of a makeover? Can Cincinnati “shock the world?”
Was the defense THAT fast?
The short answer is…YES. Now, let’s distinguish speed from efficiency. The Michigan defense can run. What made last Saturday so eye popping is the inferred perception of the SEC. How long have we heard the critics say “The teams in the north just aren’t as fast as SEC teams?” The better part of a decade on ESPN has driven that narrative. What Urban Meyer has known and what Michigan now knows is that the elite northern teams are every bit as fast as those in the south. How does that happen? Recruiting. I know Sean Baligan has railed on the annual February focus on recruiting rankings and I believe he’s had good reason. His thoughts only become irrelevant when you see speed go from HS to the top tier squads in non-SEC conferences. Last week, that’s exactly what you saw. The six sacks and numerous pressures made Florida’s passing ineffective until the last drive. What I saw that I was most encouraged by is the fact that the run defense and it’s EFFICIENCY made the Gators one-dimensional. I think that Don Brown & Co. will do the same thing this week. The only pause for concern is that the Bearcats will be more adept in passing the ball than Jimmy Mac’s Gators.
Has Wilton Speight regressed?
I don’t believe that I can make that argument. However, the troubling part of game one for Speight was the number of deep throws that he missed. Actually, it wasn’t even the number. As I watched it, it was apparent that those misses included balls that were thrown out of bounds. If Speight is to regain his form, he’ll have to put those passes in a place where his receivers can go make a play. I’ll go on the record and say that I believe he will be able to do that this Saturday.
Can Michigan clean up mistakes against a program that is in year one of a makeover?
This has been the staple of the Harbaugh regime. I would list the mistake areas in order of importance:
1. Right tackle pass protection
2. Special teams getting back to being special (Obviously, I’m not talking about Nordin here)
3. Passing game efficiency
4. Defensive secondary technique improvement
Overall, I was okay with Nolan Ulizio’s first start at right tackle. However, he had 6 misses in pass protection that can ultimately force a tight game to sway to the opponent. However, I think Harbaugh and Drevno/Frey have earned the right for the fan base to trust their decision…and I do. Getting a punt blocked certainly is “out of character” for Michigan since 2015 (one fumbled punt snap aside). Actually, I think Jay Harbaugh and Chris Partridge have shown that Michigan’s special teams are among the nation’s most efficient. I expect this to continue as the new faces become more comfortable in their roles. The passing game cannot produce a 11 for 25 outing from Speight in big games. Look for UM to want to get early completions against a Cincinnati defense that gave up 9.9 yards per completion to Austin Peay. Look for Michigan’s number to be closer 12 yards per completion. Lastly, the young defensive secondary had some lapses in their man-to-man technique that you rarely (Orange Bowl aside) saw from last year’s gang of Stribling, Lewis, Hill and Thomas. Cincinnati is going to throw the ball around…a lot. If you see separation on vertical routes between the receiver and the defender, it will be a sign of more work to do. If you don’t see separation, you should get very excited.
Can Cincinnati “shock the world?
The answer is dependent upon Cincinnati. It has everything to do with Michigan. Was the emotional high of last week too much for a younger team to deal with? Ay, there’s the question. My answer is no. Schembechler Hall has a way of keeping teams grounded. It’s been the trademark consistency that Harbaugh brought to Ann Arbor. Cincinnati’s best player is running back Mike Boone. They’d be smart to feed him the ball but I don’t see the Michigan defense allowing that to happen. If I’m right, then quarterback Hayden Moore will be under the gun of that pass rush, which I’m sure will include linebackers like Devin Bush.
Offensively, I think Speight will move the team up and down the field enough to calm the anxiety-ridden fanbase as we will see more tight end production as well as a breakout performance by one freshmen wide receiver.
FINAL SCORE: Michigan 49, Cincinnati 10
PICKS TO CLICK: Offense – Donovan Peoples-Jones, Defense – Mike McCray
CONFIDENCE LEVEL: Confident (I would like to see this team stack performances of the highest level)
ONE THING THAT MAY SURPRISE: Khaleke Hudson will be this week’s “Devin Bush Breakout Award” winner. I anticipate a few sacks and a pick for #7.
ONE THING THAT MAY DISAPPOINT: Running Backs not named Chris Evans. Ty Isaac had a great game one and Karan Higdon scored a touchdown but I expect rushing numbers to be spread out (including McDoom).