Game Prediction: Nebraska-Michigan

The game Saturday between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Michigan Wolverines will be the Big 10 conference opener for both teams. But at this moment, the seasons are heading in opposite directions of these storied programs.

Michigan, after a season-opening loss to Notre Dame, has seemed to right the ship for the time being with monster wins over Western Michigan and SMU. They beat the Broncos 49-3 for their first win of the year and then beat the Mustangs 45-20 to start a now two game winning streak.

Nebraska, after bringing in former quarterback Scott Frost (sound familiar Wolverine fans?) to lead the program, has started off 0-2. Their season opener against MAC foe Akron was cancelled due to the weather. They then officially opened the season with a home game against Colorado where they lost 33-28 after leading 28-27 heading into the fourth quarter.

The real shocker so far this season for Nebraska was in their last game when they lost at home to Troy 24-19. While Frost, and most fans, didn’t expect this year to be the year that the program would turn it around, they also didn’t expect a loss to Troy.

This is the first time since 1957 that the Cornhuskers have started a season 0-2.

Nebraska also has some concerning injury news to deal with heading into Saturday. Freshman QB Adrian Martinez didn’t play in the loss versus Troy after having a really solid outing against the Buffaloes. He was a crisp 15-20 for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His biggest impact, however, came on the ground where he rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts.

His backup, sophomore Andrew Bunch, didn’t play bad against the Trojans, but didn’t that good either. He completed 19 passes on 27 throws for 177 yards and two TDs. But he also threw two interceptions, the second coming with Nebraska trailing by five with just over two minutes to play in the game.

The quarterback situation at Michigan has to please Jim Harbaugh after a rocky start to the season. After his average showing against the Fighting Irish in the season opener, Shea Patterson has shown what all the hype was about coming into the year.

Over the last two games, Patterson has went 26-35 for 362 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. While he put up those stats against inferior opponents, it still has to instill confidence in the coaching staff and fan base that they found a QB that can keep them in games. He may have also found a favorite target.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, a former five-star recruit, has started to live up to that ranking. Over the last two games DPJ has caught eight passes for 121 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those four TDs came against SMU.

Michigan though, like Nebraska, has an injury to deal with on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Karan Higdon, who went off versus Western Michigan to the tune of 156 yards and two TDs, missed the last game against SMU. He is also questionable to play this Saturday. But the maize and blue have some very capable backs behind him on the depth chart.

Juniors Chris Evans and Tru Wilson carried the ground game for the Wolverines in Higdon’s absence. Evans rushed for 85 yards on 18 carries while Wilson had 53 yards and a touchdown on eleven carries.

With all that being said, it’s now time for the prediction.

Michigan is riding that two game winning streak while Nebraska has lost six straight games dating back to last season. Their last victory came October 28, 2017 against Purdue. They are looking to break that streak and get Frost his first win at his alma mater.

But I believe Michigan’s defense will be too stout against this Nebraska offense. Patterson and the offense are beginning to click and should continue to gel versus the Cornhuskers. The current line is sitting at minus-18 for the Wolverines. While I don’t think they will cover, they should win this one handily.

Michigan 37, Nebraska 20.

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Game Prediction: SMU-Michigan

This Saturday, SMU travels to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. This will mark the second ever meeting between the two schools. The first one came back in 1963 with U of M coming away victorious 27-16.

The tale of the tape for both of these squads are vastly different. Through two games, the Wolverines, sitting at 1-1, have averaged 33 points per game while giving up 13.5. The Mustangs, on the other hand, have only averaged 17.5 points while allowing 44 per contest and are currently 0-2 on the season.

Michigan is averaging 379 yards of total offense through their first two games. They are also holding their opponent to 255 total yards, which was lowered after only allowing 208 yards to Western Michigan in their 49-3 rout of the Broncos last week.

SMU, through their first two contests, is only averaging 249 yards of total offense while allowing opponents to rack up 461 yards per game. Both of their games have also not been competitive. They trailed North Texas 36-0 through three quarters before losing 46-23. In their game against the TCU Horned Frogs they actually led 9-0 after the first quarter before losing 42-12.

The Mustangs, if they want to compete in this one, will have to rely on the arm of junior quarterback Ben Hicks. Last year as a sophomore, Hicks threw for over 3,500 yards, 35 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions while leading SMU to a 7-6 record.

This year has been a different story so far. Hicks, through two games, has struggled mightily with his accuracy. He has completed only 48% of his passes (30-62) and thrown two touchdowns to one interception.

Besides Hicks, this SMU offense doesn’t have much going for them. Their leading rusher, senior running back Braeden West, has only 104 rushing yards on the season. The team as a whole is averaging only 67.5 yards per game on the ground.

As for the Michigan offense, after struggling in their season opener in South Bend, found their groove last week against the Broncos. Shea Patterson completed 70% of his passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns. He even threw two of those TDs to receivers (one to Nico Collins in the second quarter and another to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the third). Those were the first TD receptions by a Wolverine receiver since September 2017 against Cincinnati.

But the real juggernaut of the offense was Karan Higdon. He rushed 13 times for 156 yards and one touchdown. He could’ve easily topped the 200-yard mark had the game been close. The game being such a blowout paved the way for the depth chart to get carries from multiple faces.

Chris Evans, who only had two carries against Notre Dame, rushed ten times for 86 yards and two scores. Tru Wilson even got into the game and was productive. He toted the rock six times for 54 yards. The Wolverines as a team ran for 308 total yards on the ground and averaged 8.8 yards per attempt.

Now onto the prediction for this week. Michigan comes into this one as heavy favorites with the current line sitting with the Wolverines (-36). While I expect this one to be a blowout, I do believe the Mustangs will cover the spread.

This game should allow the U of M offense to continue to gel and get ready for their Big Ten opener next week against Nebraska. I believe Patterson will continue to improve and find more of a rapport with his receivers. The ground game behind the legs of Higdon and Evans should continue to churn out yards behind an offensive line that is still working out the kinks.

The defense, behind studs like Rashan Gary and Devin Bush, should eat up this SMU offense. I believe they will pressure Hicks into an interception or two and will bottle up the ground game.

Michigan 45, SMU 13.

 

 

Can Michigan Win Their Next Two?

Jim Harbaugh’s 8-2 Michigan Wolverines are currently on a three-game win streak (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), all in which they beat by two or more possessions. Redshirt freshman QB, Brandon Peters, has seen the start in two of the last three games, but was given significant playing time against Rutgers after struggles from John O’Korn.

Peters through three games: (28 for 46, 329 yards, 4 touchdowns, 60.9 completion percentage, 7.15 yards per attempt, long: 35).

The run game has also been lifted since Peters stepped under center; the two biggest contributors to the latest emergence of the rushing attack are both sophomores, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.

Higdon this season: (129 attempts, 854 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, long: 77); Evans this season: (104 attempts, 569 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns, long: 67)

The quality of defenses in the past three games haven’t exactly been A-list, but it’s nice to finally see Michigan establish the identity they’ve been looking for. This is just what this team needs before playing in this two-game skid against top teams, undefeated Wisconsin and an Ohio State team coming off an absolute rout over Michigan State.

There were concerns in the 2nd half of the Maryland matchup on Saturday; despite winning in convincing fashion, 35-10, the Terps were able to outgain Michigan in total yards (340-305). It was evident that Michigan took their foot off the gas coming out of the locker room into the 3rd quarter. Maryland was also able to outscore the Wolverines in the 2nd half, 10-7, went on a 10-0 run deep into the fourth quarter.

Should Michigan fans worry about their incapability to put a stake in Maryland yesterday, or are they simply over thinking it?

Either way, the schedule faces its most difficult consecutive weeks to date. Michigan still has a sliver of a chance to win the East, but I’d imagine the realistic goal for this team is what’s in front of them, finishing the regular season 10-2.

Since 2006, Michigan is 0-15 against top 25 ranked teams in road match-ups. The last two top ten ranked teams that Michigan has beaten? Both were against Wisconsin at home (2008, 2016).

This Saturday, Michigan will play the only undefeated team left in the conference, top 5 ranked Wisconsin. As of today, the Wolverines are just an 8.5 point spread underdog, which is awfully generous in my opinion. The Big Ten West front-runners have convincingly handled every team put in front of them this season, top wins over Northwestern and Iowa, who both cracked the CFP top 25 in week 11.

The following Saturday, November 25th, Michigan will host Ohio State in the Big House. The last time Michigan beat their rival was November 26th, 2011 in Ann Arbor when current Cincinnati head coach, Luke Fickell, was the interim head coach for the Buckeyes. The 21st century has not been a kind one for Michigan in regards to this rivalry, and if we’re being honest, it hasn’t been kind to Michigan for multiple reasons. Despite already having two losses with two more games left to play in the regular season, Ohio State has looked good for the most part this season and Michigan simply hasn’t.

The S&P probability is giving Michigan just an 8.7 percent chance to win the next two, a 41.6 percent chance to win just one of the next two, and a 49.7 percent chance to lose both and finish 8-4 on the regular season.

Michigan’s offense has been primarily executing, most especially in the run game, which is an important key for success in their next two games. Very crucial for this unit to build off the recent success and to stick with a similar game-plan which is a run-first, pass conservatively scheme, nothing too fancy.

There’s nothing that could lift a young quarterback’s confidence like coming off the bench and assisting in running the table for a Michigan team that was facing offensive struggles prior to him seeing the field. Brandon Peters is the more favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, will likely have a competition against a likely healthy Wilton Speight. Win or lose the next two, Peters will gain experience and get a better feel for what type of intensity college football has to offer.

Don Brown’s defense has done their job in just about every week except for the Penn State game that displayed multiple schematic issues. Khaleke Hudson has been a significant play-maker for this unit in replacing Jabrill Peppers at the viper position. A young secondary that initially had some communication issues seems to now be hitting their stride, defensive backs like sophomores David Long and Lavert Hill are making names for themselves as of late.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason for odds-makers in Vegas to put any confidence into Michigan in the next two weeks. They’re underdogs this Saturday, and will surely be underdogs next week for the Ohio State game, the odds will be stacked against them.

As for a fan-base who has had quite the emotional roller-coaster with their beloved head coach, they crave these potential signature wins over Wisconsin on the road, and beating Ohio State at home. These wins would not only make Michigan fans believe in Harbaugh again, but it should also silence his doubters. One of the biggest issues that fans and anaylysts have had over Jim Harbaugh is his poor record against rivals thus far at Michigan, which is 1-4.

Winning out would lift Jim Harbaugh to his third consecutive ten win season at his alma mater and would be entering 2018 with a talented team and a confident, sophomore quarterback who has 6 games of experience under his belt. Even though Michigan’s chance at the Big Ten is highly an unlikely one, there’s still a lot at stake for the remainder of the season.

 

Can Michigan Unleash The Air Attack Vs. Air Force – Game Prediction

by Mark Edwards

Webster’s dictionary defines the word panic as “sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior” but as any Michigan fan knows, last Saturday took it to a whole new (and quite honestly embarrassing) level.  Michigan fans expect a 63-0 victory every week.  So I thought this week I’d give you a little interaction fan trivia as we prepare for the Air Force Academy Falcons.

TRIVIA TIME

Q.  Which team has the better statistical defense?

A.  Air Force.  The Falcons have not allowed a point all season.  Before all of you start to flood my email inbox (markedwardsum@yahoo.com), I know they’ve only played one game.  In week one, they defeated VMI by a score of 62-0.  They only gave up 40 passing yards and 55 passing yards to VMI.  AFA had a week two bye so their defense averages less than 100 yards allowed per game and gives up 0 points per game.  Most fans would say that Michigan’s defense is superior.  Not according to the stats, which is the rationale that fans and writers on this blog use to bash Speight.  Look for a theme going forward.

Q.  Which offensive line is best equipped to move the other defense?

A.  Michigan.  The Wolverines outweigh Air Force by 37 pounds per player.  Air Force outweighs the Wolverines defensive front by just 2 pounds per player.  As you can see, 37>2 so I’ll give the edge to the Wolverines.  However, Air Force will shift, stunt and blitz at an effective level that will leave the malcontents in the Big House upset.  Air Force uses discipline above all else.  Speight’s numbers haven’t sparkled yet this season but numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

Q.  Shouldn’t Michigan wipe up the hallowed ground of Michigan Stadium with the Falcons?

A.  No.  Many fans hear “Air Force” and think that it should be an automatic yes.  However, Air Force plays people tough (beat Boise State last year).  So if this one isn’t “over” by the fourth quarter, don’t be surprised.  Michigan will get tested this week and I think that is really good for the team’s maturation.  (NOTE: To the fans who still need to mature, don’t BOO Air Force.  Root for the Maize and Blue but remember that Air Force’s players will fight for us all.)

How does the Michigan offense attack Air Force?

I think this week you see Michigan play a very efficient and sound offensive game.  Michigan’s run game will be used to compliment what I expect to be a tight end heavy passing attack.  Isaac, Evans, Higdon…they’ll all have their shots to show how deep Michigan’s stable of running backs is.  Speight will see McKeon, Wheatley Jr., Gentry and company work the middle of the field for 150+yards and 2 scores.  Then, the WR group will get theirs and I fully expect a big game from the McDoom/Peoples-Jones monopoly.

How does the Michigan defense attack Air Force?

 

You will see Don Brown’s defense prove to be much more than a blitzing machine.  They will play disciplined and only when Air Force gives you the spread-type of formation will Dr. Blitz show why he earned his nickname.  If you’re going to stop triple option football, your linebackers have to play well.  I expect Bush, McCray and Co. to play well although you have to expect Air Force to move the ball and score a little bit.  Air Force RB Timothy McVey (I bet his parents want his name changed) will be very good coming off of a 77-yard receiving and a 98-yard rushing effort in their opener.  Falcon QB Arion Worthman will struggle to find openings to run but don’t discount his ability to move the ball in the air as evidenced by his 172 yards passing vs. VMI.

FINAL SCORE:  Michigan 42, Air Force 24

PICKS TO CLICK:  Offense – Karan Higdon, Defense – Tyree Kinnel

CONFIDENCE LEVEL:  Some Nerves Exist

ONE THING THAT MAY SURPRISE:  I would say that Wilton Speight will play his best game of the season to date. 

ONE THING THAT MAY DISAPPOINT:
Air Force will run the ball for 175+ yards on the Michigan defense.  That number seems high but their attack is so different.

LAST NOTE:  Handle yourselves with class as you fans represent the best in Michigan and Air Force represents all of us.

Harbaugh Looks to Go 3-0 In Home Openers vs. Cincinnati -Game Prediction

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.

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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).