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.

 

 

Game Prediction: Western Michigan @ Michigan

Both the Michigan Wolverines and Western Michigan Broncos got off to an 0-1 start to the season last Saturday. U of M lost to Notre Dame, 24-17, while WMU lost to Syracuse, 55-42. That was not an outcome either team was hoping for to kickoff the 2018 college football campaign.

Michigan, who started the season ranked 14th in the AP poll, dropped to 21 after their loss in South Bend. While no team likes to lose, the one silver lining that the Wolverines can take away from their game against the Fighting Irish is that they outscored them 17-10 after falling behind 14-0 after the first quarter. They also out-gained Notre Dame, 307-302, in total offense.

The same can be said for Western Michigan. After falling behind 24-7 after the first quarter, they outscored the Orange 35-31 over the final three quarters. They also put up more yards than their opponent as they racked up 621 yards of total offense while their defense gave up 560.

Another similarity between the two teams is that they both turned it over twice in their openers while only forcing one. But that’s about where the similarity ends with these two squads.

Michigan came into 2018 with high expectations and lofty goals. While the game against Notre Dame didn’t help them move closer to those goals, the loss didn’t put an end to them either. U of M can still win a Big Ten title and make a run at the playoffs if they were to win out.

But if they want to accomplish those things, they will need both sides of the ball, especially the offense, to step up and improve before Big Ten play starts in a few weeks.

The first player they will need to see improvement from is quarterback Shea Patterson. In the season opener he completed 20 passes on 30 attempts for 227 yards. He also had two turnovers as he threw an interception and lost a fumble near the end of the game. While I know the offensive line was not very good and needs to improve as well, many were hoping that Patterson would be able to make plays regardless of the situation in front of him and that was not the case against the Fighting Irish.

The next player that needs to step up as the season progresses is senior running back Karan Higdon. He led the team last week with 72 rushing yards on 21 carries and also found pay dirt in the fourth quarter. But he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry and that will need to improve if this offense is going to be successful.

The final piece to this offensive puzzle, I believe, is Donovan Peoples-Jones. The sophomore wide receiver was highly touted coming out of high school and had a rather sub-par freshman season. Patterson needs play makers on the outside, especially with Tarik Black out for most of, if not all, the season and DPJ can be that guy. He caught six passes for 38 yards in the opener and that 6.3 yards per reception has got to be higher as the season advances.

But even the offense does improve, the defense will have to follow suit and show why they were so highly talked about before the season began. The vaunted front seven was gashed by the likes of Brandon Wimbush and the rest of Notre Dame for 132 rushing yards in the opener. Rashan Gary, Devin Bush and Co. will have to be a lot better against the run moving forward.

But anyway, onto the prediction for this week. Western Michigan’s defense, which surrendered 55 to Syracuse last week as I mentioned earlier, should be no match for Michigan’s offense despite their struggle.

The offense could possibly give Michigan’s defense some fits. They have a few weapons on the offensive side of the ball that could come out and have good games. Junior running back LeVante Bellamy ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries. Junior wideout D’Wayne Eskridge had an even bigger game. He had 240 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions on his way to being named MAC West Offensive Player of the Week.

But even with those offensive threats, I think Michigan should win this one handily. The current line is the Wolverines by 28 and I think it will be pretty close to that. U of M is 6-0 all-time against WMU and should easily improve to 7-0.

Michigan 45, Western Michigan 20.

Bowl Game (and Season) Disappointment

The Outback Bowl did not go as planned for the Michigan Wolverines. They lost to South Carolina 26-19 after being up 19-3. Blowing that big of a lead is never good, especially when you were up sixteen near the end of the third quarter.

There were multiple reasons that U of M ended up losing this game, but the most glaring reason had to be the turnovers. After playing a clean, error free first half, the offense (and special teams) just imploded in the third and fourth quarters with five turnovers.

This Tim Drevno/Pep Hamilton led offense, especially the air attack, looked horrendous. They couldn’t capitalize in the red zone with five trips resulting in two field goals, a touchdown and two turnovers (one fumble by Karan Higdon and an interception thrown by Brandon Peters). Field goals aren’t ideal inside your opponents 20, but if the Wolverines would’ve came away from these five trips with four field goals and a TD instead of those two turnovers, this is a completely different ballgame.

Another reason for their disappointing loss was the play of quarterback Brandon Peters. The redshirt freshman had a chance to impress the coaches and give himself an edge in the QB battle heading into the spring and, if anything, made things even more muddled than they already were. He completed an atrocious 45% of his passes (20-44) and threw for just 186 yards with two interceptions. Those stats are unacceptable and showed that Peters is probably not the guy heading into next season.

But Peters wasn’t alone in the Wolverines playing an awful game. Besides that fumble near the goal line, Karan Higdon couldn’t get anything going on the ground. He had 17 carries for 65 yards. His backfield mate, Chris Evans, had nine touches for 24 yards. And while Donovan Peoples-Jones had six receptions for 58 yards, he was responsible for a crucial fumble on a punt return near the end of the game that nearly sealed the win for the Gamecocks.

The last takeaway that this bowl game showed involves Jim Harbaugh. This loss dropped U of M to 1-2 in bowl games under his leadership. It looked like his team wasn’t prepared for this game with the offense looking stagnant throughout, even when they were up 19-3. The five turnovers in one half, especially the second half, is alarming and needs to be cleaned up. And, for being a so-called QB whisperer, Brandon Peters looked like a deer in head lights, even with a month to prepare.

Hopefully this game provides a much-needed boost to this team heading into next year. The 2017 campaign was disappointing before this bowl game and it ended on an even more unpleasant note. 8-5 is not what Michigan fans envisioned or were hoping for when Harbaugh was hired in three years ago. There were grumblings of him being on the hot seat before this game and a loss to a less talented (or at least I thought) South Carolina squad with the same record as your team just made it hotter.

Next year needs to be the year that this team finally shows improvement under Harbaugh, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The play of the quarterback, whether it’s Peters, Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey or whomever, needs to be improved if this team wants to compete with the Big Ten’s elite.

Here’s to hoping this embarrassment of a bowl loss opens the eyes of the players and coaching staff and next season doesn’t end in disappointing fashion like it did for 2017-18.

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.

 

Harbaugh, Michigan in Control of their Own Destiny

This one’s for all of the Michigan fans out there hanging onto, what seems to be, an unlikely scenario for their favorite football team.

Can Jim Harbaugh’s third Michigan Football team run the table and crack the playoffs? I wouldn’t put my money on it considering what we’ve seen on the offensive side of the ball this season (98th total offense, 101st passing offense, through 6 games for Michigan). The run game appears to be the only hope for Michigan at this point in the schedule, Karan Higdon broke out last Saturday with 25 touches, 200 yards, and 3 scores.

I’m not counting out the Wolverines yet, they have a great opportunity on Saturday night to make a statement as they’re headed to Happy Valley to play no. 2 Penn State on national television. The pressure for Harbaugh to win this one is as big as it gets; win tomorrow night, then they’re back in the playoff conversation, but if they lose, they’ll likely be unranked for the first time since the BYU game in 2015.

After the upset loss to MSU, lot of the fan-base has thrown in the towel for the season, and began focusing on what Michigan will do in 2018. This is wrong because the reality of the current state of the season is that they’re sitting at 5-1, coming off a conference road-win, and they’re about to play the no. 2 team in the nation.

Michigan’s recipe for a potential playoff berth is as simple as it gets: win out. If the no. 19 ranked Wolverines are capable of winning the games they’re supposed to win (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), and pull off wins against currently ranked top ten teams (no. 2 Penn State, no. 5 Wisconsin, no. 6 Ohio State), then they’re in. This scenario would only work out under an assumption that MSU drops another game or two to fall short of the East division title.

I don’t realistically expect Michigan to pull off the unlikely run to crack the playoffs, I personally believe that they lack the offense competence to do so. Do I think it’s crazy to think that Harbaugh has enough tricks up his sleeve to sneak a win or two out of the three marquee games remaining this season? Absolutely not, Harbaugh is a wild-card and he’s managed to win games that his teams have had no business winning.

I hope I’m wrong, I hope the offense comes to life against Penn State, and a newfound momentum propels this young team to new heights. After all, this is college football, crazy things have happened and they’ll definitely continue to happen — anything is possible.  It’s up to them to do it, and it starts tomorrow night with all odds stacked against them, backs against the wall.

 

 

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.