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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Bo’s Warning About Purdue – Game Prediction

by Mark Edwards

Finally…the Big Ten opener is upon us!  The beginning of conference play always seems to bring a heightened anxiety level to fans and considering that some are in the stratosphere already, I’m worried.  When I say worried, don’t confuse that with a lack of confidence.  I’m confident that Michigan gets the job done and looks good doing it.

In 1989, a VHS tape was released called “Vintage Bo.”

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The 30-minute video is the precursor to any “Hard Knocks” or “Training Days” production that football fans clamor for like it is a right of passage.  In the video, the camera crew follows a 42-year old head coach named Glenn E. “Bo” Schembechler in 1971 as he prepares his Michigan squad to take on Iowa on November 6, 1971 in Michigan Stadium.  They have footage of Bo at home with his family, on the practice field, in the locker room and on the field during the game.   Michigan won 63-7 that day and left Michigan with only two games left in the regular season.  Obviously, “The Game” was last on the 1971 schedule but there was a trip to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on Purdue sandwiched in there.

In the victorious locker room, Bo gave his team this warning:

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“DON’T THINK PURDUE WON’T BE TOUGH DOWN IN WEST LAFAYETTE.  YOU KNOW THEY WILL.”

If Bo was still with us today, that would be his message for Coach Harbaugh, the team and the fan base.  I expect his words to be correct again.

OFFENSIVE PREVIEW

Is this the week that it happens?  Can Michigan put it all together and emerge from the shadows of one of the top defenses in the country?  Can Wilton Speight march the offense up and down the field?  Will the WRs show up?  Basically, can the fan base have last year’s offense back?

Purdue’s defense comes into Saturday’s matchup (4 p.m. FOX TV) with the same type of look as Michigan’s offense.  They’ve been good enough to beat Ohio (not that Ohio) and Missouri (not old school Missouri) but gave up 524 yards to Louisville in the opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Purdue will play inspired and their effort will be really good.

How does Michigan move the ball on the Boilermakers?

The answer has to be “however Michigan wants to move the ball on them.”  I’m not being disrespectful but it’s time for Michigan to impose their will on a defense (and I’m sure Bo is smiling down on that mantra).  Whether it be Michigan’s toss sweep game or their shotgun inside zone running attack, I think Michigan will be very efficient is that part of it.  Ironically, Michigan needs the three-headed attack to be lethal.  The three heads are:

  1.  Base run game
  2.  Special schemed runs (jet sweeps with McDoom & Peoples-Jones)
  3.  Intermediate passing game

If Michigan can accomplish those three, I think the offense not only moves the chains (which they have been doing more than fans want to acknowledge) but we finally see a red zone offense that reminds us of the first 10 games last season.  Did you ever think we’d miss Peppers as our wildcat QB?  Well, we have missed him (See #2 above).  I think Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton have focused on getting the ball to playmakers in the red zone this week.  Look for Peoples-Jones, Gentry and Grant Perry to be called upon in the red zone.

NOTE:  Losing Tariq Black will be compensated for by the infusion of Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins.

DEFENSIVE PREVIEW

When you hear Don Brown say “Oh, we’ve got a lot left”, you have to smile.  Dr. Blitz will return to his comfort zone as I expect a heavy amount of blitz on Purdue QB David Blough in first-year coach Jeff Brohm’s offense.  The mission…make Purdue one-dimensional.  Do you want Purdue to be the team who ran for 51 yards vs. Louisville or 223 vs. Ohio?  Survey says…Louisville in the #1 answer.  If this happens, the focus then gets shifted to the coverage of the secondary.  Michigan has far exceeded a “solid” label in the back half of the defense.  Can Hill, Long, Watson, Kinnel and Metellus lock down the Purdue passing attack?

How does pressuring the QB help this defense?

Count to 4…1, 2, 3, 4!  Boom!  That’s how long the UM secondary needs to cover if the Gary, Hurst, Winovich, Bush wrecking crew can get home vs. a Purdue offensive line that gave up four sacks to a mediocre Louisville defense.  Get home…get home…get home.  I don anticipate Michigan to roll safeties down in to the pressure, which is only made possible because of the Khaleke Hudson skill set.

If Michigan can get Purdue to be one-dimensional by execution and score of the game, I would expect the big Michigan contingent that travels to West Lafayette to be happy come 7:30.  If Michigan cannot get the job done, this game turns into a 50/50 “free for all” that puts more pressure on the offense than any game this schedule.

FINAL SCORE:  Michigan 34, Purdue 14

PICKS TO CLICK:  Offense – Wilton Speight, Defense – Maurice Hurst

CONFIDENCE LEVEL:  Confident but uneasy

ONE THING THAT MAY SURPRISE:  Michigan will win the turnover battle by at least 3 turnovers (+3).

ONE THING THAT MAY DISAPPOINT:  Purdue will hit one trick play that drives the fans nuts.  So if you find yourself thinking “How could they fall for that?”, I’m talking to you.