THE GAME: Ohio State @ Michigan Predictions

The Big House. The Horseshoe. The Maize and Blue. The Scarlet and Grey. Bo Schembechler. Woody Hayes. The Ten Year War. The Big Two and the Little Eight. Jim Harbaugh. Urban Meyer.

This will be the 100th consecutive meeting between the arch-rivals, 113 meetings in total. Records and rankings are thrown out the window because after kickoff, the only thing that matters is beating that team on the other sideline, it’s an absolute war. To keep it short, these schools don’t like each other and that’s just how it is.

(9-2) no. 9 ranked, Ohio State, will come to Ann Arbor and play (8-3) unranked, Michigan. This rivalry is widely considered to be one of the best in all of sports, despite the 21st century being a tad-lopsided in favor of the Buckeyes.

The Block M Insider has just four contributors for both our blog and to run our Twitter pages, and this article is featuring opinions and predictions on how “The Game” will potentially unfold come this Saturday:

Shane: 

Not many will be predicting a Michigan victory in Ann Arbor come Saturday when the Buckeyes will come to the Big House as a likely double digit favorite. Wolverine season-ticket holders everywhere have been looking to sell their tickets, feeling similar to the 2013 game that held little to no confidence throughout the fan-base.

I’d love to sit here and say that the intensity of this rivalry is going to lift this younger, inexperienced, lesser coached, less talented Michigan team to a victory come Saturday but that simply hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I don’t think this team is good enough to hang with the Buckeyes, but I’m also a firm believer that in college football on any given day, anything is possible.

This Michigan defense is a stout unit with a front to be reckoned with, however they have a inexperienced secondary with plenty of vulnerabilities that have been exposed to man coverage specifically this season. Overall, this group is arguably atop in the nation in terms of quality, they’d be able to perform at a higher level had their offense give them time to rest in between possessions. Going up against this Buckeye offense who has more dimensions than one, they’ll be able to spread it out to attack these said vulnerabilities within the Michigan defense. This will be the best total offense that Michigan has gone up against this season, Penn State being the 2nd best as they put up 42 points. Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown must prepare their best game-plan along with unanimous execution to limit the Heisman hopeful, J.T. Barrett, freshman RB, J.K. Dobbins, and the rest of the Buckeye play-makers.

Offensively in Ann Arbor, this season has not been a favorable one and it’s difficult to say things will change this week. We’ve seen three different quarterbacks under center for Michigan this season and Brandon Peters, the fan favorite, is not a guarantee for play on Saturday, remains in concussion protocol. Wilton Speight’s status remains in non-contact for practice, not likely he dresses. If both are out for the game, that would likely leave it up to John O’Korn, or Alex Malzone if they wanted to risk playing someone with no experience. It’s no secret that the offense has clicked the most efficiently while having Peters in the huddle and it would be in Michigan’s favor to have him ready to go, but the real bread and butter to this unit are two men named Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. The passing game struggle has allowed the run game to open up several times this season; Higdon is 124 yards away from being Michigan’s first 1,000 yard rusher in a season since Fitz Toussiant in 2011. Evans has carried his weight as well with a 594 yard season thus far. Unfortunately for the offense, Ohio State’s run-defense is their strength and Iowa, who routed the Buckeyes, were able to expose their secondary. I can’t express how crucial it is for Michigan to have Brandon Peters’ arm, gives them the best chance to move the ball in my opinion because we’ve seen the John O’Korn offense and I really don’t think there’s a chance with him under center.

As a fan, I’m hoping for a close game that comes within a possession or two at the very least, but I’m taking Ohio State in this one and expect them to cover the spread. This isn’t Michigan’s season, but a win over your rival would essentially forgive the losses this season strictly due to transitional circumstances after losing over 40 seniors and returning less than 5 total starters. Michigan is the least experienced team in the FBS to my understanding, currently fighting for a 9 or 10 win season while the Buckeyes are trying to make their case to the committee for yet another college football playoff appearance.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan 14.

Mark:

Weird things happen in sports.  It’s the unpredictability that makes fans go crazy.  For Michigan fans, it’s “The Game.”  There have been so many upsets in this rivalry.  They are actually easy to remember.

1969 – Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

1987 – Ohio State 23, Michigan 20

1996 – Michigan 13, Ohio State 9

2016 – Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT)

Why do I list all of the more memorable ones?   That’s the point.  This game is SPECIAL.  This game is TRADITION.  And for both fan bases who reside on the internet like they know it all, those four games above prove that when you least expect it, we know nothing.

So now let’s move on to 2017…

QUICK FACTS

  • Michigan has allowed 14 points or less in the last 10 home games.  Last team to score more than 14…Ohio State in 1015.
  • Not a player on Michigan’s roster has beaten Ohio State.
  • Ohio State has only scored less than 30 points twice (Oklahoma & Iowa).
  • Michigan has only given up more than 24 points in a game once (Penn State).

Do you know what the problem with facts can lead to?  Short-sighted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

So let’s get to it.  To the casual observer and to the most loyal fan, this seems to be a game that Ohio State should win. This is the game that Michigan has been preparing for since last year’s loss in the Horseshoe.

The Buckeye offense is potent and features playmakers all over the field…including a dual-threat quarterback.  J.T. Barrett is good enough to make Michigan fans sick to their stomachs.  Why?  Barrett is the only real quarterback that is going to force Michigan into a “Spy” situation.  Don Brown will have to assign somebody to mirror Barrett because the “Cover 10” defense that Michigan uses is the most vulnerable to a scrambling quarterback.  While OSU has made recent gains in the run game with Dobbins and Weber, there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to run against Michigan.   In the passing game, it’s about containable pressure on Barrett while winning the individual matchups outside.

Will he play?  Earlier in the week, my sources around Schembechler Hall thought it was more likely that Peters would play.  As the week has gone on, that outlook has dimmed just a bit. As I pen this prediction, my gut tells me that O’Korn is the starter.  Most Michigan fans just clicked to another website because they think that tells the whole story but let me add a twist to their perceived ending.  Here’s what UM has to do to be in position to win:

  • Be efficient in the intermediate passing game (5-15 yards down field)
  • Stay out of ’22’ personnel and run the ball while spreading out the Buckeye defense
  • Use designed runs/rollouts to enable O’Korn to be on the move
  • Take shots downfield as the Buckeye defense starts to roll to the line of scrimmage as the game is much tighter than they expect.

In both OSU losses, you see the OSU defense lose steam in the second half.  Why?  This Buckeye team is really not built to dominate for four quarters.  They are much more like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.  They are going to try to knock you out early.  Harbaugh and Co. has to put the Rocky Balboa shorts on and just keep punching.

That’s how upsets happen.  Being told you can’t win can motivate but does this Michigan team have enough toughness to stand in and punch with the B1G Ten’s Drago (no matter how flawed they are).

The answer…yes and it’ll shock the hell out of most of us.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12. 

Now let me get back to my Rocky training montage.

 

 

Brandon: 

First played in 1897, the 2017 edition will be played in Ann Arbor at the Big House. The Ohio State-Michigan game is one of, if not the, biggest rivalries in sports.

This year’s Buckeyes team comes into this game ranked no. 9 by the College Football Playoff Committee while the Wolverines will be unranked. Ohio State is sporting a 9-2 record with a tough loss to a good Oklahoma Sooner squad along with a blowout loss to Iowa on the road. Michigan will come into this one with an 8-3 record with close losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin and a drubbing at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

So while these teams are only separated by a game in the standings, they’ll be playing for completely different reasons. OSU has already clinched the East for a spot in the conference title game, a win against Michigan on the road and a victory against the Wisconsin Badgers in Indy gives the Buckeyes and the Big Ten a resume worthy of potential consideration for the CFP final four. Michigan on the other hand is looking to beat their rival for the first time since 2011 and have a chance at their third consecutive 10-win season under Jim Harbaugh.

I believe this game will come down to the battle of the quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett leads this Buckeye team and they are currently the fourth ranked offense in the nation when it comes to yards per game as they are averaging over 546 total YPG. They are also averaging over 44 points per contest as well.

Michigan, on the other hand, comes into this game having played three different QBs this season (Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters) with Speight being sidelined due to injury, O’Korn being benched due to poor play, and Peters playing decent but he is now hurt as well and is uncertain for Saturday’s matchup.

If OSU is going to be victorious, they will need two key elements. First, their defense will need to contain the run game that Michigan employs; Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Ty Issac provide the offense with a lethal backfield when clicking on all cylinders. When Michigan’s ground game is going, it helps their defense by allowing them to control the time of possession battle. Second, they will also have to not get picked apart by the weak air attack that U of M employs, regardless of who is under center. Iowa put up 55 on the Buckeyes a couple of weeks back and they accomplished it primarily through the air.

If the Wolverines are going to come out of this game with a win, they will have to do two things as well. First, whoever is playing at quarterback will need to attack the weak part of Ohio State’s defense, which is their secondary. Secondly, they will have to put pressure on J.T. Barrett. He one fine player, but when you contain him and make him throw from the pocket, he isn’t himself. This will be a tall task for this Michigan defense, but it is a must if they want to leave the Big House on a high note.

As for my final score prediction, I believe this one could get ugly. Ohio State is a double-digit (I’ve seen anywhere from -11 to -14) favorite in Vegas and I think they will cover the spread. Not saying Michigan can’t shock the world and pull of the upset, but I just see that as a long shot. J.T. won’t be short this year, folks.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 13.

Michael:

November 25th, 2017 3:50 pm. The ESPN ticker scrolls along, you catch a glimpse of something deceives your eye, you check again and it was true. Michigan defeats Ohio State.

Harbaugh finally gets his signature win, on the heels of a defensive masterpiece constructed by Don Brown. Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton dig up their best game plan, and the offense clicks just enough to pull of the upset.

Prediction: Michigan 28, Ohio State 7.

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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.

 

It’s Time to Start Brandon Peters

Last Saturday, Michigan was humiliated on national television in prime-time. Penn State beat up on the now unranked Wolverines 42-13 in Happy Valley, a loss was a probable prediction, just surprising to see it in blowout fashion. Sitting at 5-2, Michigan’s hopes for a division title are all but officially crushed. Outside of two touchdown scoring drives, the offense remained lifeless and was shutout in the 2nd half.

Meet Brandon Peters: 6’4 gunslinger redshirt freshman, Michigan’s backup quarterback, former no. 1 overall recruit in the state of Indiana, the favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, was in the conversation to win the starting job for this season.

Peters went 9-17, threw for 160 yards, and added a score in the Spring Game earlier in 2017.

A large portion of the Michigan fan-base wanted the redshirt freshman to be the starter this season after seeing him in the Spring Game. Harbaugh ultimately decided to stick with the experience, putting two veterans ahead of Peters on the depth chart, Speight and O’Korn. Which was reasonable and predictable in my mind, an inexperienced team usually can benefit from having a veteran QB, right?

The offense is as bad as it’s been in years for Michigan, the quarterback play hasn’t been flawless, but it hasn’t been the primary issue. The pocket collapses too quickly, not good separation thus far from young receivers, run-game very inconsistent, play-calling has been questionable and they’ve displayed overall bad communication throughout the unit as a whole.

This season was expected, by many, to be a transitional season considering the amount of talent departing from the program a season ago, graduating over 40 seniors, losing 11 to the NFL draft, and being faced with the task of retooling a very youthful team. Michigan fans, of course, are going to expect a lot, it’s in their nature and they crave a championship (haven’t won a conference title since ’04).

Harbaugh’s seat is not hot, if he keeps losing big games then it’ll definitely get there, but that’s a conversation for another day. Michigan is currently 5-2, both in-division losses, likely crushing any hopes to win the Big Ten yet again for the Wolverines. The reality of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure is that there’s now legitimate pressure to win big games, and championships for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The only goals in front of Michigan for this regular season are to win 10 games, spoil Ohio State’s season, and win a bowl game.

Prior to Saturday, I was in support for the idea of keeping the guy with the most experience under-center, safest bet for the specific circumstances. It’s officially time to bench John O’Korn for Brandon Peters. It’s a distasteful decision if you have empathy towards O’Korn’s situation, but even he has to understand what’s best for the program. Like I said before, quarterbacks are not the issue with this offense, but he’s just not the future, his eligibility will expire at the end of 2017, Peters has the rest of this season, and three entire seasons left in Ann Arbor.

If I’m Jim Harbaugh, I want a ready-to-go, experienced quarterback for 2018. Wilton Speight will have a remaining season of eligibility but that’s not promising — we don’t know if Speight will ever be able to play football again, vertebrae injuries aren’t a joke. Harbaugh was asked about Speight following the Penn State game and had this to say about his situation: “Get healthy – that’s where most of his efforts are being concentrated. He’s at practice. I know he’s chomping at the bit. His bones (are) healing back together. It takes time. He’s been a good teammate. I know he’s chomping at the bit.”

Michigan’s remaining schedule consists of: Rutgers, Minnesota, @ Maryland, @ no. 5 Wisconsin, and no. 6 Ohio State. The Rutgers game this Saturday is an ideal matchup for a debut start where Peters can hit the ground running, build some confidence, have his home crowd behind him while he’d likely earn his first win as a starter for Michigan.

Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland are games that Michigan should win and I believe they’ll handle all three teams somewhat convincingly, all good opportunities for Brandon Peters to get his feel for Big Ten football, create a rhythm, and grow with an also young offense.

With three favorable match-ups under Peters’ belt, he should appear collected and confident heading into the Wisconsin, and Ohio State games. These two games will give Peters an even better feel for college football intensity, playing Wisconsin on the road, and then playing in the arguably biggest rivalry in American sports are both opportunities which a lot of quarterbacks strive to get.

Do I think Michigan can win at least one of these marquee November games, or potentially both? Nothing surprises me in college football today, it’s a crazy game. If a Brandon Peters led offense is able to host a likely top ten ranked Ohio State team, and pull off a win? Think about the confidence that’ll give the young quarterback headed into the 2018 season.

I don’t have faith that Jim Harbaugh starts Brandon Peters from here on out, as I believe he should, but I do have faith that he’ll have more than one opportunity to see an increased amount of playing time, most especially in the next three weeks. A championship team more times than not features an, at least, competent quarterback, and we need to prepare the young buck for the spotlight.

Harbaugh was asked about the possibility of Peters seeing more snaps/playing time and said: “Just going along the process of readying him to play. The backup quarterback always needs to be ready to play.” Still referring to him as the backup behind O’Korn.

What does this team have to lose at this point? The Brandon Peters era needs to begin, the fan-base craves it, and Michigan needs the Indiana native to be ready. Sorry John O’Korn, but college football is a business which revolves around winning, and you’re 2-2 (3-2 if you count Purdue, played three-quarters) as a starter, 0-2 in big games.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Wilton Speight on the Struggle Bus

After two wins over #25 ranked Florida, and Cincinnati, Michigan has climbed to #7 in the latest polls.

If you looked at the twitter-feeds, online chat-rooms, and all other media speculation: you’d believe that Michigan is 0-2. All this negative feedback comes from one specific, singular, player — Wilton Speight. The quarterback who through nine games in 2016, looked like the best in the Big Ten conference.

After injuring his throwing shoulder in early November against Iowa, Speight would go onto lose the rest of his starts. Of course, he had that excuse at the time; no quarterback with an injury regarding his throwing shoulder, or arm, should be expected to deliver the same, tight, spiral as he could before said injury.

His performances caused for him to lose trust within the fan-base, a good amount of fans wanted anyone to start but him come 2017. If you’re like me, you saw him lead a team to 9-0 in an impressive regular season stretch, and knew that it only made sense for him to keep his job as the starting quarterback.

Now we’re here, after Wilton Speight made the first two starts, and people who were supporters of him weeks ago are now calling for his job.

Throwing back-to-back pick sixes, and under 50 percent completion percentage against Florida were just the beginning. Against Cincinnati, on paper, it doesn’t look like Speight had a horrible game. He tossed two scores, threw for 221 yards, close to 60 percent completion, and was interceptionless on the day.  However if you watched the game, you’d know that the tale of the tape certainly went in the opposite direction, and Speight did everything but impress.

On Saturday, Speight played like a true freshman quarterback. Disregarding downfield, open targets, horrid inaccuracy on very make-able throws, making bad reads, and his pocket presence that we normally notice, was non-existent. I started to watch his eyes every time he dropped back just to see what he was looking at, and I noticed that he doesn’t use his eyes — Speight has a target in mind every play, and more times than not, he sticks with his desired target despite other open options. He doesn’t look around, he doesn’t look down-field, he doesn’t use his eyes correctly. It baffles me to know that a Jim Harbaugh coached quarterback makes a classic rookie mistake of that caliber.

Jim Harbaugh took to the media on Monday to remind everyone that Speight is “the starter”, and he also went onto note that redshirt freshman, Brandon Peters, is “progressing”.

Are Michigan fans overreacting to these early season passing-game struggles? Do we need to give Wilton Speight more time to create chemistry with his young receivers? Do we criticize Jim Harbaugh? In this Michigan offense, you don’t have to be a Tom Brady to succeed. I think it’s important for Harbaugh to remind Speight that he is replaceable, and we need to expect more out of him because the way it’s being looked at right now: he’s the sole road block to a championship season.

John O’Korn came in for a series or two against Florida following the pick six fiasco, and it felt as if Harbaugh wasn’t comfortable with him in. Wilton Speight likely is the best quarterback we have on this Michigan roster, scary thought for fans everywhere.

As of today, my vote would be to trust the coaching staff, trust the process. If this trend continues, take affirmative action, and bench the kid. Fortunately for the Wolverines, they have a bit of time at this point in the schedule to work out the kinks before playing in a big game. The excuses are slim — the play-makers around Speight are young, but solid, the defense will do their job. It’s time for Wilton Speight to produce, and it needs to happen quickly, or Michigan will have to move on.

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).