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Breakdown: Who gives Central Michigan a chance to hang around?

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published August 29, 2013

The No. 17 Michigan football team opens its season Saturday against Central Michigan at the Big House. The Chippewas struggled for much of 2012 before redeeming themselves down the stretch with four straight wins to end the season, including one in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl.

Michigan leads the all-time series, 3-0, and last beat Central Michigan in 2006, 41-17. The Wolverines had their streak of three consecutive wins in their season opener snapped last season in blowout fashion at the Cowboy Classic against last year’s national champion, Alabama.

Michigan pass offense vs. Central Michigan pass defense

Michigan’s aerial attack lost one of its anticipated weapons last week when the team announced sophomore wide receiver Amara Darboh will miss the season with a foot injury that will require surgery. Fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon exploded at the end of last season and should be redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner’s most valuable weapon.

Defense wasn’t one of the Chippewas’ strong suits in 2012, so the loss of all-Mid American Conference safety Jahleel Addae will hurt plenty. Another safety, Avery Cunningham, has two years of starting experience under his belt and will need to fill much of the void left by Addae’s departure.

The Wolverines will bring a new-look offensive line from the unit that allowed 18 sacks last season, despite lining up against South Carolina’s monster defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. But All-American tackle Taylor Lewan is still there as the leader, and on the right side, Michael Schofield returns. The three interior guys are all new starters, however.

Gardner’s decision-making proved questionable at times last season, but according to Michigan coach Brady Hoke, there has been marked improvement in the off-season. If so, Gardner should be able to find plenty of holes in the Central Michigan defense through the air.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan rush offense vs. Central Michigan rush defense

This is no longer the Denard Robinson Show, as it once was. Expect the tailbacks to receive far more of the carries with the loss of Robinson’s speed.

Fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint will handle most of the backfield’s workload, though freshmen like Derrick Green figure to contribute. The coaching staff didn’t want to divulge too much information about how the carries would be distributed beyond Toussaint.

Central Michigan linebackers Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton are back after leading the team in tackles a season ago. The Chippewas’ rush defense should be significantly better than its pass coverage, but expect a healthy dose of Michigan tailbacks to get touches and have success.

Edge: Michigan

Central Michigan pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense

The pass protection for the Chippewas suffered as big of a loss as possible in No. 1 overall NFL Draft selection Eric Fisher, the first top pick in program history.

At wide receivers, there are a couple imposing options for quarterback Cody Kater. Junior Titus Davis will likely again be among the better threats in the MAC. Last year, on 43 receptions, Davis had 860 yards to go along with his eight touchdowns. Andrew Flory, another junior, could also create problems in a Michigan secondary that will be without senior defensive back Courtney Avery for a couple weeks.

Redshirt sophomore Blake Countess and junior Raymon Taylor are the starting cornerbacks. Avery’s absence deals a blow to the secondary’s depth, but against the Chippewas, it shouldn’t be cause for concern. (Next week, against Notre Dame, is another story.)

Edge: Michigan

Central Michigan rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense

This is where the Chippewas could potentially prove pesky and hang around for longer than many expected. If you ask Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the Wolverines will have their hands full with Central Michigan running back Zurlon Tipton. He averaged 142 yards over the Chippewas’ final seven games of the season.

But Michigan’s linebackers have the potential to do an adequate job of slowing Tipton down — stopping him seems unlikely. Redshirt junior Jake Ryan is still aiming for an October return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Redshirt senior Cameron Gordon had a very strong fall camp and should lead the group on the outside.

I give the slight edge to the Chippewas, because Tipton should be in mid-season form already.

Edge: Central Michigan

Special teams

After a terrible 2010, Brendan Gibbons, a fifth-year senior, has become something of a sure thing up to about 35-40 yards out. Sophomore wide receiver Dennis Norfleet gives Michigan a weapon on punt and kick returns. Last year, his numbers were good for second all-time among Wolverine returners.

The Chippewas have a new kicker, redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi, who was a five-star prospect coming out of high school. Central Michigan struggled to return punts in 2012, averaging only 2.6 yards per return.

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles

It might be hard for Michigan to get up for Central Michigan with last year’s national runner-up Notre Dame looming next week under the lights at Michigan Stadium. But this is an opener, and the Wolverines should have more than enough. The only question might be how quickly it turns into a rout.

Edge: Michigan

Prediction: Michigan 41, Central Michigan 13


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