As the No. 4 Michigan football team gets ready for its third straight game at Michigan Stadium, the preparation will be slightly different this time around. The Wolverines (2-0) were heavy favorites over both Hawaii and Central Florida, and though they’re still a 20-point favorite over Colorado, the margin is significantly smaller than the ones they have had in prior weeks.
Michigan coasted against Hawaii, winning by 60 points, and was challenged slightly more by Central Florida the following week but still ran away with a 51-14 victory. Now, the Buffaloes pose the Wolverines’ first real threat of the season.
Here’s what to watch for on Saturday:
1. How does Michigan’s secondary hold up against talented receivers?
Secondary coach Mike Zordich has a lot of talent in their group, and it has shown in the first two games. Against Hawaii, senior safety Delano Hill and senior cornerback Channing Stribling each recorded pick-sixes, and the following week, sophomore safety Tyree Kinnel showed his athleticism on special teams by getting a hand on two different punts.
Though the secondary has excelled so far this season, Zordich knows that Colorado will put up more of a battle.
“They’re better receivers and the quarterback is a much better quarterback,” Zordich said. “He’s a guy that actually has time to throw, and he’s got three or four good guys to throw to.”
The secondary fared well in each game, despite the most talented member of the group missing both. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis sat out against UCF due to an injury different from the one that kept him out of the Hawaii game, which doesn’t bode well for Lewis. As of Wednesday, he was still working with the trainer, but anything could happen come Saturday.
2) Which part of the offense will the Buffaloes target?
Much to the fanbase’s chagrin, Michigan’s running game sputtered against UCF. The Knights loaded the box with five to six players at all times, forcing the Wolverines to go through the air. Redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight ultimately was able to get the job done, throwing for 312 yards and four touchdowns, proving that Michigan’s offense can succeed either way.
But Saturday’s game will provide a tougher test for the offense and could expose potential weak points. Colorado was able to stifle Colorado State and Idaho State’s attack, holding each team to a touchdown apiece an average of 2.7 yards per play. Its opponents were also only able to convert on third down 23 percent of the time, and though Michigan’s a much different competitor than what the Buffaloes have seen so far, the numbers speak for themselves.
3) Running game concern?
If the running game still struggles despite less pressure in the box, it may actually be time for fans to start worrying.
Michigan averaged just 2.9 yards per carry against UCF, but had no such trouble against Hawaii. Led by true freshman running back Chris Evans, the Wolverines opened the season by rushing for 306 yards on 39 attempts.
Tuesday, fifth-year senior offensive lineman Kyle Kalis told fans to calm down about the running game, and Wednesday, running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley echoed the sentiment. He was flattered that the Knights took notice of the running game enough to load the box like that, taking it to mean that the Wolverines have nothing to worry about.
4) Will “Miracle at Michigan” memories be refreshed?
Though this will be just the fifth meeting between Michigan and Colorado, a great deal of history surrounds the matchup.
In 1994, the “Miracle at Michigan” stunned a near-empty Big House. The Buffaloes scored two touchdowns in the final 2:16 of the game, with the final score coming on a 64-yard Hail Mary pass to end the game. The Colorado receiver, Michael Westbrook, was a Detroit native, and that made things sting even more for Wheatley, who was a running back for the Wolverines at the time.
“(I don’t want to talk about it) because I was there and I was on the sideline and I thought we had the game won,” Wheatley said. “To have a Detroit native come in the freakin’ building and steal one from us and go back to Colorado wasn’t a great feeling.”
The Buffaloes definitely haven’t forgotten it, and they won’t on Saturday, either — they’ve already announced that they will be wearing 1994 throwback uniforms this weekend.