Breakdown: Michigan vs. Cincinnati
This one has all the ingredients to be a laugher.
Cincinnati will travel to Ann Arbor this Saturday coming off a narrow 26-14 win over Austin Peay. To put that in perspective, the Governors have not won a game in FCS competition since Oct. 14, 2014.
No. 8 Michigan, on the other hand, is heading into its home opener with a lot to be happy about. After an offseason in which the Wolverines’ youth was questioned, Michigan made it clear that it wasn’t an issue in its season-opening 33-17 win over Florida.
There were plenty of mistakes to correct, but Michigan managed to win despite throwing two pick-sixes and having a punt blocked. It’d be surprising if anything close to similar circumstances carry over against the Bearcats. This one could be over early.
Here’s how the Wolverines match up against Cincinnati on Saturday.
Michigan pass offense vs. Cincinnati pass defense
Redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight didn’t open up the year in a fashion he would have hoped. Against Florida, Speight threw two interceptions returned for touchdowns on consecutive series, giving the Gators 14 of their 17 total points.
On the bright side, he recovered in the second half, opening the frame by completing five of his seven passes for 52 yards before junior running back Karan Higdon capped it off with a touchdown.
To be clear, there is no controversy to be had. Speight is still Michigan’s quarterback — a fact that Jim Harbaugh has been quick to emphasize. Cincinnati limited Austin Peay to just 89 yards and only one touchdown through the air, but the Governors are a far cry from the Wolverines.
Michigan run offense vs Cincinnati run defense
As expected, the Wolverines turned — once again — to a running back by committee in their season opener against the Gators. It worked, to say the least.
Higdon scored the lone rushing touchdown, but Michigan racked up 215 yards on 59 carries and showed an ability to wear down a defense with the run game. This time, they may not have to wear the Bearcats’ defense down at all.
Cincinnati allowed 224 rushing yards to Austin Peay on 60 attempts — nearly identical results to Michigan’s performance against Florida.
Running backs coach Jay Harbaugh was tight-lipped when it came to questions of whether Ty Isaac had earned a start with his 114-yard, 11-carry game, but it likely won’t even matter.
Cincinnati pass offense vs Michigan pass defense
Do you remember Hayden Moore’s debut against Memphis? If you don’t, you should.
On Sept. 25, 2015, Moore came in to replace Gunner Kiel — who went down with an injury against the Tigers. Then a freshman, he didn’t disappoint, finishing with 557 yards and four touchdowns.
Since then, however, Moore’s career has largely been a tale of inconsistencies. He has won starting jobs, lost them to injury and won them back again. But, as almost anyone would, he has struggled to capture the lightning of 2015 in a bottle.
He had a solid 2017 debut, finishing with 151 yards and three touchdowns, but Michigan’s secondary looked better than expected against the Gators. And if the Wolverines’ line stuffs the run game, things will only get harder for Moore.
Cincinnati run offense vs. Michigan run defense
Unfortunately for the Bearcats, their most talented player is running back Mike Boone. He rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries against Austin Peay, but Michigan is coming off a game in which its ability to stop the run was the most impressive aspect of an all-around impressive day.
The Wolverines held the Gators to 11 rushing yards, and Michigan’s linebackers and linemen combined for 25-plus tackles — 8.5 of which were for loss. Cincinnati will need to get creative if it wants its best player to touch the ball, so don’t be surprised to see Boone in some unconventional spots.
Either way, there’s not even enough creativity at Google to mitigate Michigan’s defense with the way it looked at AT&T Stadium.
The Wolverines have finally seen an inexperienced special teams unit in action, and they should be pleased with the results. Redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin converted on four of his six field-goal opportunities — two of which were from 50-plus yards — and did so in high-pressure situations.
Freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones, in his own right, flashed his athleticism as a punt returner and — against a punter not named Johnny Townsend, who was the best in the country last season — could put on a show.
On top of that, the Wolverines recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half against the Gators, and while a blocked punt was a blemish at AT&T Stadium, Michigan’s momentum is trending up.
Boone — the Bearcats’ star — has said publicly that he has no doubt in his mind that Cincinnati can “shock the world” when it visits Michigan Stadium this Saturday. In fairness, no player would ever admit doubt to an opponent before the kickoff, but Florida was the last team to mouth off about the Wolverines’ ability, and Michigan didn’t take too kindly to it.
On top of that, it’s the season opener in Ann Arbor, and figures to be a packed house. Anything can happen on any given day, but it doesn’t seem like Saturday will be one of them.
Prediction: Michigan 41, Cincinnati 3