Breakdown: No. 19 Michigan vs. SMU

Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 6:17pm

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is looking to go 2-0 at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is looking to go 2-0 at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

Overzelous Michigan football fans probably found themselves watching TCU-SMU last Friday. But those expecting a scouting report for Saturday — when the Horned Frogs square off against Ohio State in Dallas and the 19th-ranked Wolverines host the Mustangs — saw a rain-soaked, eventual blowout win for the Horned Frogs. 

Now, SMU (0-2 overall) heads to Michigan Stadium as heavy, 36-point underdogs. It could get ugly fast — just like it did last Saturday when Michigan rolled over Western Michigan, 49-3. Or, the Mustangs could hang around and reignite frustrations from Week 1

Here’s how SMU matches up against the Wolverines on Saturday. 

Michigan’s pass offense vs. SMU’s defense

Shea Patterson is already making the elite plays fans hoped to see when he announced his commitment. Last week, the junior quarterback threw touchdowns to sophomores Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, ending Michigan’s 364-day streak without a touchdown from a wide receiver. 

Both scores displayed increasing comfortability between Patterson and his receivers, who showed improvement finding open space when their quarterback scrambled against the Broncos.

“Just feeling that the receivers are doing the things that receivers need to do,” Harbaugh said during Saturday’s postgame press conference. “Number one, creating separation — create space first. And then gain separation, and then catch the ball. Saw that out of Nico (Collins), saw that out of Donovan, Grant (Perry) is doing that. … (I) feel good about the way they’re ascending.”

While the weather prevented TCU from doing much through the air last week, SMU allowed 444 passing yards and three touchdowns to Northern Texas in Week 1.

Get ready to have a day, Shea.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan’s run offense vs. SMU’s defense

Patterson threw just 17 times against the Broncos because of Michigan’s dominance in the run game. Fresh off a disappointing 58-yard effort in South Bend, the Wolverines ran for over 300 yards last Saturday, breaking off long runs left and right.

Michigan’s offensive line was notably improved against an undersized and overly aggressive Western Michigan front seven, generating a number of big running lanes.  

“There was holes you could drive a car through, and people in there with nobody to block, because everybody was blocked and taken care of,” said junior running back Chris Evans.

Expect the Wolverines to establish the run game first Saturday against a respectable but still overmatched defense. 

Edge: Michigan

SMU’s pass offense vs. Michigan’s defense

SMU quarterback Ben Hicks had a quarterback rating of 8.6 against TCU. Yeah, you read that right: Eight point six. 

Hicks went 18-of-38 for 111 yards and no touchdowns, meaning he averaged just 2.9 yards per attempt. The weather was undoubtedly a factor, but Hicks still isn’t the threat that, say, Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush was.

But the Mustangs do provide Michigan a look at the spread offense, something it’ll see next week against Nebraska and at various points throughout the Big Ten slate.  

“They’re a perimeter team, so they wanna get the ball on the perimeter and flank,” said linebackers coach Al Washington. “The head coach there is known for being a fast-break, that type of offense. … When they space you out like that, it’s all about being assignment sound. It’s just like, it’s no different than triple-option back in the day. You got a job, you gotta do your job. Your eyes need to be where they need to be.”

Discipline is the key for Michigan, but the Mustangs could struggle offensively nonetheless Saturday.

Edge: Michigan

SMU’s run offense vs. Michigan’s defense

SMU rotates three running backs but Braeden West ia the team's best playmaker. He carried 11 times for 71 yards last week, while both Xavier Jones and Ke’Mon Freeman received seven carries for 22 yards. 

But the Wolverines — just as they were last week — are significantly stronger and more talented in the trenches. With sophomore Aubrey Solomon and junior Lawrence Marshall “week to week,” look for junior Carlo Kemp to make his second consecutive start at three-technique defensive tackle.

Edge: Michigan

Special Teams

Special teams have been a bright spot for Michigan in the past two weeks. Sophomore Ambry Thomas ran back a kickoff against Notre Dame, leading the coaching staff to reconsider using him offensively. Last Saturday, junior VIPER Khaleke Hudson blocked a punt while junior Will Hart continued to establish himself as a competent punter — something the Wolverines lacked a season ago.

“Made a big play in each of the first two games,” Harbaugh said of the special teams unit. “This group is solid.”

What hasn’t been solid, however, is Michigan’s kicking game. Redshirt sophomore Quinn Nordin missed a 40-yard attempt last week and is 1-for-3 on field goal attempts for the year.

Nordin’s leg won’t affect the outcome against SMU. But his consistency is something to watch for as conference play rolls closer.

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles

The stats tell you Western Michigan isn’t a quality opponent, but that probably doesn’t matter to the Wolverines. In their eyes, they got a monkey off their back with their first win of the year and temporarily quieted critics with a complete performance.

Michigan seems confident and internally-focused this week, which is the right strategy against a heavy underdog.

“We’re more focused on what we gotta do,” Washington said. “And it’s no disrespect to them, cause they’re a good team, but we gotta do what we gotta do. We gotta be on our game and that’s what we’re all focused, since the beginning of time.”

Edge: Michigan

Prediction: When Michigan was up 35-0 last Saturday, The Daily tweeted my overly conservative pregame prediction. I was exposed. So, I’ll pick with the experts in Vegas this week: Michigan wins by five touchdowns, 42-7. Here’s to hoping my newspaper can’t dunk on me again.