There’s a football game Saturday. Perhaps you’ve heard.
After a long offseason, the Michigan football team kicks off on Saturday against a Hawaii team coming off a 51-31 loss to California in Australia last week. And while the Rainbow Warriors do have a game under their belt, the Wolverines have many advantages.
The Daily broke down the major matchups ahead of Michigan’s season opener.
Michigan pass offense vs. Hawaii pass defense
It’s hard to be too authoritative here since Michigan still hasn’t formally announced a quarterback, but let’s proceed with the prevailing thought that redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight will take the first snap.
But whoever it is under center, Michigan’s receiving corps should give Hawaii fits. Fifth-year seniors Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh have both received strong reviews and should both have their moments against a Hawaii secondary that gave up 441 yards and four touchdowns to the Golden Bears last week.
It’s always possible that the Rainbow Warriors just needed a week to get their feet under them, but against a team that features Darboh, Chesson, perhaps the nation’s best tight end in senior Jake Butt and a host of dangerous open-field threats, the matchup doesn’t do them any favors.
Speight’s strength seems to be consistency, and as long as Michigan keeps from turning the ball over through the air, the Wolverines seem poised to control the air on offense.
Michigan rush offense vs. Hawaii rush defense
De’Veon Smith will get the plurality of carries for Michigan, but perhaps the most interesting dynamic is how the Wolverines distribute the rest of the touches.
Freshman running back Chris Evans has earned rave reviews through camp about his play in space, and redshirt junior Ty Isaac will look to continue the rhythm he found in Michigan’s Spring Game. Fifth-year senior Drake Johnson should see time as well, giving the Wolverines a huge arsenal of backs to throw against a Hawaii team that allowed 239.8 rush yards per game last year.
Paving the way is an offensive line that loses its best player in Graham Glasgow but returns plenty of other talent. Junior left tackle Mason Cole shifts to Glasgow’s spot at center, where he anchors a line that also returns fifth-year seniors Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden. Left tackle is currently a mystery, with up to three players in contention, but whoever it is will block against a Hawaii rush defense that was among the nation’s worst last year.
Hawaii pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense
Rainbow Warriors quarterback Ikaika Woolsey had a decidedly average game in his opener. He completed 17 of 34 passes for 234 yards and added one touchdown and one interception.
Against Michigan, he will be throwing (or not throwing) at an All-American in Jourdan Lewis, and a senior in either Channing Stribling or Jeremy Clark. Marcus Kemp and John Ursua were Woolsey’s top targets against the Golden Bears, the former a 6-foot-4 senior and the latter a 5-foot-10 freshman.
Running back Diocemy Saint Juste caught a pair of passes for 35 yards out of the backfield against the Golden Bears, and he could be a factor through the air against Michigan as well.
How the Wolverines choose to deploy their coverage remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet that a strong Michigan secondary is up to the task against a passing offense that was hardly special in its opener.
Hawaii rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense
Saint Juste was arguably the Warriors best weapon in their opener. On top of his 35 receiving yards, Saint Juste carried 14 times for 118 yards to lead a respectable rushing attack. Steven Lakalaka tacked on 61 more yards, and Woolsey had a 30-yard scamper, too.
But against Michigan, the Rainbow warriors will be facing what could be one of the nation’s top defensive lines. Fifth-year seniors Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow return as the anchors of last season’s unit, and redshirt sophomore Bryan Mone, senior Taco Charlton and true freshman Rashan Gary round out what should be a fearsome line.
Michigan was a force against the run last season save for a pair of notable exceptions (Indiana, Ohio State), and there’s no reason to expect that to change in 2016. Perhaps Saint Juste or Lakalaka breaks through and gets a score, but it’s hard to imagine any one player breaks 100 yards against the Wolverines.
Personnel wise, Michigan returns its top punt and kick returners and its field goal kicker from of the nation’s best special teams units last year. But it loses perhaps its most important member: special teams coordinator John Baxter.
Baxter went back to Southern California after one season with the Wolverines, a season in which he brought marked improvements in Ann Arbor. Perhaps the lessons the Wolverines learned under Baxter will simply carry over to the next year, or perhaps new special teams coach Chris Partridge will take the group to the next level, but there’s a bit of uncertainty surrounding special teams for now.
Chesson, Lewis and redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers are all threats in the return game, but whether Michigan actually chooses to deploy them is an unknown. Peppers was one missed tackle away from a touchdown on multiple occasions last year, and his electricity makes it tough to imagine him sitting out of punt returns. But until the game starts, nobody really knows how it will shake out.
In the kicking game, Kenny Allen should be the steady option Michigan needs to avoid big mistakes.
Hawaii, meanwhile, scored on a punt return last season and made eight of its 11 field goals attempted. That number isn’t bad, but it does mean the Rainbow Warriors only attempted 11 field goals.
Like Allen, Rainbow Warriors kicker Rigoberto Sanchez contributed in all three kicking phases, but the Wolverines’ explosiveness likely gives them an edge.
Of all the phases of the game Michigan is favored in, this one might be the most lopsided. The Rainbow Warriors are coming off a loss in Australia, playing in a time zone that is both wildly different from their own, and nearly opposite of the city they last played in. It’s not ideal for Hawaii.
Add in the preseason hype surrounding Michigan and Jim Harbaugh’s determination not to let his players be distracted by it, and you can understand why the Wolverines are so thoroughly favored.
Season-opening let downs are always a risk, but it’s hard to imagine Hawaii coming off a 20-point loss in a different hemisphere to knock off Michigan.
Prediction: Michigan 45, Hawaii 7