Though it may be the first-ever meeting between Central Florida (1-0) and No. 5 Michigan, nothing too unexpected is anticipated for Saturday’s matchup at Michigan Stadium.
In the Wolverines’ second straight home game, they will likely have another field day against the Knights. Michigan bulldozed Hawaii, 63-3, and Central Florida isn’t much better. Last season, the Knights went winless, finishing 0-12.
Though Central Florida is off to a much better season already — defeating its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent South Carolina State, 38-0, last week — it has a rough road ahead.
Knights quarterback Justin Holman went 14-for-28 against the Bulldogs, despite a lack of defensive pressure. Last season, Holman finished the season with a 50.8 completion percentage, so he’ll have his hands full with Michigan’s deep secondary. Senior safety Delano Hill recorded a 27-yard pick-six in the second quarter against Hawaii, but the defensive onslaught didn’t end there. Senior cornerback Channing Stribling added another score in the third quarter by returning an interception 51 yards to the house.
This all happened without All-American senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh indicated was injured prior to the Hawaii game. Rather than potentially worsen the injury, Lewis sat out, but he should be back against Central Florida.
Redshirt junior linebacker Mike McCray will also be pressuring Holman. McCray was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after recording 3.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks.
“He was good,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Outstanding tackles for loss, tackles, sacks, pressures. He was our defensive most valuable player of the game. Got the most helmet stickers — another indication of really good play. And he’s been consistently good all through training camp, spring practice. Top performer on defense for us.”
Fifth-year senior running back Drake Johnson also sat out with an undisclosed injury, while redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Mone and defensive end Taco Charlton had to leave the game due to injury. Though it is unclear whether or not Johnson, Mone or Charlton will return against Central Florida — Harbaugh said he doesn’t expect the latter two back — Michigan will have plenty of freshmen to lean on.
Freshman running back Chris Evans proved he could be a capable contributor this season when he ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns, leading the team in rushing yards. Freshman defensive end Rashan Gary can also step in for Charlton and freshman defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour can help fill the void left by Mone.
It seems that the Knights’ biggest offensive threat will come from kicker Matthew Wright, who went 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, hitting two from 45 yards and beyond.
If Holman can hold up against the secondary, wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith may also be able to snag a few catches for Central Florida. The 2015 All-American Conference Rookie of the Year caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina State and was the leading receiver on the team last season with 724 receiving yards.
Michigan fans will also get another look at new starting quarterback Wilton Speight, though it’s unlikely that they’ll learn much more from this game. Speight went on to finish 10-for-13 against Hawaii after opening with an interception, proving that he can be cool in stressful situations, but observers didn’t discover much else about him.
“I was real happy with the way he played,” said passing coordinator Jedd Fisch on Wednesday. “I don’t think you could have asked for too much better. We missed three throws out of the 13 we attempted. … Threw some beautiful balls. Hit, I think, 11 different receivers or something to that effect. Played smart, played good.”
Speight will get another chance to show what he can do this weekend, but it’s more likely that we’ll discover more about the backup quarterbacks and the rest of the second team.