In the opening week of our NCAA 14 simulation of Michigan football, first-year head coach Stanford Lipsey made a statement.
With the innovative spread option/throw it to Nico Collins offense operating at maximum efficiency, the Wolverines were unstoppable in a 34-18 victory over No. 4 Washington. In his first game as a starter, redshirt junior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey looked comfortable both in the pocket and as a runner. His favorite target — senior wide receiver Nico Collins — pulled in every ball that came his way.
The future looks bright for simulated Michigan. This week, we’ll continue with matchups against cupcakes Ball State and Arkansas State, followed by a bona fide trap game at Navy to round out non-conference play.
Game 2: No. 3 Michigan vs Ball State
I’ll cut right to the chase: the Wolverines won, 41-0.
It was a bloodbath. McCaffrey completed 22-of-31 attempts for 424 yards and four touchdowns, including an 86-yard bomb to junior wide receiver Ronnie Bell on the first play from scrimmage. Collins continued to torment opposing defensive backs, reeling in eight catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Collins, Bell and sophomore wide receiver Giles Jackson eached tallied over 100 yards receiving.
Defensively, Michigan’s front seven feasted on Ball State’s weak offensive line. Due in large part to four tackles for loss from sophomore defensive tackle Christopher Hinton, the Cardinals gained just 49 yards rushing. Quarterback John Paddock had no time in the pocket, and he completed just 9-of-24 pass attempts as a result.
There’s not really much left to say. Michigan is good. Ball State is not. Let’s move on to Arkansas State.
Game 3: No. 3 Michigan vs Arkansas State
There may be a flaw in the “throw it to Nico” philosophy.
Though the Red Wolves couldn’t keep Collins from catching the ball altogether, they were able to limit the damage, holding him to zero yards after catch on six receptions. With the Wolverines picking up just 68 yards on the ground, the offense needed a secondary receiver to separate himself.
Sophomore Giles Jackson did exactly that. He reeled in eight receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown on a late third-quarter dime from McCaffrey. On a fourth down minutes later, the Michigan defense picked up its sixth sack of the day to seal a 28-21 victory.
The Wolverines escaped with the win, but just barely. With the trappiest of trap games coming up next week at Navy, Michigan would need to find its stride on offense — or risk losing its championship aspirations before conference play even begins.
Game 4: No. 3 Michigan at Navy
Ah, Navy. The team whose triple-option offense makes defensive coordinators both nervous and oddly aroused. The team that makes fans ask, “Why the hell did we schedule Navy?” every year. The team that I scheduled purely to upset as many fans as possible, because I really just don’t like them.
Despite the fans’ worries, the Wolverines had no problem in this one, cruising to a 35-17 victory. The Midshipmen’s feared triple-option attack earned them a decent 127 yards, but a pair of fumbles from fullback Nelson Smith and running back C.J. Williams sank Navy’s upset hopes.
McCaffrey was solid in the pocket once again, completing 20-of-25 passes for 291 yards. Collins caught the game’s lone passing touchdown, one of his six receptions in a game where he seemed to have found his stride once again.
On the ground, Zach Charbonnet had a breakout game. He broke 14 tackles despite carrying the ball just thirteen times, en route to an 81 yard, two touchdown performance.
Around the country
For the first time in my experience playing NCAA 14, things around the country seem markedly ordinary. Ohio State stands as the consensus No. 1 team, with Clemson, Michigan, Oklahoma and Oregon rounding out the top five. Despite Nick Saban’s retirement, Alabama has cruised to a 4-0 record and sits at No. 8.
The only real surprise has been Mississippi State, who, after a 24-3 win over No. 10 LSU, jumped to sixth in the country. Mike Leach seems like a good fit.
Three running backs — Boston College’s David Bailey, Florida’s Dameon Pierce and Mississippi State’s Kareem Walker (yes, the same Kareem Walker who transferred from Michigan in 2018) — lead the way-too-early Heisman Watch. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields comes next, followed by a rather surprising appearance from Dylan McCaffrey.
For now, Lipsey’s Wolverines are pretty happy with where they are. They’ve beaten one top-10 team, escaped a close call against a cupcake opponent and avoided a close call against a service academy.
But that Heisman Watch is emblematic of how close to reality this simulation really is. Ohio State looms large.