With a Category 4 hurricane bearing down on Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium, Saturday’s game between Michigan and Maryland was moved from 8 p.m. to noon EST.
That likely won’t stop Michigan fans from showing up, as the No. 22 Wolverines are ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since November 2013, and expectations under coach Jim Harbaugh are as high as ever.
Assuming the game is played, here’s what to watch for when Michigan takes on Maryland.
1. Raining cats and dogs
While the earlier start could help shield fans and the athletes from the potentially catastrophic conditions, it’s not like the Wolverines and Terrapins will be squaring off in a sunny meadow.
Winds of around 20 miles per hour are expected throughout the game, which is more than enough to impact play calling for both teams. Don’t expect to see many pass attempts or long field goals, and look for both teams to turn to their running backs on offense.
A run-heavy game bodes well for Michigan’s stout defensive line, and it could also mean a quick game — an added bonus with the hurricane approaching.
2. Will De’Veon Smith play?
Michigan’s workhorse tailback injured his ankle in the third quarter against BYU, but said after the game he expected to be ready for Maryland. However, he also wore a boot as a precautionary measure, and Harbaugh was mum on the running back’s status in his Monday press conference.
Smith’s status shouldn’t affect the outcome of the game — the Wolverines are heavy favorites — but it could be an indicator of how severe the injury is. Then again, with a stable of capable backs itching to play, Michigan could opt to rest Smith even if he is healthy, just to be safe.
If Smith isn’t in the lineup, look for redshirt sophomore Ty Isaac and junior Derrick Green to get the lion’s share of the carries, with redshirt junior Drake Johnson as a change-of-pace back.
3. Fear of a letdown/looking ahead
Coming off a 31-0 win over BYU, there is some risk of a letdown for the newly ranked Wolverines. What’s more, No. 16 Northwestern comes to Ann Arbor a week later, setting up a dangerous bookend around an underwhelming Maryland team.
But with Harbaugh at the helm, you can expect Michigan to be well prepared, if not at peak levels of motivation. Harbaugh said his message to his team after the win over BYU was simple: “Congratulations, outstanding game and onward.” If that isn’t enough, the Wolverines can also look to the fact that the Terrapins beat them at the Big House last season.
For Maryland, knocking off a ranked Michigan team, however unlikely, could inject life into an otherwise ugly season. The Wolverines aren’t on upset watch, but don’t be stunned if they don’t look as polished as they have in recent weeks.
4. In all Likely-hood
Maryland’s star cornerback/return specialist Will Likely gives fits to special teams units, just like he does to writers with limited vocabulary who want to describe a probable series of events.
Harbaugh has sung Likely’s praises all week, and Michigan will likely avoid him all game if it can. Still, Likely will make his impact felt just by being in the Wolverines heads. He is averaging 28.1 yards per punt return and has already returned two for touchdowns this season. He’s almost as dangerous on kickoffs, where he is averaging 21.7 yards per return and has an 85-yard touchdown return.
Punting to Will Likely is a bad idea. Don’t expect Michigan to do it.