A week ago, then-No. 20 Washington became a national laughing stock after losing to Montana — an FCS school — on its home turf. This weekend, the Huskies will attempt to avenge that loss by securing a marquee win in Ann Arbor.
It’ll be up to the Michigan football team to prevent such a rebound. Coming off a 47-14 win over Western Michigan, the Wolverines enter this week looking to lock up a big non-conference win on their home field. This Saturday will be the 10th night game in the history of the Michigan Stadium, and the Wolverines have a 7-2 record under the lights. Last year’s meeting between the two schools, which would’ve been their first clash since 2002, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That said, here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s Maize Out:
How does Michigan replace Ronnie Bell?
It’s never easy to lose your top wide receiver, let alone in the season opener. But that’s the exact predicament the Wolverines found themselves in last week when senior wideout Ronnie Bell went down with a season-ending knee injury. Bell was Michigan’s leading receiver over the last two years, and his coaches spent the fall raving about his camp performance. Last Saturday against the Broncos, his lone catch went for a 76-yard touchdown.
Bell’s absence leaves the Wolverines’ receiving corps with big shoes to fill. Replacing his production won’t come from one player stepping up — rather, it’ll require Michigan to take a different approach at wide receiver.
To make up for Bell’s speed, expect to see more of junior Mike Sainristil and sophomores A.J. Henning and Roman Wilson. If the Wolverines want to compensate for Bell’s tenacity and physicality, senior receiver Daylen Baldwin could get more playing time. He battled through a minor injury to record his first career reception last week, hauling in a 69-yard touchdown from freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy.
Will Michigan take the training wheels off Cade McNamara?
In his first start of the season, junior quarterback Cade McNamara only threw 11 passes. Granted, the Wolverines played with a massive lead for most of the game, leading to more run calls from co-offensive coordinators Josh Gattis and Sherrone Moore.
Regardless, Michigan didn’t give McNamara much of a chance to sling the pigskin. That wasn’t for a lack of success through the air, however, as McNamara completed nine of his 11 attempts for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Manage the offense, I think that’s what Cade did a really good job of, just managing the offense, manage the calls,” Gattis said Wednesday. “… It always helps when you establish the run and they can get those quarterbacks comfortable where you don’t have to put too much pressure on them from a drop-back standpoint.”
The Wolverines ran 47 times compared to their 17 pass attempts, and the passes McNamara threw were fairly elementary. With Bell now out for the season, expect to see McNamara building chemistry with his new top targets through live game reps.
Will Michigan’s defense need time to settle in again?
The Wolverines’ offense got off to a fast start last week. But the same can’t be said of their defense, which gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive on its opening possession.
Michigan settled in after a slow start, but it might not have the same luxury this week against a Power Five opponent. Washington’s offense had a poor showing in last week’s loss, but generally speaking, it should pose more of a challenge than Western Michigan. It’ll be worth tracking the Wolverines’ progress this week.
Further, keep an eye on Michigan’s defensive rotations in particular. In first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s play-calling debut, the Wolverines cycled through dozens of different defensive players. The 3-4 scheme allows Michigan to work in specific players for certain situations, allowing them to maximize their personnel. Whether Macdonald continues his rapid substitutions against the Huskies or rolls with his top guys is something to monitor.
Don’t be fooled by Washington’s Week 1 loss. There’s a reason this team began the season ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll. The Huskies boast talent on both sides of the ball and won’t be a pushover by any means, despite traveling to Ann Arbor as underdogs by a touchdown.