The Wolverines sent a message to their critics last week: This year’s defense is ready to kick some butt. With six sacks, 11 tackles for loss and countless punishing hits in the Vanderbilt backfield, the Wolverines had Commodore quarterback Chris Nickson on the run.
This week, No. 10 Michigan (1-0) takes on Central Michigan (0-1), which nearly came back to beat Boston College in its season opener a week ago. As a result, the Chippewas will probably bring a little extra confidence with them when they enter Michigan Stadium tomorrow
Here’s a look at how the intrastate battle shapes up:
Michigan passing offense vs. Central Michigan passing defense:
A week ago, Michigan’s receivers couldn’t seem to remember how to fulfill their No. 1 job requirement. About six of quarterback Chad Henne’s passes hit his receivers in the hands or, worse yet, the numbers and ended up falling incomplete. Steve Breaston nabbed four balls for 68 yards in the first half, but he didn’t catch any after halftime. Not that Henne should escape blame entirely: The Wolverines’ signal caller had his share of errant passes en route to completing just 10-of-22 passes for 135 yards.
Even so, Michigan will torch the Chippewas through the air if their pass defense is anything like it was last week. Central Michigan gave up 323 passing yards and three touchdowns in its season-opening loss to Boston College, a team that averaged just 243 yards through the air per game last year. Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan completed an impressive 68 percent of his throws.
If the Chippewas hope to contain a Wolverine passing attack that is unquestionably itching to break out, they will have to be better this time around.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Central Michigan rushing defense:
Mike Hart was spectacular against Vanderbilt last week, amassing 146 yards on 31 carries. The junior tailback turned runs that should have been stopped just past the line of scrimmage into six-yard gains, often carrying multiple Commodore defenders on his back while doing so. But Hart wasn’t the lone Michigan running back to turn in an impressive performance. Sophomore Kevin Grady showed off his new figure with 31 yards on five touches and the game’s lone rushing touchdown, and freshman Brandon Minor took his first career carry for 24 yards.
The Wolverines’ deep backfield is imposing, but Central Michigan’s rush defense is brimming with confidence after its standout debut against Boston College. The Eagles averaged 145 rushing yards per game a season ago, but the Chippewas held them to just 85 yards on the ground last week. Central Michigan’s run-stopping ability is nothing new. The Chippewas’ ‘D’ led the Mid-American Conference against the run last season, allowing just 114 yards per game. Still, Michigan’s depth at running back and its new zone-blocking scheme will likely be too much for Central Michigan to handle.
Central Michigan pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense:
Last week marked a very impressive debut for Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour. The redshirt freshman made the best of an opportunity that presented itself when then-starter Brian Brunner was injured in the game’s first series against Boston College. LeFevour never looked back, keeping his underdog Chippewas in the game with 221 yards passing and a touchdown pass.
But Boston College is no Michigan, and with a week of tape on LeFevour, Ron English’s aggressive defense should be chomping at the bit to get its hands on the young quarterback, who will make his first collegiate start on Saturday.
Michigan’s front four got pressure on Vanderbilt all game long in its opener, ending the game with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss. The defensive end tandem of LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs accounted for four of those sacks and will look for more of the same pressure Saturday.
When LeFevour does get the ball off, he’ll probably be looking in just one direction. Vanderbilt quarterback Chris Nickson didn’t even try challenging cornerback and All-America candidate Leon Hall last week, and LeFevour would be wise not to, either.
Central Michigan rush defense vs. Michigan rush defense.
The Chippewas’ leading rusher last week was also their leading passer. LeFevour had 72 yards rushing on a dozen carries, with two of them going for scores. Normally, Michigan fans would cringe at the thought of a mobile quarterback entering the Big House, but if last week was any indication, the Wolverines may have finally found the recipe for containing mobile quarterbacks.
Outside linebackers Shawn Crable, David Harris and Prescott Burgess did an outstanding job containing the quarterback in the middle of the field, which prevents him from breaking big plays a la Troy Smith or Vince Young circa 2004.
When Central Michigan decides to run out of its typical shotgun formation, it will be Ontario Sneed shouldering the load. Last week, he picked up 47 yards on the ground on seven carries.
When Breaston fields a kickoff or punt, you expect to see an electrifying return, maybe even a touchdown. But last week, the fifth-year senior struggled to simply catch the ball. The Wolverines’ kicking game wasn’t much better. Kicker Garrett Rivas completed a 48-yard field goal – the longest of his career – but he also had a poorly kicked 42-yard attempt blocked. As for fan favorite Zoltan Mesko, nerves seemed to get the best of redshirt freshman in his first game as Michigan’s punter.
The Chippewas’ special teams showed off a little trickery a week ago. On fourth-and-two at the Eagles’ 18-yard line, Central Michigan lined up to kick a field goal. Instead, Chippewas placekicker Tony Mikulec carried the ball for a five-yard gain, setting up a 13-yard touchdown pass three plays later. If Central Michigan can get the Wolverines to bite on another trick play, it could make the game interesting.
Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly took a lot of flack in the media for throwing in gadget plays late against Boston College, which may have cost his Chippewas a shot at the upset victory. His goal is to erase that memory and put his name back on the map as being the offensive genius that led Grand Valley State to two national titles when he coached there.
Michigan, on the other hand, may be caught looking ahead. Though the coaching staff is probably hammering the “take it one week at a time” message during the week of practice, it’s hard not to look ahead toward the following week when the Wolverines will have a chance to for revenge against Notre Dame after the Fighting Irish beat Michigan last season in Ann Arbor.
Edge: Central Michigan
Prediction: Michigan 38, Central Michigan 10