By the Numbers: Game 2 vs. Washington

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LAST WEEK RECAP

Joy returned to Ann Arbor surrounding a 47-14 performance against Western Michigan to open the 2021 season.

NEXT UP: vs. Washington: 20th, 13.7

PREGAME SP+: U-M by 9.4, Michigan Win Probability 71%

In his Week 1 over-reactions column, ESPN’s Bill Connelly highlights Michigan as one of the big movers, up 10 spots to 7th overall.  Western Michigan also plummeted to 97th.  Washington’s loss to FCS Montana drops them 7 spots from 13th to 20th.

Michigan Offense (14th) vs. Washington Defense (23rd) 

Jim Harbaugh acknowledged that Michigan has been preparing for this game since fall camp, which is pretty standard.  The offense will be trying to build on the successful execution of their Week 1 game plan.  However, the challenge against Washington, the #1 defense in the Pac 12 in 2020, is on a much different level than Week 1.  

For me, the burning question is how Josh Gattis will use post-snap reads from QB Cade McNamara.  We didn’t see any hint of a QB run threat on zone read option plays until Dan Villari entered in garbage time.  I would expect Michigan to use run-pass-option plays (RPOs) against linebackers and safeties, as opposed to read option run plays against defensive ends, in an attempt to keep QB1 healthy.   

Michigan Defense (10th) vs. Washington Offense (27th)

Usually in Week 1, we get a few answers to questions from the offseason.  For Michigan’s defense, we learned what being “multiple” could look like this season.  We saw a mix of even and odd fronts, both man and zone coverages, and a wide range of personnel packages.  However, we might have more questions about Washington’s offense now than when the 2021 season started.  The Huskies only mustered 89 rushing yards against Montana in their opener, and QB Dylan Morris was sacked 3 times.  Morris was shorthanded when it came to weapons, as 3 WRs who were expected to play significant snaps were held out of the opener.  

I am keeping a “wait and see” approach to this matchup.  Sometimes a team can outsmart themselves by keeping their offensive game plan hidden because they think they can rely on superior talent.  We may be witnessing an example of that from Washington’s offense.  I expect them to look better under the lights, on the national TV broadcast, against Michigan.  

PREDICTION: Last week I called for the offense and special teams to give the defense some breathing room (check & check).  This week I am sending the call to Mike MacDonald’s defense.  While Washington’s loss was eye-opening, the real shock was that their offense went on sabbatical after scoring on their first possession vs. Montana.  Michigan will have to keep that offense smothered, especially if the Huskies are still missing 3 of their top WRs. 

The Washington defense under Jimmy Lake is going to be a very stiff test for the Wolverines’ offense.  This game is starting to feel a little bit low scoring, and probably will stay tight throughout the contest.  In the preseason I thought the Huskies’ returning experience on offense would be the difference, but there is no way I can stick with that perception after seeing their struggles in Week 1.  Under the lights this Saturday night, it will be the defense who will be called into the spotlight in some big moments.
Michigan 23 Washington 17 (PRESEASON Michigan 27 Washington 30)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (9/7/21), 1-0

SP+ Overall: 7th (↑10), 20.6
SP+ Offense: 14th (↑14), 36.7
SP+ Defense: 10th (same), 16.2
SP+ Special Teams: 11th, 0.1

AP Poll: NR

Coaches’ Poll: NRCFP Rank: N/A

Resume after Game #1

About Clint Derringer

@clint_derringer on Twitter U-M B.A. Sport Management & Communications ‘05 U-M M.S. Program & Project Management ‘18