Phil Callihan and Clint Derringer make their predictions for Michigan vs the Washington Huskies.
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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.
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
Final Score: 47-14, Michigan by 33 over WMU
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 19 (+14)
CD Projection: Michigan by 13 (+20)
Offensively, Michigan looked sharp and got multiple playmakers involved. A few early deep balls to Ronnie Bell showed that the Wolverines will threaten the field vertically. A swing pass completed to Blake Corum for a 14 yard touchdown served to stretch the defense horizontally. Josh Gattis’ group was able to build a big lead quick enough to get meaningful snaps for everybody we wanted to see, including a 69 yard bomb from freshman JJ McCarthy to newcomer Daylen Baldwin. The only rain cloud on this day for the offense appeared when their leader, Bell, came up limping after returning a punt in the 2nd quarter, and was carted off.
As great as Michigan’s offense looked in the opener, the biggest positive I am taking away is from the defense. Mike MacDonald implemented a solid game plan that held Western’s highly efficient pass offense to 191 yards on the day. Dax Hill clearly took a step forward this offseason. He made his presence felt throughout the first 3 quarters, especially fighting off blocks and making tackles near the line of scrimmage. The Wolverines were able to play a large rotation of defensive linemen, and the interior held up after some early challenges. Finally, and thank goodness for this, the corners on the outside were in good position to make plays on vertical routes. After Gemon Green initially gave up a sideline fade I felt a familiar doubt, but the DBs were able to adjust and clamp down early in the 2nd quarter.
The special teams not only held their own, but provided an early spark in this game. Blake Corum returned a kickoff 79 yards to set up Michigan’s second score, a Q1 field goal. Jake Moody was perfect on 2 field goal attempts and 5 PATs. The Wolverines’ field position advantage was worth a full point per drive, even after removing garbage time.
Overall, there are no major question marks that remain unaddressed after today’s performance. The biggest remaining issue is the health of OL Zak Zinter and WR Ronnie Bell, and their status for next week’s big matchup with #20 Washington. Phil and I joked in the 2nd half that some fans will still find some issues to be concerned with. Maybe they miss the drama between factions of the fan base. For me, I am 100% fine with this “boring” outcome. Onward!