GAME 2 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS
Final Score: 31-10, Michigan by 21 over Washington
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 9 (+12)
CD Projection: Michigan by 6 (+15)
GAME 2 RECAP vs. Washington
For the second week in a row, Michigan outperformed my expectations, and SP+ projections, this time by dismantling the Huskies in front of an energetic Big House crowd. The Wolverines looked sharp as they executed the game plans on both sides of the ball. Even though this matchup lost some shine nationally after Washington’s Week 1 loss to FCS Montana, the team and the fan base still created another electric atmosphere Under the Lights in Ann Arbor. It was a vintage Jim Harbaugh era performance that featured run game flexing on offense, and a physical swarming defense.
Offensively, the Wolverines’ rushing attack pounded Washington mercilessly by calling run plays 78% of the game. Those play calls yielded 343 rushing yards, a 51% success rate, and an average EPA of 0.467. Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum split the work load relatively evenly again. The complementary nature of Haskins’ power (5.7 yards/carry) and Corum’s speed (3 TDs including a 67-yarder) earned a nickname in our house that I loved as soon as I heard it: we’ll be referring to the RB duo as Boom & Zoom.
Michigan’s defense also imposed their will in this game, led by captain Aiden Hutchinson. Hutchinson and his squad created consistent pressure on the QB. By the time Washington was able to find any holes in zone coverage, Michigan was up two scores. In fact, the Wolverines extended Washington’s offensive drought nearly to the end of the 3rd quarter when the Huskies were able to get a field goal. Their 4th quarter touchdown drive happened while Michigan led by 21, making it effectively garbage time. This Washington offense is not the best on the schedule by any stretch. But, through two weeks, I would say Mike MacDonald’s defensive install is ahead of schedule.
The special teams unit was a strength again, also. Jim Harbaugh’s fake punt call in the 2nd quarter not only paid off for a 1st down conversion, but Blake Corum scampered 67 yards for a touchdown on the very next snap. Jake Moody converted his career long field goal of 52 yards to open the scoring. Only one kickoff was returned, and former Wolverine Giles Jackson was unable to cross the 25 on that return. We did witness a couple shaky punt returns, but Caden Kolesar managed to return his second opportunity for 20 yards.
Again, the Wolverines took care of business at home. Some significant questions remain on both sides of the ball, but mostly because we aren’t sure how strong these first two opponents actually were. In terms of what we’ve seen, Jim Harbaugh has this team executing cleanly right now, and embracing a strong physical identity in all phases.
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