Michigan has two games under its belt, and in neither did it ever feel like the Wolverines were in a commanding position for an extended period of time. This week Michigan will try and reverse that trend when they host the Air Force Falcons in Ann Arbor this Saturday at Noon ET. The matchup will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.
What we Know
After their victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats last week, the Wolverines climbed to No. 7 in both the AP and Coaches Poll, while Air Force is unranked. However, the Wolverines ascension in the rankings can be credited more to an Ohio State loss than an exceptional Michigan outing last week.
Both the Florida and Cincinnati games saw a Michigan team that looked sluggish and sloppy, failing to execute routine plays and making unwarranted errors. This week, they’re not just looking for a win, they’re looking for a statement against an overmatched and less talented Air Force squad.
Against FCS opponent Virginia Military Institute (VMI) two weeks ago, it was Air Force’s defense that was the surprising story line of the afternoon, they held VMI to zero points, 40 yards rushing and 55 yards though the air. The lethal nature of the Falcons signature triple threat defense is well documented, but holding VMI to under 100 yards was surprisingly impressive. Albeit VMI is in the FCS and therefore not a very competitive opponent, but holding any football team to under 100 yards is quite a feat. A chaotic offensive combined with a stingy defense should give a (so far) consistently stagnant Michigan squad an interesting test coming into week three.
Keys to victory for Michigan
The last time Air Force and Michigan met, it was Jake Ryan who deflected Falcons quarterback Connor Dietz’s pass on fouth-and-16 to secure Michigan’s 31-25 win with 90 seconds left. Fast forward five years, Brady Hoke is no longer coaching in Ann Arbor, and Don Brown has implemented a defense that will undoubtedly finish ranked in the top-10 at the end of this season. Brown’s defense will face its toughest challenge yet against an up-tempo offense that loves to throw anything and everything at you. Air Force running back Timothy McVey is the swiss army knife of the offense, compiling 1,348 all purpose yards last season. If Michigan can neutralize McVey, they take away one of the chief weapons of a very potent Air Force triple threat offense, which would go a long way to securing a victory for the good guys.
Michigan’s front seven should be able to dictate the tempo throughout this game, not giving Air Force the ability to create the chaos that they thrive on. If Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich can regularly beat the Air Force tackles and set the edge while blitz artisans Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson clean up everything else, it should be a long day for the Falcon offense.
On the other side of the ball, Speight simply has to get better. Not necessarily because the fate of this game rests upon his doing so, but because he needs to build all the confidence he can before he faces a real Big Ten defense. Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are games that Michigan simply cannot win without an elite Speight commanding their offense. It will be interesting to see if he can shake off two poor showings and step into the role of star quarterback, a role he was destined to fill.
Like the Wolverines, the previously 10th ranked Air Force rush defense only returns one starter.
Air Force only ceded 95 yards to VMI last week, the lowest amount since 1956.
Under Coach Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have played in nine bowl games in ten seasons.
Michigan Football is starting to give me deja vu and we’re only going into the third weekend in September. Michigan will play another middling opponent, trying to shake off another mediocre performance and subsequent fan base grumblings. Wilton Speight has yet to masterfully conduct the Michigan offense, nor has he delivered the dominant performance that we know he is more than capable of. Another disappointing performance would still probably give Michigan the win, but at this point they need more than a win, they need a statement. This game provides an opportunity to do just that, and if Jim Harbaugh can’t galvanize Team 138 into the kind of action that the college football nation is looking for, I don’t know who can. Michigan wins, 41-20.
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