If Western Michigan seemed like a glorified bye week, wait until Michigan takes on Southern Methodist Saturday afternoon.
The Mustangs may come in with a bigger name than the Broncos but their performances so far justify the current 36-point spread in favor of the Wolverines. After a 46-23 loss to North Texas in week one, they were promptly defeated 42-12 by TCU last Friday.
While Western came in off of a 621 yard performance against Syracuse, creating some concern about their offense, SMU does not appear ready to threaten Michigan on either side of the ball.
They have gained just 256 and 242 yards of offense in each of their first two games. Their offensive performer of the season has been running back Braeden West, who picked up over 100 total yards from scrimmage against North Texas and added 78 yards on 11 carries last weekend.
But that?s about as far as it goes. Quarterback Ben Hicks is 30-for-62 for just 363 yards, two TDs, and one interception on the season and has yet to post a double-digit QBR.
Their porous offensive line has allowed eight sacks and 11 tackles for losses, providing an opportunity for Michigan?s star-studded front seven to build its confidence with a few sacks. Despite two strong defensive performances, it has only managed two sacks in each of its opening games, as Western game-planned offensively to avoid sacks at all costs.
If Michigan?s biggest focus after last Saturday was on its offensive outburst, the headlines after SMU could easily focus on its defense. While the Wolverines gave up three late points to the Broncos last weekend, Saturday likely represents their best chance to post a shutout, as well as to continue to get young backups playing time that they won?t see in Big Ten play.
Offensively, the task shouldn?t be much more difficult for Michigan as the Mustangs have allowed 88 points through two weeks.
Last week, the Wolverines got their running game on track with over 300 yards and Shea Patterson flashed signs of brilliance, delivering his first three touchdown passes for the maize and blue.
This week, though, could be the opportunity to get Patterson over 250 yards for the first time. TCU mainly pounded SMU on the ground but North Texas battered the Mustangs through the air, picking up 444 yards on 50 attempts. Patterson won?t reach those levels, for the simple reason that Michigan gains nothing by him doing so, but it could be a high-powered day for the Wolverines? passing attack.
SMU?s front seven should pose a slightly tougher threat than Western?s, so Michigan?s performance on the offensive line, especially in pass protection, will be interesting to see unfold. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner praised his young tackles Jalen Mayfield and James Hudson on Wednesday so each of them could see some work with the starters as the front five remains in flux.
At the skill positions, Karan Higdon has come out in both games as Michigan?s clear back after splitting work more closely with Chris Evans a season ago. The progress of that split, as well as how Patterson uses his receivers, will be worth following. Nico Collins leads the team in yardage but has primarily been a deep threat while Donovan Peoples-Jones has been Patterson?s primary target. Should Patterson eclipse his usage from the first two weeks, it will be interesting to see which receivers he favors.
Ultimately, though, there will not be too much to glean from Saturday. The criticism of Jim Harbaugh has never been that he loses to bad teams, it is that he doesn?t win big games. That cannot change until Oct. 13, when Wisconsin comes to town.
For now, all Michigan can do is keep winning so that it has the opportunity to prove its doubters wrong come October. That shouldn?t be too tall of an order on Saturday.