All week, the questions swirling around Michigan football have questioned its offensive capabilities, especially on the offensive line. On Saturday, the Wolverines? schedule prescribes the perfect remedy for that ailment.
Michigan opens its home slate with a visit from in-state rival Western Michigan, who comes to Ann Arbor off a 55-42 defeat to Syracuse last weekend in which the Broncos allowed 560 yards of total offense. For Western, that continued a trend of porous defense from last season.
In their two power-five matchups with Southern California and Michigan State, the Broncos gave up 49 and 28 points to nullify strong offensive showings.
Against Syracuse, their undoing came on the ground, allowing dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey to rush for 200 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts. While Shea Patterson is not a true dual-threat QB in the sense that Dungey is, he will be a threat to use his legs to get first downs when plays break down.
The Broncos also feature a subpar pass rush, which should provide Patterson a break after being sacked three times and hurried six more amid countless pocket collapses last weekend. While Western was able to tally two sacks and three hurries last weekend, it managed just a 4.93 percent sack percentage in 2017, 35th worst in FBS and nearly 3 percent worse than Notre Dame inflicted on Patterson last weekend.
In the air, the Broncos allowed 168 of Syracuse?s 226 receiving yards to a single man, fifth-year senior receiver Jamal Custis. Allowing one man to beat them in the air was a problem for Western last year as Deontay Burnett caught for 142 of USC?s 289 yards in their matchup with the Broncos.
Should that trend continue, it could be an interesting storyline to follow. The expectation would be for senior Grant Perry to be the one capable of a three-digit performance but wide receivers coach Jim McElwain praised his young talents such as Donovan Peoples Jones, Nico Collins, and Oliver Martin on Wednesday.
Peoples Jones paced the Wolverines in receptions in South Bend while Collins led Michigan receivers with 66 yards. Saturday could be the day we see one emerge as Patterson?s go-to guy.
The defensive picture looks less rosy for the Wolverines after Western?s spread offense torched Syracuse for 621 yards of total offense. Running back LeVante Bellamy made his 11 carries count to the tune of 120 yards and a pair of touchdown. Wide receiver D?Wayne Eskridge, though, was Saturday?s star, piling up 240 yards on eight receptions.
While defense is not Syracuse?s strong-suit, it?s an interesting change from last season, when the Broncos ranked 105th in FBS with 25.6 pass attempts per game. Quarterback Jon Wassink easily surpassed that marker last weekend with 36 attempts as he put up 379 yards.
Should Western continue to air it out, it could be an interesting test for a Michigan defense that struggled against the pass early on in South Bend, with Lavert Hill having an uncharacteristic slow start and Josh Metellus being ejected for targeting.
Ultimately, though, Saturday should not be much of a challenge for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines are 6-0 against their in-state rival and have never won by less than two scores. They boast 11 national championships to 0, 42 conference championships to 4, 364 NFL draft picks to 49, and 835 weeks in the AP poll to 10.
There is a reason that imbalance exists ? despite this week?s sky-is-falling mentality percolating Ann Arbor, Michigan will fare just fine on Saturday.
It will be interesting to watch the offensive line?s progress, young receivers continue to break out, and Michigan?s secondary face a sturdy test but the final score is unlikely to be in doubt beyond the first quarter.