We don’t have much to go on based on national stats from 2020, because they’re all skewed. For the most part, teams played only within their conference. So Michigan doesn’t have lollipop games against MAC teams, and MAC teams don’t have tough games included vs. Power Five teams. That does leave an apples-to-apples comparison, but it doesn’t give us what we’re used to from every other year in regard to overall performance. So this preview will stick to raw stats.
RUSH OFFENSE vs. WMU RUSH DEFENSE
Michigan has a returning starter at running back in Hassan Haskins who averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season; Haskins also doubles as a Wildcat quarterback. His backup is ballyhooed sophomore Blake Corum, who averaged just 3.0 yards a carry but has a some quickness and burst. The Wolverines return four out of five starters up front, though there has been some reshuffling. Left tackle Ryan Hayes and center Andrew Vastardis return in the same spots, but it sounds like last year’s left guard, Chuck Filiaga, will be playing right guard in the opener due to an injury to Zak Zinter. Meanwhile, Trevor Keegan should start at left guard with fifth year senior Andrew Stueber bumping out from right guard to right tackle. Fifth year senior defensive tackle Ralph Holley (6’1″, 285) is the plug in the middle of the line, but the linebackers are nothing special. Corvin Moment (6’0″, 250) is the most experienced guy but does not move well, and fifth year senior A.J. Thomas (6’0″, 215) moved to linebacker this year after starting at free safety and cornerback in 2020. Even without Zinter on the line, Michigan should be able to move the ball against an outsized defensive line.
Hit the jump for more.
PASS OFFENSE vs. WMU PASS DEFENSE
Michigan starting quarterback Cade McNamara threw 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in 2020, but that was mostly as a backup. He started just one game, getting hurt early against Penn State. His command of the game is solid, but we have yet to see him play a full contest. Michigan doesn’t have a lot of receivers, but they have a lot of talent. Senior Ronnie Bell has led the team in receiving for two straight years, and third-year player Cornelius Johnson seems poised for a breakout after a couple solid games in 2020. Michigan also has several solid tight ends, presuming starter Erick All can get over the case of the dropsies he suffered last year. Western Michigan fifth year senior defensive end Ali Fayad (6’2″, 250) made 4 sacks last season against MAC opponents, but how will he handle rushing against Michigan’s 6’7″ bookend tackles? The Broncos have a revamped secondary with a converted wide receiver and two transfers (from Pitt and Illinois) slated to start for a secondary that managed just 2 interceptions in 2020.
RUSH DEFENSE vs. WMU RUSH OFFENSE
Michigan is breaking in a new 3-4 defense, but we don’t know exactly what their alignments and personnel will be. We do know that outside linebacker Aidan Hutchinson is a standout player. The big question marks are on the interior, where Michigan could roll out a variety of players – none of whom have been very good in the past. It’s not often that a MAC team handles Michigan up front, so this should be a good game to break in some of Michigan’s starters. Middle linebacker and captain Josh Ross led the team in tackles last season and is a good bet to repeat that feat in 2021. Western Michigan returns four starters on the offensive line, including sixth year senior center Mike Caliendo (6’4″, 300), a First Team All-MAC player last season. Junior running back La’Darius Jefferson (6’1″, 235) is a transfer from Michigan State who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season with 5 touchdowns, while sophomore backup Sean Tyler (5’9″, 185) is a much different style player who averaged 6.6 yards per attempt. Michigan has an element of surprise going since nobody has any film on the current defensive players, so that should help them early, not to mention the talent disparity between the two teams.
PASS DEFENSE vs. WMU PASS OFFENSE
Where is Michigan’s pass rush going to come from? Hutchinson had 4.5 sacks in 2019 but didn’t notch any last season before getting hurt in game three. David Ojabo is thought to be starting at the other outside linebacker spot, but he’s all hype and potential so far in his career. On the back end, Michigan struggled at cornerback last season but should have two solid safeties in Daxton Hill and Brad Hawkins. Western Michigan redshirt sophomore quarterback Kaleb Eleby (6’1″, 210) threw 18 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions in 2020 on 64.7% completions, averaging a whopping 11.2 yards per attempt. But his #1 target last year, D’Wayne Eskridge, is now playing for the Seahawks. Redshirt junior Jaylen Hall (6’3″, 185) caught just 12 passes in 2020, but he averaged over 26 yards per catch and turned 7 of those 12 catches into touchdowns. Up front, fifth year senior left tackle Wes French (6’5″, 310) is transitioning from center and could be a weak spot for the Wolverines to exploit. Michigan should be better than WMU in this phase, but the defensive performances were so terrible in 2020 that I have to see it to believe it.
Advantage: Western Michigan
- Michigan runs for 230 yards
- Erick All scores Michigan’s first touchdown of the year
- Michigan 34, Western Michigan 17
You need to login in order to vote