RUSH OFFENSE vs. NEBRASKA RUSH DEFENSE Michigan is #7 in rushing offense (255 yards/game) and #12 in yards per carry (5.57) despite not running the ball very well the past couple weeks against Rutgers and Wisconsin. Last week Michigan managed just 112 rushing yards on 2.55 yards per attempt, and that was a game in which Michigan did not suffer any sacks. Nebraska is #44 in rushing defense and allowing 3.67 yards per carry, which is a middling #54 nationally. While they allowed FCS Fordham to average 4.61 yards per carry, the Cornhuskers buckled down and held Michigan State to just 71 yards and 2.37 yards a pop a couple weeks ago. Sophomore inside linebacker Luke Reimer (6’1″, 225) is their leading tackler with 51, while sophomore outside linebacker Garrett Nelson (6’3″, 245) leads with 8.0 tackles for loss. Advantage: Michigan
RUSH OFFENSE vs. WISCONSIN RUSH DEFENSE Michigan is #5 in rushing offense (291 yards/game) and #6 in yards per attempt (6.3) despite having a tough go against Rutgers last week (112 rushing yards, 3.0 yards/carry). Blake Corum is down to 6.9 yards per attempt and Hassan Haskins is down to 5.3. Both of those rushing averages are still very good, but Michigan needs a better game this week. The game was really slowed down in the trenches and by the play calling; starting left guard Trevor Keegan and left tackle Ryan Hayes both struggled in the run game, and Josh Gattis called a very uninspired game filled with repeated inside runs that repeatedly didn’t work. Wisconsin, meanwhile, is the #1 rushing defense (23.0 yards allowed/game) and teams are averaging just 1.01 yards per attempt. Last week Notre Dame managed just 3 total rushing yards on 32 attempts, an absolutely abysmal effort. Senior inside linebacker Jack Sanborn (6’2″, 236 lbs.) leads the squad with 5 tackles for loss, followed by senior defensive end Matt Henningsen (6’3″, 291) with 4 and sophomore outside linebacker Nick Herbig (6’2″, 227) with 3.5. Senior safety Scott Nelson (6’2″, 205) leads the team with 13 tackles. Unless Michigan can open up the running game by throwing the ball effectively (see below), it’s going to be tough sledding. Advantage: Wisconsin
RUSH OFFENSE vs. RUTGERS RUSH DEFENSE Michigan is the #1 rushing team in the country, averaging 350 yards per game on 7.15 yards per carry (#4). The two most relevant players are Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, who are almost identical in attempts this year: 48 and 49, respectively. Corum is the more explosive one (8.5 yards/carry, 7 touchdowns) while Haskins (5.7 yards/carry, 4 touchdowns) is the Steady Eddie. The unsung heroes of that rushing offense, of course, are the offensive linemen, who are blasting people up front. That group is led by center Andrew Vastardis. Rutgers is #49 in rushing defense (113 yards allowed/game) and #46 in yards allowed per carry (3.39). Those numbers are bolstered by the quality of opponent so far, which has included Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware. Advantage: Michigan
RUSH OFFENSE vs. NIU RUSH DEFENSE After last week’s outstanding performance on the ground, Michigan is #4 nationally in rushing with 339 yards per game, as well as #5 in yards per carry (6.85). The Wolverines have a home run hitter in sophomore Blake Corum (35 carries, 282 yards, 4 TD), who has a 67-yard run and a 79-yard kickoff return on his resume so far this year. They also have a steady pounder in Hassan Haskins (40 carries, 225 yards, 2 TD), who breaks tackles with regularity. Michigan’s offensive line is huge and mauled Washington last week. The only real question seems to be whether fifth year senior Chuck Filiaga or sophomore Zak Zinter starts at right guard, since the latter has been dealing with a cast on his hand. Northern Illinois is #121 (232 rushing yards allowed per game) and #101 (4.78 yards allowed per carry) in run defense. They are extremely young on defense, with nine starters in either their first or second year. Unsurprisingly, the leading tackler is fifth year senior middle linebacker Lance Deveaux, Jr. (5’11”, 218), followed by sophomore linebacker Nick Rattin (6’2″, 223) and freshman corner Eric Rogers (6’2″, 180). The Huskies run, in effect, a 4-2-5 defense and their biggest starting defensive lineman is nose tackle James Ester, a redshirt freshman who checks in at 286 lbs., though a couple rotational backups are over 290. After what Michigan did to Washington, it would be crazy to expect this to be anything less than a large mismatch. Advantage: Michigan
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. Advantage: Michigan