After the first two weeks of the 2017 season, the Michigan Wolverines are 2-0. Exactly where most expected them to be. That said, after some disappointing play against both the Florida Gators and the Cincinnati Bearcats to start the season, the Maize and Blue faithful are right to be a little nervous for the upcoming game against Air Force.
The Falcons come into this contest with a shiny 1-0 record. They demolished VMI 62-0 on the opening weekend of the season. Making matters even more interesting for Michigan, Air Force did not play last weekend. The Falcons have had an extra week to prepare for their trip to The Big House. Finally, Air Force runs an uncommon offensive scheme in the modern college football world. With quality athletes all over the field, their up-tempo, triple option attack can be devastating to unprepared opponents.
Let’s take a look at 3 keys to a Michigan victory against Air Force.
IMPROVED QUARTERBACK PLAY
This seems like an obvious point, but, it’s truly an area where Michigan has to improve. Senior starter Wilton Speight has been underwhelming so far this season. So much so that fans have been calling for him to be replaced by highly-touted Brandon Peters.
The reality is, Speight has been average this season. At times he has looked great with improved touch on his deep pass. Other times, he has shown a tendency to overthrow receivers which, unfortunately, have resulted in interceptions at times.
Here are some numbers on Speight so far this season. He has completed 28 of 54 pass attempts this year for 402 yards. That is a completion percentage of 51.9 percent. However, if throw aways and batted balls are accounted for, his completion percentage rises to 60.8 percent.
It's possible that Speight is struggling a little bit due to the fact that he's leading a very young Michigan team on offense. Constantly mentoring younger players learn the playbook and the college game could impact his ability to focus on his own performance.
Whatever the answer is, Jim Harbaugh and Speight need to find it. A well played, mistake-free game from the quarterback position will go a long way in helping Michigan's cause on Saturday.
CONTAIN THE GROUND GAME
Air Force is always potent on offense in the running game. The triple option is predicated on misdirection. The Falcons also employ a lot of ball fakes on each play. This makes it very difficult to identify which player has the ball and can make them very difficult to stop. Furthermore, because the triple option is so rarely implemented in modern college football, Michigan may have a difficult time preparing for this game.
Last year the Falcons averaged just over 317 rushing yards per game. That was good for third-best in the nation. This year has started out no differently when they rushed for 457 yards in their opening game. They are speedy and athletic. Quarterback Arion Worthman in addition to being a run threat also passed for 8 of 12 passes for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Here's a clip of Worthman doing a pretty darn good Denard Robinson impression.
Michigan will need to stay patient when reading the play and be careful not to bite on play action run fakes. Stay home, contain the runners, and prevent them from reaching the corner on defense.
Check out the effectiveness of the Air Force offensive attack in the video below:
STAYING MENTALLY TOUGH
The Wolverines have a huge home field advantage when they play in Ann Arbor. Michigan Stadium and the crowd of over 110,000 fans can definitely give the team a lift when needed. However, the fans are often impatient and have high expectations for Michigan.
Since Michigan is such a young team they will need to control their emotions while on the field. Even playing in front of a supportive home crowd can be nerve-wracking. Never mind that the game is also on national television. The fact is, it's not really possible to describe in words what it's like to perform on that field. The tradition and lore of Michigan football weigh heavily on each player.
Therefore, Michigan will have to grow up fast. They will be tested this Saturday by a tough team that plays very disciplined football. The opposing quarterback can make plays with his feet and his arm. When adversity strikes (and it will), the Wolverines will need to respond with maturity and discipline of their own.
- DATE: Saturday, September 16
- KICKOFF: Noon ET
- BROADCAST: Big Ten Network | Michigan IMG Sports Network (Check local listings)
- LINE: MICH -23.5
- O/U: 48
DSN STAFF PREDICTIONS
|DANIEL DYLAN BAIR||MICH, 35-21|
|MATT BASSIN||MICH, 34-13|
|DON DRYSDALE||MICH, 34-13|
|RYAN GRIFFIN||MICH, 38-20|
|ALEXANDER MULLER||MICH, 27-20|
|ROB OTTO||MICH, 35-10|
|CARL POPOSKI||MICH, 24-17|
|AJ REILLY||MICH, 31-7|
|PAUL ROCHON||MICH, 40-10|