Michigan Wolverines football is just hours away from kickoff against Washington (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) for a Week 2 showdown.
Here’s a look around the internet at what they’re saying ahead of the contest.
NEWS: Michigan’s defensive line held up “pretty good” against Western Michigan, according to head coach Jim Harbaugh, led by redshirt freshman Mazi Smith and sophomore Chris Hinton.
HARBAUGH: “We got into where we were playing some coverage, played some two-deep coverages and the box was five, six at times. I thought they did well.
“The run game, we got that pretty controlled. They did bleed out some yards here and there, but for the most part, I thought we did a really good job against the run. Pushing the pocket, getting pressure on the quarterback also showed up, as well.”
VIEWS: As he noted, there were only two guys playing with their hands in the dirt on most occasions, and as the TV analysts noted, WMU probably could have run a bit more had they tried. But that’s not their forte, and they tried to ride quarterback Kaleb Eleby. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald made great adjustments after Eleby had some success in the flats underneath coverage early.
But we still really have no idea about the defensive line. Washington will be a much bigger test for this group, regardless of its loss to Montana, and games against Rutgers (yes, really) and especially Wisconsin will tell the tale of just how much this group has improved.
That’s still going to be one of the keys to the season, and we’re anxious to see how it holds up. There’s not a lot of beef there, and as pass rush goes, Aidan Hutchinson was most of it last Saturday. We fully expect him to command more attention going forward, meaning the other guys up front are going to have to step up.
Days before the season began, [junior wide receiver Ronnie] Bell stood outside of Schembechler Hall and reflected on the emotions he felt when Harbaugh announced the four team captains. The Wolverines talk about being “10 toes down,” an expression that implies total commitment, and that was Bell’s promise to his teammates during their meeting that day.
“Everybody said I looked shocked when he said my name,” Bell said. “That was when it hit me. Going up and talking to the team, letting them know I’m 10 toes for them and ready to make this happen, it’s real.”
Bell isn’t going anywhere [after suffering a season-ending knee injury against Western Michigan], so it’s not as though his presence will vanish completely. But he’ll have to find different ways to contribute, just as Harbaugh did after breaking his arm as a player at Michigan in 1984. Harbaugh remembers Lloyd Carr, then Michigan’s defensive backs coach, enlisting his help coaching the secondary, a job that helped Harbaugh see the game from a different angle and helped him stay engaged with the team even though he couldn’t play.
“From my own personal experience of having a season-ending injury, the best way not to be left out is to help out,” Harbaugh said.
[Washington head coach Jimmy] Lake’s biggest problem is that he didn’t know he had one.
It’s that his program’s perceived strengths were systematically exposed. And now, with a nonconference test at Michigan looming next weekend, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly Washington does well.
Last week, when asked that very question, UW’s second-year coach said, “We are extremely veteran, talented and deep — very deep — on our offensive line. I would say that is a definite strength of ours. I’ll leave it right there.”
Five days later, that strength splintered, failing to provide any meaningful push while surrendering three sacks of quarterback Dylan Morris … 10 months after it allowed just one total sack in four games against Pac-12 opponents. Of course, the fact that UW was down its top four wide receivers — Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk (the latter leaving with an injury after the opening drive) — likely allowed Montana’s defense to key on the run.
In the aftermath, Lake also conceded that UW’s playbook “was a little bit pared down, with the bodies we had available.”
But if this is a program Lake honestly believes should compete for a CFP appearance on an annual basis, none of that should have mattered.
In Michigan’s run game Saturday, [sixth-year senior center] Andrew Vastardis was the best offensive lineman on my chart. [Redshirt junior right tackle] Andrew Stueber was No. 2. And while no one had a particularly bad day, Michigan also saw particularly encouraging signs from younger guards [redshirt freshman] Trevor Keegan and [second-year freshman] Zak Zinter.
But first, Vastardis, because he’s important. Even before the wheels fell off for Michigan last year, back when the offense looked like it was going to be capable, Vastardis still seemed like he was struggling to hold up physically. By that, I mean he wasn’t moving particularly well. He looked stiff. He’s a smart player and he’s always shown some strength, which is why U-M transitioned him from walk-on to scholarship starter. Still, the questions I had about his game and whether he’d be able to hold up this year were more mobility-related than anything else.
So while the opponent Michigan faced in Game 1 doesn’t tell us everything, I’d argue it does shed positive light in Vastardis’ direction because he looked so much faster to me Saturday. He fought through injuries last year. But this, for Michigan, is encouraging.
Why Washington can cover
Washington struggled on the offensive side against Montana, but the Huskies were without their top four wide receivers. The Huskies project to be healthier against Michigan, and Washington was above-average in both rushing (176.3 yards per game) and passing (226.5 yards per game) in the Pac-12 last season. Washington averaged 30.3 points per game with 11 rushing touchdowns in four games a season ago, and the Huskies were fantastic on third down, converting more than 47 percent of their opportunities.
On the defensive side, Washington was very good a week ago. The Huskies held Montana to only 4.6 yards per pass attempt and their opponent generated fewer than 250 total yards. Montana had only 10 first downs in the game, one of the five best marks in the country last week, and Montana also had only 103 passing yards in the game. Washington returns quite a bit of talent from the Pac-12’s best defense a year ago, as the Huskies led the conference in total yards allowed and passing yards allowed, with the No. 2 mark in points allowed.
Why Michigan can cover
The Wolverines were impressive in the opener, particularly when compared to what Washington put on film. Michigan averaged more than 9.0 yards per play offensively, ranking No. 7 in the country in Week 1, and its 551 total yards landed in the top 15 nationally. The Wolverines were effective through the air, averaging nearly 13 yards per pass attempt with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and Michigan also rushed for more than 300 yards.
Defensively, the Wolverines return several key pieces from a season ago, and they were able to hold up effectively in allowing Western Michigan to average only 5.2 yards per pass attempt. Washington’s offense stumbled out of the gate, averaging only 2.4 yards per carry against Montana, and Michigan’s new coaching staff should be well prepared to face what is a relatively uninspiring Huskies offense.
Washington vs. Michigan prediction
Neither the Huskies nor Wolverines produced a turnover in their opener, so that’s something that could turn this game. Don’t be surprised if Washington takes an early lead behind a more-efficient Morris, and the Huskies might hold that lead into halftime.
McNamara needs a go-to receiver to step up, and that might take time. The Wolverines, however, get enough out of the running game to pull ahead in the second half, and safety Daxton Hill comes up with that turnover in crunch time. Michigan wins, but it’s not easy.
Final score: Michigan 27, Washington 22
• Talk about this article inside The Fort
• Watch our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel
• Listen and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, The Wolverine
• Sign up for our daily newsletter and breaking news alerts
• Like us on Facebook