Taking a look at Air Force’s toughest opponent of their season, Michigan.
The Falcons are the sizable underdogs heading into their second game of the year against Big Ten powerhouse Michigan.
Who are the Michigan Wolverines?
These two teams last squared off in 2012, near the dawn of the Brady Hoke era at Michigan. With the Wolverines leading the series 2-0, is there any chance Troy Calhoun and his Falcons can steal a victory in Ann Arbor this Saturday?
To get a better understanding of the perennial Big Ten contenders, I brought in an expert on the Wolverines, Land of 10 Michigan beat writer Rachel Lenzi and asked her five questions pertaining to this week’s game:
Rachel Lenzi: Air Force has to keep Michigan on its toes with its triple-option offense, one that’s predicated on misdirection. The Falcons don’t have the same size or skill as the Wolverines, so they have to outsmart them. The Falcons’ defense has to stop a running game that has three options it can turn to: Ty Isaac, Chris Evans and Karan Higdon, who have combined for 384 yards. They also have to defend against a fourth option: Michigan’s fullbacks, particularly Khalid Hill, who is their go-to inside the 10-yard line.
Air Force has to keep a Michigan passing game — one that’s looking for its footing and for its rhythm with receivers — off-balance. Air Force also has to face and somehow neutralize a physical defense that pressures the quarterback; Michigan has 10 sacks and nine quarterback hurries in its first two games.
2. Quarterback Wilton Speight hasn’t exactly played up to his expectations so far this year. Do you see him coming out of his slump against the Falcons on Saturday?
RL: First, Speight isn’t in a slump. He’s been productive in both of his starts, averaging 201 yards on 28-for-54 passing, and both interceptions came against Florida. Second, Jim Harbaugh isn’t going to pull Speight because of a handful of less-than-stellar plays.
Harbaugh and his staff will stick with Speight, who has worked through his inconsistencies, including improving his footwork and leveling his passes to his receivers, all of whom are either new and/or young — Grant Perry returns as Michigan’s most experienced receiver.
3. Senior running back Ty Isaac has been having a fantastic year so far for Michigan. Will he continue his productivity against Air Force, whose run defense performed well in their season opener?
RL: Expectations are high for Isaac to do that. Isaac had his second 100-plus yard rushing performance in last week’s win against Cincinnati (and his first back-to-back 100-yard games at Michigan). Isaac is a power back whom Harbaugh and his staff have particularly praised for his ability to gain yards after contact. Isaac has size, strength, and speed, and to stop him, Air Force will literally have to pull him down. Isaac also showed against Florida that he could break for long runs for pivotal third- and fourth down conversions.
4. In their lone game, Air Force relied on a heavy rushing attack, by running the ball 67 times while attempting just 14 passes. Could you tell us a little bit about Michigan’s defensive front, and who could be effective in shutting down the Falcons’ rushing barrage?
RL: Michigan’s defensive front is predicated on depth and skill. College football fans immediately identify with Rashan Gary as the face of the defensive line, but while the defensive line lost all four of its starters, Gary is one of four effective and experienced linemen.
It’s not just going to be Michigan’s defensive line that will stop the run, though. Michigan’s linebackers have been key in limiting its first two opponents to 79 yards rushing. In particular, Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson (who took over the Viper/hybrid pass-rusher with the departure of Jabrill Peppers to the NFL) are as valuable as the defensive line.