|WHAT||Hawaii at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
September 3rd, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan -41|
PBP: Mike Patrick
Analyst: Ed Cunningham
|WEATHER||sunny, low to mid 70s, 0% chance of rain|
Hi, it's Ace, continuing the annual tradition of writing the first game preview because Brian's worn down his fingers into bloody nubs. As is tradition, you'll call me "Brian" in the comments. Then I will dip my arms into the butterscotch pudding, as is tradition. What a glorious day for our country, and indeed the world.
For Michigan, this is the season opener. Hawaii, on the other hand, already took a 51-31 loss to Cal last Friday. Have I mentioned that game was in Sydney, Australia? Their coach, Nick Rolovich, has taken to tweeting about having a #MagellanMindset because of the brutal travel schedule. The time change alone—kickoff is at 6 AM Hawaii time—is enough to have Michigan players literally praying for their opponent:
"I couldn't go from Pacific Time to Eastern Time like that, not in a week and then expect to play to my best ability," Lewis said. "I mean, we went to Utah (last year) and it was pretty hard. I'm praying for those guys, honestly."
Oh, and Hawaii finished 118th in S&P+ last year. The spread is 41 points for good reason.
Run Offense vs Hawaii
Cal didn't have much of a need to run the ball against Hawaii because they were averaging 8.2 yards per attempt through the air. When they did run, however, they were quite successful. Hawaii lost their best run defender in the offseason when they booted Kennedy Tulimasealii, one of the best DTs in the group of five, and they only finished 82nd in S&P+ against the run last year with that guy. Without that guy...
watch the linebackers
...they did not fare well. In a very exciting development this year, we're partnering with Pro Football Focus, which is providing us with their full grades on Michigan's upcoming opponents to use for FFFF and the previews. Of the 13 players in the front seven who played against Cal, two—two!—finished with a positive grade against the run, and both were barely above zero. There are some grades in there I feel bad even mentioning: DE David Manoa (-3.1 vs. run) and ILB Jahlani Tavai (-2.5) had really rough outings. NT Korey Rasmussen looked passable, but he's a 295-pound nose tackle who'll face off against Mason Cole.
The defensive backs didn't fare much better; the nickel completely biffs his run fit here, then the safety takes a bad angle to tack on extra yardage:
Cal averaged 6.4 yards per non-sack carry. They were a good, not great, rushing team last year. If Jim Harbaugh so desired, Michigan could probably get away with not throwing the ball at all in this game. As you'll see in the next section, they'll probably be inclined to do so anyway.
KEY MATCHUP: STARTING LEFT TACKLE vs. VERY MOVABLE OBJECTS. If Bredeson or Newsome struggles to get movement on the edge against this team, it'll be a major red flag. I don't expect this to be an issue.
[Hit THE JUMP]
Pass Offense vs Hawaii
throwing downfield may be unnecessary
Cal threw the ball downfield against Hawaii because they're an Air Raid offense and that's what they do. If they wanted to, though, they could've run up the score by calling a screen every single play. PFF:
Their tackling left a lot to be desired; the play clipped above is just one particularly bad example. The only defensive back to finish with a positive grade was nickel Rojesterman Farris II (a real name, that), who made a couple nice plays in coverage. Everyone else looked eminanly beatable, whether it was on short throws or longer ones:
Hawaii produced little in the way of a pass rush. They were one of the worst pass defenses in the country last year and lost almost all of the players responsible for reaching a middling 71st in adjusted sack rate. They might be slightly better than they were against Cal if safety Daniel Lewis Jr., arguably their best DB a year ago, returns from suspension. That shouldn't matter much.
This is an ideal game to ease in a new starting quarterback. Wilton Speight can get comfortable with the screen game early, and he should have some big windows to throw into downfield when he's called upon to do so.
KEY MATCHUP: PLAYERS IN SPACE vs. FALLING OVER FOR NO REASON. Seriously, I expect Amara Darboh to get at least 50 yards on screens alone.
Run Defense vs Hawaii
Diocemy Saint Juste is small, fast, and maybe a bit fumbly
Running back Diocemy Saint Juste would've graded out pretty well against Cal, but he fumbled twice, and that put him into the negatives. When he wasn't dropping the ball, he was a constant threat to break into the open field; he finished 118 yards and a score on only 14 carries, and while the "Cal's defense is terrible" caveat very much applies, he looked dangerous in doing so—he's quick and has that proverbial extra gear in the open field. He's coming off a year lost to injury and still was the clear number one back over Paul Harris, who had a good year in 2015; Saint Juste looks legit.
The offensive line managed to open up some holes; I'm skeptical they can repeat that. Hawaii was very left-handed against Cal, having their best success running behind LT Dejon Allen and LG John Wa'a. Allen is 6'3", 290, and played guard all of last year. Cal's defensive line, to say the least, is not Michigan's. They do have some beef up the middle—all three interior linemen weigh at least 310 pounds—but even with Mo Hurst rumored to have a minor injury, Michigan's DTs should have little problem with them.
Hawaii's best bet to put up a score in this game is for Saint Juste to break into the open field once or twice. In the first game of the year for Michigan in a new defense, I wouldn't be too shocked to see it happen. On a down-to-down basis, however, this should be another mismatch.
KEY MATCHUP: BRYAN MONE vs. EXPECTATIONS. I'm very, very curious to see what he can do out there, and while Hawaii's line isn't great, they at least have enough size on the interior that we can't entirely dismiss it if he goes Godzilla in Tokyo on them.
Pass Defense vs Hawaii
Ikaika Woolsey has a strong but erratic arm
QB Ikaika Woolsey got in 149 attempts as a junior last year while mostly playing behind now-graduated starter Max Wittek. He completed 49% of those passes, averaged 5.3 yards per attempt, and tossed six picks against five touchdowns. While he has a little mobility, he's not a guy who's going to be featured in the run game.
Watching the Cal game, I thought Woolsey showed off a pretty good arm, but his accuracy comes and goes. As PFF's chart shows, he had a very tough time staying on target when going downfield:
I didn't think his receivers helped him out much, even though Hawaii returns 11 of their top 12 pass-catchers from 2015. 6'4" junior Marcus Kemp is the guy to watch; he had four catches for 73 yards and a score against Cal after leading the team in receiving last year. Jourdan Lewis exists. Their TEs had a habit of getting open and not doing a great job of adjusting to throws downfield. Jabrill Peppers exists. Cal's pass defense is an abomination. This will go well.
KEY MATCHUP: SAFETIES vs. BUSTS. Even if Hawaii is unlikely to take advantage, it'd be great to see Michigan get out of this game without any breakdowns on the back end while they test out playing zone a little more frequently than they did last year.
Hawaii tried a surprise onside kick to open the Cal game. It didn't work.
Let's be honest. This section will not factor into the game.
KEY MATCHUP: PUT THE BALL THROUGH THE BIG STICKS, MATE
- The offensive line isn't shredding Hawaii's front seven into tiny bits
- Backups aren't in by the third quarter at the latest
- Someone gets hurt at a spot where that would be bad
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan throws a screen
- Michigan runs the ball
- Michigan's defense is on the field
Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 (Baseline 5; -5 for They Are Very Bad, +1 for Obligatory Irrational Season-Opener Fear)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for Cumong)
Loss will cause me to... write a one-sentence recap
Win will cause me to... write a slightly longer recap
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan scores two touchdowns on screen passes
- Jabrill Peppers has three TFLs and does not play offense because that would be wildly unnecessary
- Saint Juste sets up a field goal with a long run and we very much overreact to this
- Michigan, 53-5