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Michigan vs. Air Force Preview

September 7, 2012

 

          


September 8th, 2012 – 3:30pm

Ann Arbor, MI

Preview Posted: Coming August 31st, 2012
Quote That Most Represents This Game

“It’s been one week since you looked at me

Cocked your head to the side and said I’m angry

Five days since you laughed at me saying

Get that together, come back and see me

– Barenaked Ladies, song “One Week”

Names To Know

1. Cody Getz (RB #28) – Getz is a name to know for this week, but I’m not quite sure what we should be expecting. He was incredible in their opener last week running for 218 yards and 3 touchdowns against a suspect Idaho State team. His total numbers for 10 games played in 2011 were 102 yards rushing on 24 carries, however, so it’s not quite clear if the first game was an anomaly or his breakout performance. He should get the ball frequently this week, but at 5-7, 175lbs the Michigan defense might be better equipped to keep his production closer to 2011 numbers.

2. Connor Dietz (QB #11) – After playing in 8 games in 2011, Dietz is a senior taking over as the starting quarterback. He was born in Columbus, OH, so he could have a little more motivation to win in The Big House depending on his fandom growing up. The Air Force option offense is driven by the quarterback making the right reads, so the offense is even more on the shoulders of Dietz than it would be a normal QB. He needs to complete passes to keep the defense honest and pick the right ball carrier to keep drives going and Michigan’s offense off the field.

3. Steffon Batts (CB #23) – Idaho State was able to complete 79% of their passes for 365 yards against Air Force. Derek Graves had 15 receptions for 118 yards and most of the time he was being covered by Batts. Michigan wasn’t afraid to throw at future NFLer DeMarcus Milliner last week, so they won’t hesitate to throw this week. Batts will likely cover Devin Gardner since he is their tallest corner, so Devin should get a lot of targets this week.

Offensive Strength

Air Force is a triple option / wishbone / Wing-T type offense, so they run the ball… a lot. On the option plays, it’s the quarterback’s responsibility to read the defense and decide which ball carrier has the best path in front of him. Could be a fullback up the gut, could be the QB keeping it, could be a pitch to the outside, or even a reverse. The goal of the offense is to find the defender who is making a mistake and exploit them. If a linebacker picks the wrong gap, exploit it. If a defensive end gets pancaked by an OL and he moves on, exploit it. If a corner is too aggressive and loses contain, exploit it. Michigan will need to know their assignments and execute them consistently to try to get Air Force off the field. The linebackers will be the most critical players for Michigan to keep the gains small and put them in 3rd and long situations.

Offensive Weakness

Air Force only throws the ball around 10 times a game to make sure the corners and safeties aren’t cheating, but I don’t consider that a weakness since it’s by choice. The weakness I see is strictly because of the stark difference to what we saw with Alabama last week. Alabama’s offensive line averaged 6-5, 315lbs, and probably a 2nd round NFL Draft grade. Air Force averages around 6-4, 250lbs and none are likely to play in the NFL. Michigan’s defensive line had their biggest test last week and now come into this game seeing a line that is practically 60 pounds lighter at every position and nowhere near as talented. For a run-oriented offense, the matchup heavily favors Michigan and if the defensive line can hold up, the linebackers should be free to make tackles. The option doesn’t require big lineman, but it does need the lineman to get out in space and block downfield, so if they can’t get past the defensive line that will clog running lanes and force a lot of pitches to try to get outside.

Defensive Strength

The strength of the Falcons’ defense is the strength of all of the service academies, which is their discipline. Cadets are pushed from the moment they are enrolled and taught to follow instruction, which is exactly how their defense operates. They will have a gameplan and will execute that gameplan. Talent on the roster does not compare to what Michigan has, but they will have watched what Alabama did last week, not blitzing and forcing Denard to stay in the pocket and throw, and will execute that as best they can this week.

Defensive Weakness

When Idaho State throws for 365 yards and their quarterback completed 41/52 passes, you know your secondary is weak. The Falcons’ top corner is Steffon Batts who I mentioned above and their second corner is Chris Miller (#3). Miller is listed at 5-8, 185lbs on the official roster, which puts him about the same size as Jeremy Gallon. Gallon was making plays against Alabama corners that had 3-4 inches on him, so he should break out this game facing somebody who is closer to his own height. If Air Force commits extra players to stop the run, the Michigan receivers will have a clear advantage.

My Game Expectations

It’s been one week since the Alabama debacle and pretty much every Michigan fan has been angry for one reason or another. Some were angry that Denard didn’t run more. Some were angry Blake Countess was on special teams and got injured. Some were angry that the refs missed some calls, like when Roy Roundtree got pushed to the ground which lead to an interception and 21 point lead. Some (most) fans were angry the national media was pretty much laughing at Michigan, even the broadcasters calling the game. Some fans were just angry the game got scheduled in the first place. I say it’s time to move on.

Air Force puts up big numbers on BCS opponents, but just doesn’t win the games. They had better stats than Notre Dame last year in first downs (32-to-28), total yards (565-560), rushing yards (363-266), time of possession (32 mins to 28), and were 5-5 on 4th down conversions, yet they still lost the game by 26 points. Against BCS-AQ teams (Utah, TCU, BYU, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and throw in Boise State too) since 2008 they are 2-13 with the wins coming against a 7-6 BYU team in 2010 and 6-7 Georgia Tech team in the first year of their option offense.

The Alabama loss last week has a lot of Michigan fans scared for the rest of the season, but in reality that game doesn’t tell us much. LSU in the BCS Championship game last year had 0 points and 92 total yards against Alabama. They lost a lot on defense, but from watching the game it wasn’t near the dropoff I was expecting. Denard’s throws were actually pretty good throughout the game, he just happened to have receivers being covered by one of the best corners in the nation. He was right on the money on a few slants early in the game, but Milliner was able to dive and knock the ball out on both of them. Michigan was just overmatched against the Crimson Tide, and I think it says more about how good Alabama is than how bad Michigan might be.

On defense, Michigan is going to play their standard 4-3 under with Jake Ryan standing at the line of scrimmage. With limited threat of passing plays, the corners will play off the receivers and try to keep everything in front of them and the safeties will be rolling up into the box frequently expecting run. It is going to come down to the defensive line holding ground and the linebackers hitting the right gaps. The defensive line had a bad day against Alabama, but it will be more interesting to see them this week against a pedestrian offensive line. The same is true of the linebackers since they made quite a few mistakes, but they also had to contend frequently with offensive lineman getting to the second level for clean blocks. I expect Air Force to run for a lot of yards since that’s what they do, but if they can manage to get 5 yards per carry BEFORE getting touched like Alabama did, we will be in for a really long season.

On offense, Michigan should be able to do whatever it wants against Air Force. The secondary is suspect, so if Denard really has improved as a passer he could show it this week. The offensive line should be able to open holes for the backs, which should be helped with the return of Fitz Toussaint this week. Unless the game is close, I don’t expect a lot of Denard runs this week. He should hand it off to Toussaint to show he is still a legit second threat and should throw some passes to force future teams to think about defending it. The receivers, as much as Robinson, will benefit from some confidence building passes heading into the rest of the season. Air Force just does not matchup with Michigan anywhere on offense. Denard, Toussaint, Gardner, the offensive line, and even Gallon all have clear advantages over their defensive counterparts and should win 1-on-1 battles. The only way to slow the offense down this game will be long, methodical drives by the Falcons’ offense, which is possible given their style of play.

The media pretty much laughed at the outcome of the Alabama game, but did agree that the result didn’t mean Michigan was in for a terrible season. I think Air Force will continue the trend of getting a lot of yards on a top opponent, but it won’t matter in the end, just like all of their other games against top competition. Michigan has had one week to get their act together and will come back to the field Saturday and show who they could be the rest of the season.

Prediction

Michigan wins 31-17

-Mike Randazzo

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