Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Air Force

Zach Dirlam@Zach_DirlamSenior Analyst IISeptember 6, 2012

Michigan Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Air Force

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    The Michigan Wolverines were beaten down and embarrassed by the Alabama Crimson Tide in their 2012 season opener, but will have a great chance to exact some revenge and do some dominating of their own when they take the field against the Air Force Falcons at the Big House this Saturday.

    Air Force is coming off a 49-21 victory over Idaho State last weekend and are hoping to ride their option style attack to a victory over the Wolverines.

    What will Michigan need to do in order to avoid starting a promising season with an 0-2 record? Click ahead to find out!

Slow Down Air Force's Option Attack

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    The Air Force Academy runs an option offense that is difficult to prepare for in seven days, but University of Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is 3-1 in his last four games against the Falcons and Navy Midshipmen, who run a similar style of offense.

    Three of those games were during Hoke's tenure at San Diego State, and the other came while he was the head coach at Ball State back in 2008.

    Although the Wolverines struggled up front against Alabama en route to giving up 231 yards on the ground in their nationally televised blowout loss they have much more talent on defense than Hoke had at his previous coaching stops.

    Jake Ryan and the rest of the Michigan linebackers need to stick to their assignments and avoid giving up big plays in order to slow down the Air Force rushing attack.

    The Falcons have averaged over 300 yards on the ground since 2010, according to Yahoo.com, so Air Force is more than capable of making big plays and eat up clock if Michigan's defense cannot find a way to get off the field. 

Put Air Force in 3rd-and-Long Situations

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    Air Force does not throw the football very often, and the more an option team like the Falcons are forced to pass, the less threatening their offense becomes.

    Senior quarterback Connor Dietz completed 8-of-11 passes for 142 yards in Air Force's season opener against Idaho State. However, the Columbus, Ohio native will be facing a much better secondary this Saturday when Michigan sends fifth-year senior defensive backs J.T. Floyd and Jordan Kovacs onto the field.

    Michigan needs to win the battle on first down in order to put Air Force in longer yardage situations on second and third down, which will force the Falcons to throw more often than they are accustomed to.

    The Wolverines have the personnel to stop the Air Force rushing attack, which is the key to taking the Falcons out of their comfort zone and forcing them to play right into Michigan's game plan. 

    If you see Air Force in 3rd-and-long drive after drive, then start grinning with joy, because that will most likely lead to a Michigan victory.

Michigan Must Establish the Running Game with the Read-Option

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    The University of Michigan certainly missed starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint last week, but the redshirt junior was reinstated on Tuesday and should help the Wolverines establish a consistent rushing attack, in addition to setting up play-action passes.

    Senior quarterback Denard Robinson was limited to 10 carries, 27 yards and one touchdown by Alabama's defense last Saturday, but offensive coordinator Al Borges and the Wolverines are facing a much more vulnerable Air Force defense this weekend.

    Robinson should have no problem running the read-option early in the game and if No. 16 can hit some big plays and force the Air Force defense to try and take him away, Toussaint should have plenty of wide open holes to run through.

    Michigan's read-option attack sets up the rest of their offense and will be a key to the Wolverines scoring a victory over the Falcons. 

The Wolverines Have to Take Shots Down the Field

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    Dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson took some shots down the field against Alabama's defense, but only converted on two of those opportunities.

    The first was a 71-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon in the first half, and the second big play came on a 44-yard touchdown pass to Devin Gardner in the third quarter.

    Michigan will have plenty of opportunities to hit big plays against the Air Force defense this weekend, according to former Wolverines defensive lineman Will Heininger.

    "They should have a field day, no doubt about it, maybe even score on every possession" Heininger told Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com. "If (Michigan) mess(es) up, it's likely to be our mistake and not theirs.

    "One thing they do well is get the ball out, but they give up huge chunks of yards. Obviously they don't have the size inside to hold up to a running game, so they have to bring more guys in the box and they don't have the speed in the secondary you need to compete, even if they didn't load the box...(Michigan) shouldn't have any trouble." 

    Robinson should be able to get in rhythm and make big plays in the passing game, which is something Air Force will hope to avoid at all costs.

    If Michigan's offense gets on track as Heininger expects it to, keep in mind that Air Force was 0-5 last season when their opponent scored 35 or more points.

Michigan Must Force Turnovers and Avoid Beating Themselves

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    Michigan's defense only forced one turnover and gave the ball away three times against Alabama after being one of the nation's best teams in terms of turnover margin a year ago.

    The Wolverines will look to get back on track defensively this week, and forcing turnovers will certainly help the Michigan defense regain the confidence and swagger it played with in 2011.

    Limiting Air Force's rushing yards will be difficult, but if the Wolverines can slow it down and force a couple of turnovers they should handily beat the Falcons, who have lost their last 19 games against ranked opponents. 

    Robinson and the Wolverines must keep the chains moving on offense and avoid the turnovers they had last weekend against the Crimson Tide.

    If Michigan is able to do all of that there is no reason why they should not put the Falcons away by halftime, or midway through the third quarter at the latest.