Michigan Wolverines vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers Complete Game Preview
Michigan enters its opener determined to bounce back from last season’s 7-6 record and vanquish the ghosts of one the program’s most devastating defeats.
Date: Saturday, November 30, 2014
Time: Noon ET
Place: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Series vs. Appalachian State: Appalachian State leads 1-0
Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network
Spread: Michigan by 34.5, via TheSpread.com
Live Stats: MGoBlue.com
Last Meeting vs. Appalachian State: Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.
Michigan entered the 2007 game ranked No. 5 in the nation but lost 34-32 in a stunning upset. The game ended the team’s national title hopes and knocked it out of the Top 25 rankings.
The first quarter ended with Michigan leading 14-7, but Appalachian State scored three second-quarter touchdowns to take a 28-17 lead into the half. Michigan battled back in the second half but failed on two two-point conversions and missed on two field-goal attempts, with the final one being blocked on the final play of the game.
The game is considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of college football.
Video 2007 Highlights
Looking back at the 2007 meeting between Michigan and Appalachian State.
Michigan's Keys to Victory
Michigan was committed to a single offensive philosophy last season like a hen in a ham-and-egg breakfast—the hen has an interest, while the pig is truly committed.
This season Michigan needs to be the pig. If it wants to run the ball, it needs to keep doing so until it finds the right combination of players to make it happen. Last season, offensive coordinator Al Borges kept tinkering with the scheme, trying to out-think opponents. The offense tried to do everything and as result did nothing exceptionally well.
This season Hoke needs to stay committed to the run until Doug Nussmeier gets it right.
Send the Dogs
The defensive backfield is the strength of Michigan’s defense. Send pressure and force Appalachian State to throw the ball around. As a spread team, the Mountaineers play into Michigan’s anticipated defensive strength.
Vanquish the Ghosts
Broadcaster Keith Jackson once said that you can feel the ghosts when visiting Michigan Stadium. Most of the ghosts are remnants of great Michigan victories. But tucked in the corners are a few that the Wolverines would like to erase.
The 2007 loss to Appalachian State marked the definitive end of the Lloyd Carr era of Michigan football. The current crop of players are tired of hearing about it. But if Appalachian State can keep the game close, those ghosts might start materializing.
Michigan can keep Appalachian State down by scoring early and reminding the Mountaineers that 2014 isn’t 2007.
Appalachian State's Keys to Victory
Rush the Gaps
The Michigan offensive line was awful last season. Appalachian State should bring pressure up the middle in the gaps over center and target true freshman tackle Mason Cole. If the Mountaineers pressure quarterback Devin Gardner, he might be reminded of the pounding he took last season.
Attack the Flats
The defensive backfield is the strength of the Michigan defense. Appalachian State would be wise to rely on the strength of its spread offense and attack the flats with a series of screens and short passes and by hitting players out of the backfield. Going deep too often is a recipe for disaster—and a big interception return.
Look for a Pick-Six
Gardner has a propensity to miss defenders in short-to-middle coverage. Appalachian State linebackers should try and bait Gardner into throwing some short screens and then look for the turnover. Shake Gardner’s confidence early, and he might start taking bigger risks.
Michigan Players to Watch
Quarterback Devin Gardner
Senior quarterback Devin Gardner returns to Michigan Stadium where his last appearance was a failed two-point conversion after a frantic fourth-quarter comeback loss versus archrival Ohio State. Gardner was injured during the game, which prevented him from playing in Michigan’s 31-14 loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. While he healed, Hoke scrapped his offense (and offensive coordinator Al Borges) and hired Doug Nussmeier to resurrect the Michigan running game.
This is Gardner’s first appearance at the controls of Nussmeier’s new offensive scheme. Last season he was the focal point of the offense, carrying the team on his back when plays broke down, which happened frequently behind a porous offensive line. Now, he’ll be challenged to complete enough passes downfield to open up the running lanes.
Hoke has talked about Gardner’s need to rely on this teammate to make big plays this season. If he faces pressure, will he stay within the confines of the new offense or revert to last year’s mode of pressing for the big play?
Center Jack Miller
Jack Miller started at center last year and struggled to secure the middle of the offensive line. He won the starting job for the opener by default after projected starter Graham Glasgow was suspended for the first game of the season after being arrested this spring.
Look for Appalachian State to shoot the gaps in front of Miller to disrupt the Michigan offense. It will be a good test to see how much Miller and the offensive line have improved over last season.
Running Back Derrick Green
Doug Nussmeier was brought in to reboot the Michigan running game, and Derrick Green has battled to the top of the depth chart, coming out on top over De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson. But he’s running behind an offensive line that’s replacing its two best players from last season and missing probable starter Graham Glasgow, who is suspended for the season opener.
Nussmeier has said that he’ll use multiple backs, and Smith and Green competed all fall camp to be the starter. If Green struggles, how long before we see a parade of possible replacements?
Defensive Back Jabrill Peppers
Fans have been waiting to see the top defensive recruit take the field since he committed to Michigan with the goal of being the next Charles Woodson.
He’s already the first-string nickelback and getting reps at cornerback. But news that he’ll be returning punts means he’ll have ample opportunity to electrify the Michigan Stadium crowd in his first game as a true freshman.
Peppers has convinced Hoke that he is ready for the spotlight. “Watching him over the course of that last 20-some days—practice, field punts, be in those situations—the confidence he has gives me confidence.”
Appalachian State Players to Watch
Running Back Marcus Cox
Marcus Cox (1,250 yards, 15 touchdowns in 2013) during his freshman campaign last season had minor knee surgery, but last week coach Scott Satterfield told WataugaDemocrat.com Cox might be available to play versus Michigan:
“We hope so,” Satterfield said. “We feel good about it. He’s made huge progress from day to day. Today, he was probably double where he was yesterday. He was going through some bag drills and cone drills. Hopefully, we’ll have him out here practicing and I feel certain that if he can show improvement over the next four days, it will be no problem.”
Cox has been nominated for the Doak Walker Award, which recognizes the top running back in the nation.
Quarterback Kam Bryant
Bryant set school records for passing accuracy (71.2 percent) and passing yards (2,713) for a sophomore last season. He’s well-suited to run Appalachian State’s spread offense—if his offensive line can protect him from the Michigan defensive linemen.
Nose Tackle Tyson Fernandez
A 330-pound nose tackle is the last thing that Michigan center Jack Millers wants to see bearing down on him. Look for Fernandez to engage Miller and clog up the middle of the Wolverines offense.
What They’re Saying
Defensive end Brennen Beyer said, "We respect all opponents going into a game. We respect them all. It's about the game we bring."
Head coach Brady Hoke said, via press conference: "This isn't the first time that Michigan and Appalachian State have played. We’ve given full attention to where we need to be what we need to do as a football team."
He continued, "Our guys know about the game; it’s the only school on our schedule this year we have a losing record to. I obviously wasn’t there, and neither were the 115 guys on this football team. And it won’t be the same Appalachian State team either."
Devin Gardner said, via press conference: "We’re focused on playing the game we’re going to play Saturday. You only can control what happens now; you really can’t control what happened in the past."
Head coach Scott Satterfield said, via Sun Belt conference call:
We’re excited to be headed back to Ann Arbor...Since 2007 a lot of our fans and alumni obviously have special memories of that place...
Michigan is one of the most storied programs in the country…They have so many great players there; they’re recruiting nationally signing 4- and 5-star players. They’re always going to be one of the top programs in the country that you always need to prepare extremely well. That we won in 2007 shows that an underdog can win.
Michigan 41 Appalachian State 3
Michigan has fallen on hard times since the retirement of Lloyd Carr, but this isn’t the scrappy Appalachian State team that shocked the college football world in 2007. That Appalachian State team went on to win its third consecutive FCS championship after upsetting Michigan. This edition is coming off a 4-8 season under coach Scott Satterfield, who was hired after longtime coach Jerry Moore (215-87, 10 conference titles, three FCS national championships) was dismissed in 2012.
This Michigan team is tired of hearing about how Appalachian State stunned the world seven years ago and is going to dominate this game.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.