Michigan-Western Michigan Preview: Wolverines Upend Broncos at Big House
The month is September, the breeze is brisk, and college football is just around the corner.
The Michigan Wolverines enter the season's first game with a lot on their mind including looking for redemption after the dreadful 3-9 season last year.
The Maize and Blue will usher in the 2009 season by welcoming the Western Michigan Broncos to the Big House.
WMU is no slouch as U-M's first opponent. The team went 9-3 in the Mid-American Conference last season and made a trip to the Texas Bowl.
Although the squad lost just about its entire defense and several key receivers, the Broncos expect to contend in the MAC once again this season.
Just four days away from the first college football Saturday across the country, here is how I see the game between the Broncos and Wolverines playing out:
Michigan with the ball
The Big House will be buzzing and brimming with anticipation as Michigan rushes the field on Sept. 5. I expect the team to come out firing with months of practice and training spilling out onto the field against Western Michigan.
Expect the Wolverines to target the Broncos secondary, which is suddenly thin after graduating four starters from the last four seasons. Even though the three quarterback rotation will be in full effect, Forcier, Sheridan, and Robinson will all get the wide outs involved through short screens and slants.
This should give them confidence throughout the game.
Also look for the Maize and Blue to get the run game rolling early. With a healthy Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Michael Shaw, the team will have plenty of options and the run game could help rid the young quarterbacks of any jitters in the first couple of series.
I also think Martavious Odoms will continue growing up in front of our eyes and he could have a big afternoon. I wouldn't put two touchdowns past the sophomore.
I don't expect Michigan to have any problems running or passing the ball and they could move the ball down the field at will. Western Michigan's defense is a bit of a mystery at the moment, and Michigan should be able to find the end zone often in the first game at home.
Western Michigan with the ball
With its top two wide receivers gone, perhaps the biggest question mark on the offense is at wide receiver for the Broncos.
Beyond junior Juan Nunez, experience is minimum for the receiving unit.
Tim Hiller is back under center, while all-everything running back Brandon West lines up behind him once again. The line in front of these two is an experienced and solid group. They block well on both the run and pass and have the ability to perform well throughout the game.
Michigan has an experienced defense and the squad is looking to quiet critics after they allowed the most points ever by a defensive unit in Ann Arbor last season.
Hiller should find himself under pressure all afternoon with Brandon Graham spearheading the pass rush. With the crowd behind them, Michigan could give Hiller and the rest of the offense fits. I expect Hiller to be gunning the ball all afternoon, especially if the team gets down early.
It was just a year ago that Nebraska crushed WMU in the first game of the season and the Broncos had many more weapons to use in that game.
Michigan knows how great Hiller is just by looking at 2008's stat sheet and they won't underestimate him and the coaching job by WMU head coach Bill Cubit and his staff.
There is one player who gives the Wolverines the edge here.
The senior punter is one of the best in the country, and although he probably won't be used too often in the first game, he could provide a punch with his kicks. The ability to pin the Broncos deep in its own territory could prove to be a big advantage.
The Broncos have a strong punter of its own in sophomore Ben Armer, but he's not on the same level as Mesko.
Michigan will also send a brand new kicker out on the field for its first game, but I don't see any game-deciding kicks in this one. The new kicker will be initiated without much fanfare.
Western Michigan needs to try and make a big play happen in the return game if they want to keep this one close. It could happen, especially if cornerback Josh Price and other hard hitters get to the ball carrier.
Cubit lives for these types of games and won't back down from Michigan at all. He's also known for throwing trick plays and he's even more inclined to do so with an experienced quarterback at the helm.
Also expect Cubit to use a bunch of different defenders to try and keep his players fresh. This will probably be especially true for the secondary and the defensive line.
I wouldn't be surprised if Cubit had a few tricks up his sleeve, like an unexpected onside kick or a fake punt. Taking the crowd out of the game is important at the Big House for the opposing squad.
Rodriguez made an interesting choice by electing to go with three quarterbacks instead of one or even two. It'll be very interesting to see who plays first and if he goes with the rotation the whole game.
Defensively, the squad seems poised and ready, and I wouldn't expect anything less than Michigan sending blitzes at Hiller all day long.
Both coaches have spent months planning for this game and I expect both to be ready on Saturday.
Prediction: Michigan gets an early lead behind its running game and is too much for the Broncos defense. Forcier and Robinson look good and show flashes of brilliance in their debuts. WMU stays in the game as Tim Hiller and his receivers hook up for a couple of scores, but Michigan is too much for the Broncos in Ann Arbor.
Michigan 34, Western Michigan 20
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