Michigan-Western Michigan: Battle of I-94 Preview

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Michigan-Western Michigan: Battle of I-94 Preview
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Matt and Zac Snyder of Bleacher Report and mittensportsreport.com break down this week's University of Michigan football matchup.

When Michigan has the ball...

Michigan's passing attack vs. Western's defensive backs

Zac says: This match-up is the battle of inexperience. Michigan will play two true freshmen at quarterback, while Western Michigan looks to replace Louis Delmas and E.J. Biggers in their defensive backfield.

Michigan returns some experience at receiver with Greg Matthews outside and Martavious Odoms in the slot. If Michigan signal callers can find the open man, it could spell trouble for Western. Advantage: Michigan

Matt says: Quarterback play is where you'll likely find the biggest difference between this year's and last year's Michigan squad. While Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan weren't ideal for Rich Rodriguez' spread offense (I'm not counting on much from Sheridan this season), Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are perfect fits.

The threat of speed from the Wolverine quarterbacks should keep the Western Michigan defense honest. I expect some open space for the relatively experienced Michigan receivers in a Bronco secondary that lost two key members to the NFL draft. Advantage: Michigan

Michigan's running game vs. Western's front seven


Zac says: Michigan's best chance to show just how much they have improved since last year comes in running the ball. Quarterback Denard Robinson brings the kind of ground threat that Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan could not provide last year.

Running back Brandon Minor is questionable for game one but Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, and Kevin Grady are ready to showcase their talents. The Michigan offensive line improved in each game last season and figures to take a major step forward in year two. Advantage: Michigan

Matt says: The running game should prove to be one of the great strengths of the Maize and Blue this season. Even if Minor is unable to play, Carlos Brown et al. should prove to be more than capable to handle the load against Western Michigan. The Broncos defense only returns three starters so look for the Wolverine backs (and quarterbacks) to expose the inexperience. Advantage: Michigan

When Western Michigan has the ball...

Western's passing attack vs. Michigan's defensive backs

Zac says: Western's best chance for success is to attack through the air. Tim Hiller is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. The Hiller lead passing attack finished 2008 as the Mid-American Conference's best after averaging nearly 300 yards per game.

Michigan will need solid play from inexperienced safeties Troy Woolfolk, Michael Williams, Vlad Emilien, and Jared Van Slyke if they expect to slow down the potent Western offense. Advantage: Western Michigan

Matt says: Bronco QB Tim Hiller will be playing in the NFL somewhere next year and he'll be ready to showcase his talent against Big Blue. Cornerbacks Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko failed to impress last year, but they'll need to step up big in an otherwise inexperienced secondary if they hope to stop Hiller and company. Advantage: Western Michigan


Western's running game vs. Michigan's front seven

Zac says: Michigan lacks supreme depth up front, but Western Michigan's rushing attack ranked near the bottom of the MAC last season. If the front four can keep from getting pushed around, the Michigan linebackers will have the freedom to make some plays. Obi Ezeh is the clear leader of the group and figures to end the day with a double-digit tackle total. Advantage: Even

Matt says: Western Michigan's senior starting running back Brandon West is a good one, he ran for over 1,000 yards last season, but the Broncos still managed to rank 90 out of 120 in the NCAA (FBS) in rushing yards.

The Michigan defensive line has some question marks (outside of Brandon Graham) and if the linebackers are forced into helping out in pass defense too often, West could find some room to run. Advantage: Western Michigan


Bottom line


Zac says: Western Michigan may be a tougher season-opening opponent than Michigan bargained for. That being said, the events of this week's NCAA violation allegations seemed to bring the Wolverines closer together. I expect a very good performance out of the Maize and Blue as they bring an "us against the world" mentality into 2009. Final Score: Michigan 31, Western Michigan 20

Matt says: Western Michigan over Michigan has become the sexy upset pick for many experts in week one. For others, a Western win may not be considered much of an upset at all. Don't count me in that group, however. Michigan will be a much different team than we saw last season, especially on offense.

The key to the game will be how well the Michigan defensive line performs. If they can be mildly successful at stopping the run and if they can get pressure on Tim Hiller, it could be a good day for the Michigan defense as well. Final Score: Michigan 34, Western Michigan 17

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