Ahh yes, September 2nd is finally here folks. You know what that means, right? Football is back in the Big House!
The Western Michigan Broncos roll into Ann Arbor seeking to take the Michigan Wolverines in front of the colossal Big House crowd. The Wolverines look to resurrect their recent downfall by kicking off the season against in-state MAC foe Western Michigan.
New coach Brady Hoke and a new Michigan offense will be displaying their new system at the same time Bronco quarterback Alex Carder looks to kick the season off on a high note and strike fear in other MAC opponents. Rather than kicking the season off against a FCS school, Michigan is starting their competitive schedule right away.
For both teams to succeed this Saturday they will need to follow these three keys, and if all goes well college football fans around the world will see one heck of a game in Ann Arbor.
Give Alex Carder time in the pocket
Last season quarterback Alex Carder and the Broncos put up a decent 6-6 record, but that could have been improved if they kept their sack number to a reasonable number. 30 times Carder went down with the ball, a number that needs to improve in order for Western Michigan to have a shot at taking one from Michigan.
If Carder can buy some time in the pocket he can dominate the defense that made headlines for all the wrong reasons last year. The Wolverines return two starters from the secondary and have a new defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, but will learning the new system leave U of M's defense in the dust to start off the season? Even if they can get things going forward defensively Carder still has the potential to pick apart the Michigan defense after coming off of a year with 30 touchdown passes.
If Carder and his favorite receiver Jordan White can play at their top level than WMU has a more than likely chance to put some points up on the board.
Stay disciplined, very disciplined
Brady Hoke and the Wolverines installed a new offense this past summer that will spread out the field. It will be new for Michigan but slightly noticeable for the Broncos since they have seen it from teams like Central Michigan, Toledo and Akron.
What they won't be used to is a quarterback threat like Denard Robinson, a player that can turn on the Jets and bolt if he sees a defensive mistake. Western will need to stay disciplined the whole entire game because one slip-up can lead to a monster play, especially with all the open space Robinson will have in the spread offense.
If Western's "D" can stay on their man and stick to every individual assignment they have, it will be challenging for Robinson to produce a big-game play in his new offense.
Don't forget about the running back
Denard is fast. Denard is dangerous. Denard also isn't the only one who rushes the ball, and not keeping that in the back of their heads could kill them.
Returning starters Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw didn't put up anything close to Heisman numbers last year, but they did keep defenses off balance. Smith and Shaw (sounds like a good law firm) combined for 14 touchdowns last season, a total that went under the radar throughout the entirety of the season.
Western, again, will need to stay disciplined and keep a close eye to see whether U of M is running a play-action or actually getting the ball out of Denard's hands, because the running game for Michigan is just as lethal in Shaw and Smith's hands.
Rattle the quarterback ASAP
The quicker the Wolverine's defense can get Alex Carder rattled the better, it's as simple as that. It's no secret that Michigan's secondary will be tested and Carder's arm will be displayed, and the only way to take a huge chunk of pressure off the defensive backs will be to hit Carder early and often.
Returning defensive ends Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergen will face two tackles that haven't proved themselves to be top material, so breaking through the line and putting Carder on his back will rattle the line, the quarterback, and will have the Broncos coaching staff frantically searching for answers on the sidelines.
Western's best chance at producing some offense will be from their junior quarterback, and if some of the load is taken off of the secondary it should be a fun game filled with turnovers and rushed decisions.
Find a kicking game
If you're a Michigan fan, you are shaking your head as you think about the last couple of years right now. You can use a lot of adjectives to describe Michigan's kicking game for the last few seasons, but none of them are good.
Freshman Matt Wile steps on campus as a two-star recruit according to Rivals.com, but the only way to go is up after a 4-14 season for Michigan field-goal attempts. Installing a steady kicking game will obviously put more points up on the board as well as give the coaching staff an easier decision on fourth and six inside the 30-yard line.
If Wile, or anyone for that matter, can step up and give Michigan something they have been missing dearly, they will not only help the maize and blue blow past Western, but it will be something they will cherish for the whole season.
Don't even think about next Saturday
On September 10th Ann Arbor will be playing under the lights for the first time in school history as they face the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. It has been a huge buzz this whole summer and has turned into the hottest ticket in town, going for as much as 850 smackaroos per ticket. Everyone that has ever donned the maize and blue is already looking forward to the game, and they should.
Everyone except the players at least.
A lapse of focus could end up being a potential dagger if the players look past Western, because the Broncos are not a team you can just blow past. Hardly any team is these days. The Wolverines need to focus for the whole 60 minutes on Saturday and the hours leading up to it. This shouldn't be a huge problem since there is so much hype being poured into kicking off the season with a fresh start, but you can never be too sure.
Western Michigan 14 Michigan 38
This game will start off being a lot tighter than most Michigan fans would hope. After the first quarter it will be a one possession game due to stellar play from Carder, but in the middle of the second quarter Michigan's front four will start giving Carder hell. A series of plays put on his back will force Carder to start forcing throws leading to a defensive touchdown. This will send the 110,000 plus absolutely insane and give U of M momentum for the remaining of the half.
After both teams break out of the locker room Michigan will start off with a promising drive, but it will end in a red-zone turnover, giving Western life. Western will then pull the game within one possession again, but U of M will piece together a brilliant drive after a deep kickoff return. The fourth quarter will be all Wolverines when they put the game out of reach, sending fans home excited for next weeks matchup against Notre Dame.