BYU vs. Michigan: Complete Game Preview
The Michigan Wolverines will touch the banner once again on Saturday, Sept. 26 when the team takes on the No. 22 BYU Cougars at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
Michigan (2-1) started fast against an outmatched UNLV squad and ultimately posted a less-than-dominant but respectable 28-7 win.
Having beaten Nebraska and Boise State, BYU (2-1) has earned a pair of quality victories. The Cougars came up just short last week, falling 24-23 to then-No. 10 UCLA.
The series' only prior matchup came in the 1984 Holiday Bowl, in which BYU pulled out a 24-17 victory and sealed the program's lone national championship.
As of this writing, per Odds Shark, Michigan is listed as a 4.5-point favorite. Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET and will be broadcast on ABC.
BYU Keys to Victory
Be the First
Utah registered 127 rushing yards, but it only managed 3.4 yards per carry. Oregon State trudged to 1.8 per attempt. Michigan limited UNLV to an average of 2.6.
Senior running back Adam Hine certainly has a tall task in front of him since the Wolverines boast the 14th-ranked run defense.
In the two games since Taysom Hill sustained a season-ending injury, Hine has totaled 42 carries, 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Keeping that up against a strong Michigan front will be a massive challenge.
Capitalize on Turnovers
Although the Wolverines have committed six turnovers, only Utah turned a takeaway into points—and that was a game-sealing pick-six.
Oregon State had an opportunity to take a stunning two-touchdown lead just three minutes into its matchup, and UNLV could've stopped Michigan from pulling away. However, both offenses stalled, and Michigan scored on its next possession.
BYU will likely receive a similar chance at some point. But if the Cougars don't capitalize, they'll probably have a fate similar to Oregon State and UNLV, too.
Michigan Keys to Victory
Efficient Offensive Attack
They've tried and tried and tried, but the Wolverines haven't connected on a downfield pass. According to MLive's Nick Baumgardner, senior receiver Jehu Chesson admitted the timing isn't where it needs to be.
"It's fair to say timing is off," Chesson said. "In practice, it is there. We complete it in practice ... it's just a level of consistency that needs to happen and develop throughout the week. You need to be a State Street receiver before you can be a Big House receiver."
Perhaps that explosive play will come Saturday, perhaps it will not.
Michigan has showed it can win without a big-gainer, so should the offense remain efficient on short and intermediate routes—as well as in the running game—that strategy has worked before.
Stick with the Receivers
You might've heard about BYU's miraculous game-winning touchdowns and Tanner Mangum's impressive stat lines.
What isn't being discussed as much, however, is breakdowns in coverage. The freshman quarterback racked up 309 yards against Boise State, but he completed 84- and 70-yard passes while scrambling and chucking a pass to a receiver who the defense stopped, well, defending.
Jarrod Wilson, Delano Hill and the rest of the secondary cannot afford to lose track of their assignment, because Mangum can extend plays and make Michigan pay a costly price.
BYU Players to Watch
Tanner Mangum, Quarterback
Down the stretch of the loss to UCLA, offensive coordinator Robert Anae was conservative in the red zone. The Cougars had a chance to extend their advantage to 10 points, but they settled for a field goal, went up six points and eventually lost by one.
Per Jay Drew of The Salt Lake Tribune, Anae defended his choices and said, "Keep in mind that we are breaking in a freshman quarterback."
After two games of heroics, it's easy to forget Mangum has limited college experience. Anae's play-calling should be conservative once again in a raucous environment against a stout defense, and it's up to Mangum to execute.
Kai Nacua, Cornerback
If the name sounds familiar, it's likely not for a good reason. Kai Nacua was one of four BYU players suspended for the season opener after their respective roles in the Miami Beach Bowl brawl.
But Nacua accepted his punishment, and he's dominated since returning.
Highlighted by a three-interception performance against Boise State, the junior defensive back has already snatched four picks and broken up three passes.
Nacua won't be thrown at often, but ballhawks don't need many opportunities. If Rudock slips up, Nacua might not.
Michigan Players to Watch
Jake Rudock, Quarterback
What's the deal with Rudock?
Last season at Iowa, he threw five interceptions in 345 attempts. It only took Rudock 78 passes to match that mark in 2015—though, yes, one was not his fault.
Nevertheless, a mistake cost Rudock a chance to engineer a game-tying drive at Utah, and BYU is undoubtedly closer to that caliber of opponent than Oregon State and UNLV.
Bleacher Report's Greg Wallace says a continuation of Rudock's passing problems will inhibit the Wolverines from potentially making noise in conference play. It's impossible to disagree.
Chris Wormley, Defensive End
Entering the season, most fans knew Michigan had the talent to assemble a stellar front seven. But only a few would've been bold enough to project Chris Wormley's hot start.
The senior defensive end has already registered 12 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Most impressively, though, he's logged a staggering seven tackles for loss, which ranks fourth in the country.
Another consistently disruptive performance on national television should give Wormley a little more of the attention he deserves.
What They're Saying
"Honestly, just because we are not undefeated, that doesn't mean it is a bad season," Juergens said. "I mean, it is one loss. We have the entire season ahead of us. We hope that BYU nation continues to have our back, and supports us, because we are really going to do some special things."
Per Baumgardner, Harbaugh isn't as concerned about Rudock's struggles because the team is still winning games.
His job is to win football games. It wasn't an ideal day to throw, there was a swirling wind quite a bit the whole day. I thought he did a good job. Managed the game well. ... For the most part, the offense was moving darn near every time we got the ball. There's things to get better at and improve from and coach. It'll be another week of doing that.
It won't be pretty.
Rudock and Mangum both toss a couple interceptions before the Wolverines take a 14-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Cougars cut Michigan's lead to five points on an early second-half field goal, and the teams eventually trade touchdowns to set up a tight finish. However, the Wolverines defense dominates the fourth quarter and seals a hard-fought victory.
BYU drops to 2-2 on the year, while Michigan improves to 3-1 heading into Big Ten action.
Prediction: Michigan 21, BYU 16