ANN ARBOR, Mich. — This could be “the week” for a few Michigan players. Okay, more than a few. Try a handful of them … or two.
On Saturday, the No. 7-ranked Wolverines (2-0) host Air Force, a triple-option threat that puts up gaudy statistics.
It would be a safe bet to assume that Rashan Gary, Tyree Kinnel and Khaleke Hudson have designs on shutting down the high-flying Falcons. Offensively, quarterback Wilton Speight and running back Ty Isaac could also have a say in the outcome. One is due for a statement game, while the other is due for another statement — he has already made two through the first two games.
That’s Isaac, Michigan’s fifth-year senior running back, who has posted back-to-back career-highs in rushing yards: In Week 1, he tied his high with 114 yards against Florida. In Week 2, he ran wild for 133 yards against the Bearcats.
Let’s start with Isaac, then go down the list.
Isaac Knows the Score
During camp, Isaac laid out the plans for his season. It was “time to go,” he said. Either you were with it or you weren’t, he continued. Air Force gave up 55 rushing yards in its 62-0 win over VMI. That’s the equivalent of one or two chunk-yardage gains by Isaac, who has effortlessly split defenses during the first two games.
At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, the former 5-star recruit has morphed into a mainstay for the Wolverines, who have polished their running game for the past two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh.
Another career-high this week?
Averaging eight yards per touch, Isaac is certainly one to watch Saturday. His stock is already on the rise, but it could go Dow Jones, circa December 20, 2016, against Air Force. The Dow closed with a record-high on that day. Don’t Google it. Just run with the reference.
Michigan fans have been active on Twitter, voicing their displeasure with a quarterback who is six points away from being 14-0 as a starter. Yes, he’s been uneven — that can’t be debated. But no, there isn’t a better option for Harbaugh. No, there won’t be anyone else under center in 2017, barring injury or a massive collapse.
Speight, a second-year starer, has completed 52 percent of his passes this season — yes, even with that horrid Florida game in which he threw back-to-back pick-sixes — and remained constant with roughly 7.5 yards per attempt. He moves the sticks. This past week, Harbaugh mentioned how the Wolverines could move the ball at a higher rate, an obvious reference to Speight.
Saturday could be all Speight. He needs a stat sheet stuffer — it would quiet some doubters and be a huge boost for a team that goes on the road to play Purdue the following week.
Then comes a bye week. Then comes Michigan State, which is 0-1 versus Speight.
In terms of rising stocks or increased momentum, this one’s big for the Wolverines’ quarterback.
Time for Kinnel
How does one follow a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honor? By one-upping himself the next game.
Tyree Kinnel had nine tackles and a pick-six in Michigan’s 36-14 win over Cincinnati, yet he has yet to even approach his ceiling. Not bad, huh? A guy who just received a tip of the cap from the Big Ten is not even close to full speed. As the vocal leader of the secondary, the junior strong safety has quickly become a linchpin of coordinator Don Brown’s defense.
Expecting double-digit tackle totals, especially against a slippery triple-option, wouldn’t be a stretch when projecting possibilities for Kinnel against Air Force.
Sound the Alarm?!
Rashan Gary has one-half of a sack this year, posted during the Wolverines’ 33-17 win over Florida at AT&T Stadium. Thus far, he has been far from a stat star. That’s not up for debate. However, there should be a “presence” stat, because the 6-foot-5, 287-pound sophomore defensive end has had a massive influence on opposing running games and passing attacks.
Bubble screens have prevented Gary from getting to the quarterback before the ball has been thrown because he’s been back there plenty of times. However, given the nature of a triple-option offense, it is safe to assume that Gary will rack up a couple tackles for a loss and possibly meet Falcon quarterback Arion Worthman more than once.
Read-option, delayed action — Air Force will throw everything at Michigan’s defense, but it’ll also flirt with disaster. The triple-option is high-risk, yet also high-reward. A muffed play in the backfield could result in a sack or major loss for the Falcons, courtesy of Gary.
Because of the unknown factor, Air Force has something for it in heading into Ann Arbor. This past week, the Falcons rang up more than 600 yards of total offense on VMI, giving the Keydets’ defense plenty of headaches in the process.
That said, at 6-foot and 205 pounds, Khaleke Hudson, Michigan’s sophomore VIPER, will be the most important component of Brown’s defense. He has been all over the field, and the Wolverines will need that level of versatile athleticism against the Falcons. Think of it this way: An offense that can spread the field and keep opponents guessing faces a guy who can shrink a field and perplex opposing offenses.
Sounds like a good matchup, right?
Prediction: Michigan 28, Air Force 13
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