5 key things for Michigan when it hosts UCF on Saturday
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan threw its weight, speed and skills around in a 63-3 drubbing of Hawaii last Saturday, and the Wolverines reminded people why they’re among the top 10 teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 25.
Michigan (1-0) has to continue that same level of intensity when it hosts Central Florida on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. (Noon ET. TV: ABC)
UCF (1-0) earned its first win since 2014 Saturday and ended a 13-game losing streak with a 38-0 win against FCS opponent South Carolina State. Expect the Knights to arrive in Ann Arbor with a certain emotional lift.
Here’s what Michigan will need to focus on in preparation for the Knights:
1. Continued consistency from running backs
Chris Evans gave Michigan some clarity with a 112-yard, two-touchdown game against Hawaii. The freshman set the pace for Michigan’s running backs, who totaled 306 yards among 11 players — and none of them were quarterback Wilton Speight.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday he expects De’Veon Smith to be in the lineup this weekend. Will Evans be able to continue his pace against UCF? And will the Wolverines give Evans the start in their second game, or split reps among its running backs, beginning with Smith?
2. Production from the defensive line
Michigan needs to contain UCF’s maturing run game. Michigan’s top four tacklers against Hawaii were all linebackers, and defensive end Chase Winovich, a backup who saw reps primarily in the second half, led Michigan’s defensive linemen with four tackles.
Quarterback Justin Holman led UCF with 63 yards on 12 carries, and the Knights finished with 228 yards rushing. UCF continues to learn the nuances of an up-tempo offense, which is still being installed by first-year coach Scott Frost and his staff, but the Knights continued to adjust to that pace in Saturday’s win.
3. Pressure the quarterback
Michigan’s secondary intercepted Hawaii quarterbacks twice and its defensive line sacked Ikaika Woolsey and Dru Brown four times — and did it all without All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, and without Bryan Mone (unspecified injury) and Taco Charlton (left ankle).
Holman went 14-for-28 passing for 193 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina State, but will face a secondary that was outstanding against Hawaii and will get an extra boost Saturday with Lewis’ return.
4. Get more contributions from the freshmen
Eighteen freshmen got reps in last week’s win against Hawaii, something that was done by design by Michigan’s coaching staff. Long-term player development will become a hallmark of Jim Harbaugh’s program.
This is the time when Michigan needs those players to get in-game experience, especially highly touted players such as Evans, defensive end Rashan Gary, defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, lineman Michael Onwenu and wide receiver Eddie McDoom.
5. Maintain the intensity
The nonconference slate doesn’t do much for Michigan’s strength of schedule — one of the elements the College Football Playoff’s selection committee will take into consideration when weighing candidates — so Michigan has to be dominant, and double-digit blowouts will be important.
Michigan scored its first touchdown against Hawaii halfway through the first quarter, at the end of an 11-play, 98-yard drive, but once it found its rhythm, scored 56 points before Hawaii kicked a field goal less than three minutes into the fourth quarter. More of the same this week would be a good thing.
Rachel Lenzi covers Michigan sports for Landof10.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @RLenziAJC