ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team could play its first competitive game of the season. Or it could log another blowout in the books.
When the No. 4 Wolverines (2-0) host Colorado (2-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the nonconference game will likely erase some of the mystery that remains around each of these programs. Both Michigan and Colorado have earned lopsided wins in their first two games. Each wield a quarterback with size and mobility. Each has faced the question: Are you a legitimate football team, or are you taking advantage of a soft nonconference schedule?
The Buffaloes and the Wolverines have a chance to answer that question in the fifth all-time meeting between the teams, and the first since 1997.
When Michigan has the ball
Michigan’s passing offense was on fire in its 51-14 win over UCF, as the Knights focused on stopping the run and held the Wolverines to 119 yards rushing — a strategy that Michigan running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley considered a compliment. Michigan has averaged 267 yards passing, including last week’s 312 yards from Wilton Speight. Still, Michigan needs to find a stronger balance between the run and the pass, so expect to see plenty of backs rotate — Michigan had 11 players with carries last week against UCF — but also anticipate that the Wolverines will continue to pass the ball, even against Colorado, which is led by cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (10 tackles, interception, two pass breakups), and enters with the nation’s No. 1 defense (160.5 yards, including 62 yards per game passing).
When Colorado has the ball
Like UCF, the Buffaloes run an up-tempo offense and boast a passing quarterback in Sefo Liufau. He should test Michigan’s defensive backs and safeties, who held UCF to 59 passing yards last week. With the status of cornerback Jourdan Lewis (back/muscle strain) still in question for Saturday, Michigan will have to continue to get contributions from safeties Delano Hill (four tackles, one interception) and Dymonte Thomas (seven tackles) and defensive backs Jeremy Clark (four tackles) and Channing Stribling (four tackles, one interception). Liufau (38-for-51 passing, 522 yards, three touchdowns) holds 78 school records, including total offensive yards (8,534) and passing yards (7,969) and will go against a defense that has allowed 207 passing yards. Colorado’s running game, however, could be its shortcoming. Liufau is the Buffs’ second-leading rusher (120 yards), behind Phillip Lindsay (125 yards).
Michigan could do no better than it did on special teams last week against. Safety Tyree Kinnel blocked a pair of punts by the Knights that helped give Michigan good field position, and defensive lineman Chris Wormley blocked a pair of field goals. The Wolverines also recovered a kickoff fumble in the second half. Colorado has given up five kickoff returns for 118 yards, and has only two for 40 yards, and kicker Diego Gonzalez is 3-for-3.
Jim Harbaugh continues to re-establish the traditional standard at Michigan, as his team is ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and has outscored its first two opponents 114 to 17. At Colorado, Mike MacIntyre is looking for success following five seasons in which the program has had no more than four wins a season.
Saturday’s game will likely prove to be a gauge of where Colorado stands before it opens league play next week at Oregon, and also for Michigan after a pair of one-sided wins against Hawaii and UCF. Win this, and Michigan will reiterate that it’s one of college football’s powers going into the Big Ten Conference schedule. Win this, and Colorado will enter Pac-12 play with a statement victory.
Rachel Lenzi’s prediction: Michigan 42, Colorado 21
Brandon Justice’s prediction: Michigan 35, Colorado 14