Michigan goes for a 3-0 start to the season Saturday against Air Force with a noon ET kickoff at Michigan Stadium. The Falcons are 1-0, having easily dispatched VMI 62-0 before having a bye last week. Seventh-ranked Michigan has beaten Florida 33-17 at a neutral site and Cincinnati 36-14 in its home opener. Here are three keys to the game and predictions from Land of 10 Michigan writers Rachel Lenzi and Kevin Goheen.
Stay aggressive and disciplined on defense
The Wolverines are running all over the place defensively, causing havoc and confusion with defensive coordinator Don Brown’s blitzing scheme. They’ve got 10 sacks among 18 tackles for loss and already have forced 5 turnovers in two games, including 3 touchdowns for the defense. That’s the best total in the nation. Michigan’s defense has outscored the opposing offenses 21-17 so far.
Now comes Air Force and its flex-bone offense, a variation of the triple-option. Quarterback Arion Worthman triggers the offense that is built on precision, timing and capitalizing on opponents not handling misdirection plays. All three levels of the defense have to stick to their assignments. No freelancing. As unpredictable as Brown’s defense can be, it is based on disciplined principles. The Wolverines must adhere to them, not just against the run but in the passing game. Cincinnati was able to get behind coverage a couple of times last week, although it failed to connect.
Find consistent offensive rhythm
This has to start with Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight being more accurate with his passes. Too often he’s been high on throws, even shorter ones. Those incompletions have bogged down drives, forcing punts or turnovers. Speight does so many good things at quarterback, from setting protections to getting players lined up correctly to calling an audible to a better play. That makes the high throws all the more frustrating. He’s been working on his footwork to correct this problem.
The Wolverines had a size advantage over Cincinnati along the offensive line and tight ends last week. That should also be the case against Air Force. Expect more two-tight end formations with a focus on the running game, but the passing game needs more consistency. Speight keeping his throws on target will help.
The team has done a great job of this in the first two games. Two interceptions returned for touchdowns by Florida that put the Wolverines in a 17-10 deficit were brushed aside. Cincinnati threatened to tie the score or take the lead in the third quarter last week. Players on both sides of the ball and special teams handled those situations well. Air Force is sure to provide moments of adversity and challenge.
RACHEL LENZI — Michigan 32, Air Force 10
KEVIN GOHEEN — Michigan 31, Air Force 13