Drew Hallett from Michigan blog Maize n Brew joins us this week for a Q&A about this week's contest between the Knights and the Wolverines. You can follow Drew on Twitter @DrewCHallet.
Our answers to Drew's questions about UCF are over here at Maize n Brew.
1. This Michigan team absolutely steamrolled Hawaii last week. Who are the most dangerous playmakers the Knights should be wary of?
It's difficult to narrow down whom Michigan's most dangerous playmakers are. The Wolverines are in a fortunate position where they possess a pack of experienced, NFL-ready talent -- CBS Sports listed Michigan at #4 in its top-25 NFL Draft rankings -- and just landed a heralded class of true freshmen with endless potential that already are contributing on the field. However, if I must, I will list three playmakers each on Michigan's offense and Michigan's defense.
Offensively, Michigan arguably has the nation's best receiving tight end and definitely has the tight end with the most (in)appropriate name in Jake Butt. He caught 51 passes for 654 yards and three touchdowns in 2015 and is on his way to rewriting the tight end section of Michigan's record book. At 6-foot-6, Butt has the prototypical frame of a tight end, but what makes him special is his ability to run crisp routes that shake defenders and high point the football in what Michigan fans like to call the "Butt Zone." He was an All-American last season and should contend for the Mackey Award this season before becoming a top-50 draft pick.
While Butt is Michigan's weapon in the middle of the field, wide receiver Jehu Chesson has become Michigan's weapon on the outside. For much of his career, Chesson was a raw speedster, being used more on end-arounds and jet sweeps because he had not developed his route-running or ability to adjust to the ball in the air. However, in the final six games of 2015, something finally clicked for him because, in that span, he caught 33 passes for 574 yards and nine touchdowns. Suddenly, he was Michigan's deep-threat, #1 receiver and torching future first-round cornerbacks like Florida's Vernon Hargreaves.
Now, as a senior, Chesson has a chance to put it all together for one memorable season. If he does, some scouts have claimed he could be the first receiver off the NFL Draft board.
As for Michigan's third offensive playmaker, I will go out on a limb and say true freshman Chris Evans despite that he's worn the winged helmet for one game. Evans was a former four-star athlete that wasn't pegged for a certain position. Some thought he would be an H-back or slot on offense, while others liked him better in the defensive backfield. However, Jim Harbaugh put him at running back, and Evans dazzled in his college debut against Hawaii, toting the ball eight times for 112 yards and two scores. Although Evans currently is only Michigan's #3 running back behind DeVeon Smith and Ty Isaac, Evans brings something to the table that the other two don't: decisiveness and explosiveness. He had a 43-yard touchdown sprint that saw him burst through a hole that would have closed on Smith -- Michigan's bruiser and current starter -- after 12 yards. Evans won't be the running back that UCF sees first, and he won't be the back that they will see most. But, if the Knights leave him in open space, they will regret it the most.
Defensively, the first two playmakers are obvious because they have been plastered over All-American lists for the past year. The first is cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was arguably the best cover corner in the country last season. Lewis tallied 37 tackles, 3.5 TFL, a sack, a forced fumble, two interceptions, and a whopping 20 PBUs. That his interceptions were on the low side likely cost him his shot at the Thorpe Award, but here is the stat that matters: quarterbacks targeted Lewis an absurd 90 times, yet completed only 33 of those passes (36.7%) for 416 yards (4.6 YPA). Simply, Lewis thrived in press man coverage and shut down one half of the field. Lewis missed the 2016 opener with a minor injury, but Jim Harbaugh said it was a precautionary measure. Expect Lewis to be on the field.
The other obvious defensive playmaker is do-it-all Jabrill Peppers. The former five-star utilizes his world-class athleticism at safety, corner, nickel, linebacker, slot receiver, H-back, running back, Wildcat QB, and returner. However, do not expect him to appear on the offensive side of the ball in this one. Peppers will be on defense in a SAM/nickel role where his versatility allows Michigan to adapt to various offensive schemes without changing its personnel. Though Peppers' coverage in the slot can be shaky at times, he is a violent force near the line of scrimmage and in the flats because he bursts past blockers in those areas to blow up screens and create tackles for loss. This was on display against Hawaii when he racked up eight tackles, two TFL, and a sack. Peppers is the quintessential hybrid-space player, and he likely will be a first-round selection in the spring.
The third defensive playmaker is not one that stands out on the stat sheet but on the game film: nose tackle Ryan Glasgow. The former walk-on doesn't receive the attention that his linemates do, but he is the glue that holds together what some pundits believe is the nation's best defensive line. Glasgow is impressive against both the run and the pass. He knows how to hold up against double teams, and he has become so proficient at shedding offensive linemen with an explosive first step or with his hands. It wasn't a surprise when Michigan's defensive line began to get shredded by run-heavy spread offenses in the final weeks of last season after Glasgow suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Now, Glasgow is back, and, given how he tore Hawaii's interior line to pieces, he is fully healthy again.
2. Michigan replaced an outstanding DC in D.J. Durkin with another outstanding DC in Don Brown. Is his defense much different than Durkin's, and if so - how?
There are many similarities between the defenses of D.J. Durkin and Don Brown, but Don Brown's defenses seems to be more aggressive and complicated. There was no secret to Durkin's defense last season. Michigan would run a 4-3 with a press man Cover 1 or 3 behind it, daring the opponent's offensive linemen to win their assignments against Michigan's defensive line and the opponent's receivers to beat Michigan's corners one on one. Most times, Michigan won those battles.
On the other hand, while Michigan still is running a 4-3, Brown's defense has a lot more variation to it and more blitzes. In terms of alignment, Michigan might be in a typical 4-3 on one snap. Then, on the next snap, Michigan could be in a 4-2-5 where the defensive linemen will be in wide splits that allow Michigan's two inside linebackers to sandwich its defensive tackle at the line and crash the B gaps. Jabrill Peppers is being moved around from nickel to linebacker to safety every play, which alters Michigan's scheme and tries to keep offenses guessing about what is coming next. Plus, Michigan no longer is exclusively relying on press man coverage. Brown has installed some trap and robber coverages, which will be disguised and should lead to more interceptions for the Wolverines. In fact, they had two pick-sixes against Hawaii, one of which was the result of the Warriors' quarterback not seeing Michigan's Delano Hill in a robber zone underneath. It will be interesting to see if Brown has installed too much to the point that Michigan is more prone to mental mistakes. But the defense looked very stout versus Hawaii.
3. Speight had a great debut at QB. Do you think he's as good as his three touchdown performance against Hawaii suggests?
No. There was much talk about who would replace Jake Rudock as Michigan's starting quarterback this season, but Wolverine fans were not as worried about it because Jim Harbaugh has an excellent track record with quarterbacks and has shown himself to be a guru of sorts. Nonetheless, when it was rumored that Wilton Speight had beaten out John O'Korn for the gig, it was understood that Harbaugh was making this move because Speight had more control of the offense and could move the chains without making many mistakes. Of course, Speight just happened to have his first throw of the season picked off due to a poor decision, but he bounced back by completing 10-of-13 throws for 145 yards, three touchdowns, and just the one interception. However, it was not as if Speight was throwing darts around the field. He had a couple of nice throws, but most of his passes were easy because Michigan was ahead on down and distance all game and Hawaii's secondary was just not good. Speight likely fits the mold of a game manager, and it still remains to be seen if he can pick apart great defenses.
4. Michigan is deservedly a heavy favorite. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of this team as you do, what scenario exists in which you can see a UCF upset?
The only scenarios that exist in which UCF can upset Michigan is if the Wolverines get an extreme case of turnover-itis or their defensive line goes down in a flurry of injuries. Offensively, Michigan likely will replicate the gameplan it had against Hawaii and keep the ball on the ground (39 runs to 20 passes). UCF's defensive front struggled to stop the run last season (95th in YPC and 105th in S&P+), so it's difficult to predict that the Knights will win that battle in the trench given they have a dearth of defensive ends. Michigan will use an array of tight ends and H-backs to blow them off the line, so, unless Michigan's running backs start fumbling or Wilton Speight gets the yips, Michigan should move the ball.
Defensively, Michigan was vulnerable to uptempo spread-to-run offenses at the end of 2015 after it had lost three defensive linemen to season-ending injuries. The Wolverines no longer had the depth it desired to keep a full rotation of talented linemen, and, as they pace quickened, they became exhausted as they were trapped on the field, unable to sub. The good news for UCF is that Scott Frost has brought an uptempo spread offense with him from Oregon to Orlando. The bad news for UCF, though, is that the Knights likely do not yet have the proper personnel to execute it well -- 3.58 YPC vs. South Carolina State in the opener is alarming -- and Michigan's depth at defensive line remains somewhat intact for the moment. Nose tackle Bryan Mone and defensive end Taco Charlton are expected to miss Saturday's game, but Michigan also will be getting back defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, Jr. If the defensive line stays healthy, it is hard to imagine that UCF will be able to run effectively through the Wolverines' front.
And I don't think Justin Holman will have much fun against Michigan's secondary either way.
5. Off the field - What do you recommend for Knights fans visiting Ann Arbor? Any restaurants, bars, non-game activities that are not to be missed?
I reside in Los Angeles and actually haven't been back to Ann Arbor since 2012, which is crazy to me as I type it out. So I'm not entirely sure what has changed in the past four years. Nonetheless, when people ask me for Ann Arbor restaurant and bar recommendations, I always direct them to this guide constructed by MGoBlog's Brian Cook. It wonderfully breaks down your options based on the type of meal you want or the bar you want to frequent.However, I do think Brian is too harsh on the restaurants on Main Street, such as Chop House. They are pricey, but I do not find them as overrated as he does. And Brian omits my favorite "spot" in Ann Arbor: Mr. Spots. It is located on State and Hill and known for its Philly cheesesteaks. But their hot wings are the best I have ever had.
Oh, and if you want to try the ever-popular Zingerman's Delicatessen, call in your order ahead of time and pick it up. Otherwise, have fun standing in a line around the corner for 30 minutes to an hour. Or just go to Maize & Blue Deli. It's better.
To those of you making the trip to Ann Arbor, have a wonderful time!
Big thanks to Drew for answering our questions. Thoughts on his analysis? The comments are yours.