ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football is a heavy home favorite this weekend against SMU, and Jim Harbaugh is hoping for a second straight dominant performance.
The Wolverines cruised to a 49-3 win over Western Michigan last weekend and looked dominant in every phase of the game. This week, they’re favored by more than five touchdowns against the 0-2 Mustangs.
SMU has struggled greatly on defense this season, allowing an average of 44 points. The offense hasn’t been stout, either, managing just 17.5 points per game.
Michigan players on both sides of the ball will have an opportunity to put up big numbers against the Mustangs. Here’s a look at the 10 most likely players to put up video game-type statistics.
10. LB Devin Bush
Michigan’s leader in tackles has a chance to add to his season total against SMU. The Mustangs have been awful in the running game, averaging just 67.5 rushing yards per game, good for 127th in the nation.
If there’s no threat of SMU running the ball, Bush can be even more aggressive than usual and wreak havoc in the backfield. He’s only got one tackle for loss this season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pick up a few more this weekend.
If Michigan builds a huge lead and the defensive starters don’t play all four quarters, it will hurt Bush’s chances to rack up the stats.
9. WR Nico Collins
Fans might expect Collins to be higher on this list, but Michigan’s style of play will make it difficult for Collins to do much in the second half.
But if the game stays close, Collins has a chance to slice up the Mustangs’ defense, which ranks 113th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game.
Collins leads Michigan with 110 receiving yards on just four catches. He’s proven himself to be a deep threat, as he’s gotten behind the secondaries of Notre Dame and Western Michigan for huge gains.
The SMU defense is even worse at defending the pass, so Collins should be good for a couple of big gains. If he catches four or five passes, he could finish with more than 100 yards. That would put him within 100 yards of Michigan’s receiving leader last season — and it’s only the third game.
8. RB Chris Evans
Why would the backup running back be so likely to put up video game numbers? If Michigan builds a big lead, Evans will get plenty of carries, and even if they game is close, Harbaugh will find a way to get him the ball.
Evans is a threat to put up huge numbers in any game because he can make defenders miss and has breakaway speed. If Evans gets out in the open against SMU, there’s a chance he could break at least one huge touchdown run.
Evans is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 12.3 yards per catch this season, so if he gets more involved against SMU, he could challenge 200 yards.
7. CB Ambry Thomas
Thomas is in a unique situation because he can put up numbers in all three phases of the game.
The true sophomore has already returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and he caught a pass against SMU. If he returns a kick, catches a touchdown pass and makes a big defensive play, that would be a remarkable Saturday afternoon.
Thomas probably won’t get many chances to return a kickoff, though, because Michigan’s defense won’t allow many scores. That, combined with the fact that Harbaugh might not need to use Thomas much on offense, could keep Thomas from stuffing the stat sheet.
6. TE Zach Gentry
One of the players who still hasn’t broken out on offense is Gentry, but he’s still expected to have a productive season.
Gentry is a 6-foot-8 target who can make a contested catch in short-yardage situations. If Michigan’s offense has several red zone opportunities, Gentry is one of the guys who could finish with multiple touchdown catches.
Gentry dropped a couple of passes against Notre Dame and wasn’t much of a factor against Western Michigan, so Harbaugh will want to get him involved before the tough Big Ten schedule kicks off.
5. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
Like Thomas, Peoples-Jones has a chance to impact the game in multiple phases. Peoples-Jones leads the team in catches and is also a dangerous punt returner.
So far, Peoples-Jones hasn’t had a real opportunity to return a punt. In fact, he’s tried to do too much at times and given Michigan poor field position.
But if Michigan’s kick coverage can give Peoples-Jones some space against SMU, there’s a chance he could break a huge return and maybe even score.
Peoples-Jones has been quarterback Shea Patterson’s favorite target this year, as he’s caught 10 passes for 69 yards. Even though he isn’t the downfield threat of Collins, Peoples-Jones is more likely to catch multiple passes, which means he will have more opportunities to turn a short catch into a big gain or a touchdown.
4. VIPER Khaleke Hudson
Michigan’s defense has several tackles for loss this season, but surprisingly, Hudson hasn’t gotten in on the action.
Hudson led the team with 18.5 tackles for loss from the VIPER position last season, including eight sacks. He also recorded 83 total tackles and 11 passes defended. When it comes to defensive stat-stuffing, nobody does it better than Hudson.
This is the type of game in which Hudson could physically dominate, especially if Don Brown turns up the pressure.
Hudson exploded against Minnesota last season, recording three sacks, eight tackles for loss and 15 total tackles. He’s unlikely to ever replicate those numbers in a game, but the SMU game would be his best chance.
3. RB Karan Higdon
There’s almost no need to justify this selection, because Higdon seemingly always puts up video game numbers in these types of games.
Last week, Michigan’s starting running back needed just 13 carries to record 156 yards and a touchdown. He has the valuable ability to break a tackle at the line and get to the outside for a long touchdown run.
Higdon ran for 200 yards against Indiana and Minnesota and 158 yards against Rutgers last season. SMU’s mediocre run defense is a prime opportunity for Higdon to put up another game of 150 yards and multiple scores.
2. DE Chase Winovich
Winovich decided to return to Michigan for his senior year after recording 18 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2017. So far, it’s looking like the right decision.
Winovich made 3.5 tackles for loss against Notre Dame and picked up his first sack. He only made one play in the backfield against Western Michigan, and the SMU game is a chance to bounce back.
The Mustangs have already allowed eight sacks in eight games, good for 121st in the country. As Michigan’s sack leader, Winovich is the best bet to pick up multiple sacks.
Winovich has two games with four tackles for loss in 2017 and had three sacks against Purdue. SMU could be his next victim.
1. QB Shea Patterson
Patterson was unfairly criticized after Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame, as he completed 20 of 30 passes for 227 yards. Poor offensive line play was largely to blame for his interception.
Last week, Patterson got back on track despite a very run-heavy offensive attack. He completed more than 70 percent of his passing attempts for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
SMU’s 113th-ranked passing defense allows more than 300 passing yards per game, and although Michigan might not throw the ball enough to reach that total, Harbaugh should use this game as a final tune-up before Big Ten play.
Michigan was crippled by its awful passing offense last season, and this is another opportunity to make strides in the right direction. Patterson should get more than the 17 passing attempts he registered against Western Michigan.
If so, he could finish with more than three touchdown passes, which would be a huge number for a Harbaugh-led Michigan offense.
Copyright 2018 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit – All rights reserved.