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Michigan Football’s Six Biggest Questions: FSU Edition

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Michigan v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

6. How good, and how deep, is Michigan’s secondary?

Florida State will challenge Michigan’s secondary as much as possible, both to get Francois in a rhythm, to keep him from Michigan’s blitz-heavy pressure, and to take advantage of a pair of athletic tight ends and dangerous speedsters out on the perimeter. If Florida State has a tactical advantage, it’s there. Quite simply, they have more weapons than most teams. That includes leaking Dalvin Cook out into the flat, and he’s definitely dangerous there.

But I’m also not ready to count out Brandon Watson, Lavert Hill, and Tyree Kinnel, either. All three reserves have been building up experience, and they have good technique and capable speed. Jabrill Peppers can be used as a spy for both Francois and Cook, and Michigan’s starting combo of Lewis and Stribling should be able to shut down their best players.

But it will be a battle.

5. How much pressure can Michigan apply to Francois?

Francois is a competitor and a guy who’s capable of taking punishing blows all game - and all season - long. But when it comes to his decision-making, a sped-up clock can result in very bad throws and poor footwork from the redshirt freshman.

It will also be important to confuse him with disguised coverages and zone looks behind that pressure. Don Brown is a master at this, so I’d expect to see a rattled and under-performing Francois against the Wolverines on Friday night.

4. Can Michigan’s O-line carve out room for De’Veon & Co.?

Florida State has big, athletic dudes up front, decent depth, and they have good speed in the linebacking corps.

My first impression was that Michigan would rely heavily on De’Veon Smith - his speed is, in my opinion, under-appreciated, and he combines that with enough toughness to take some big hits. That’s a valuable combination against a front seven like Florida State.

But, Florida State’s run defense has been vulnerable mainly to smaller guys - in particular smaller, faster quarterbacks. Michigan doesn’t have the latter, but they do have a terrific speedster in Chris Evans - so I think Evans might take a leading role against the Noles.

CARRIES YARDS
CARRIES YARDS
Quinton Flowers 6'0" 210 South Florida QB 18 159
Lamar Jackson 6'3" 205 Louisville QB 17 146
Brandon Radcliff 5'9" 210 Louisville RB 14 118
Matthew Dayes 5'9" 203 N.C. State RB 23 104
D'Ernest Johnson 5'10" 208 South Florida RB 8 82
Wayne Gallman 6'0" 210 Clemson RB 20 82
T.J. Logan 5'10" 190 North Carolina RB 10 77

Best Run Performances Against The Noles This Season: While bigger guys like Cade Carney, Jordan Scarlett, and Jon Hilliman failed to produce against the Noles’ defense, smaller, quicker guys were successful.

3. Who wins the turnover battle?

This is really leading into my top two concerns about this game, and something I’ve alluded to with Francois, as well. Both Michigan and Florida State are relying on guys who can cough up the ball when they’re not playing well, and they’ve both had fumbles on special teams this year.

In certain ways, these can be very different teams, but they both play a tight end and a fullback, run the ball down the field and try to win with defense. Turnovers are a big part of that formula, and both sides have their respective concerns while planning for top-notch production from their stars.

2. Can Wilton Speight find his old mojo against Charles Kelly?

The FSU secondary has been ravaged with injuries this year - first Derwin James, then Nate Andrews and now Ermon Lane are all starters who won’t suit up against Michigan - but there is still solid talent out there. Cornerback Marquez White (6’0”, 184) is an aggressive, scrappy competitor, and his counterpart Tarvarus McFadden (6’2”, 198) has length and speed. Trey Marshall is also a solid option at strong safety.

Those who have watched Speight this season are probably confident that he can come out and perform. Still, his last two games were both losses, and Speight went a combined 34/62 and 322 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions against Iowa and Ohio State. He needs to be able to connect on the deep ball and take better care of the ball.

1. Can Michigan’s defense stop the run game?

To be honest, if this entire matchup boiled down to one thing, to one person, it would be Dalvin Cook. If he plays like he did against Syracuse (225 yards, 4 touchdowns) or South Florida (329 yards, 2 touchdowns), Florida State probably wins.

Then again, Michigan’s defense (#1 Def. S&P+, 12.5 points per game) is a very, very different force to be reckoned with than Syracuse (#99, 38.6) or USF (#100, 31.0). Dalvin has a tendency to produce negative rushing plays, and he’s also coughed up the ball five times this season. Michigan can exacerbate those tendencies with blitzes and gang-tackling to get the ball back to Michigan’s offense quickly.

But if Cook gets out in space, watch out. He can pile up yards quickly.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

I should also mention a couple other names who are a valuable part of Florida State’s run game: fullback Freddie Stevenson and back-up running back Jacques Patrick.

Stevenson is a great fullback, something I think Michigan fans can appreciate. Not only is he able to block multiple guys and clear out running lanes, he can pass-protect and run the ball as well. Here was a De’Veon Smith moment he had against Florida:

Then, Jacques Patrick is a big, fast tailback who looks and plays a lot like Michigan’s own Ty Isaac. Patrick has also coughed up the ball with regularity (once every 20 carries this season), and he’s mainly used to spell Dalvin Cook. But he’s productive when he does so, and he’s a threat that Michigan has to account for.

*****

Like many of you, I’m expecting a Michigan victory on Friday. FSU has a lot of weapons, a lot of speed, and they’re definitely not a team that can be counted out. But I don’t think Michigan has done that, and if the Wolverines come prepared, there are plenty of things that they can exploit. Michigan 36, Florida State 23.