This week the UCF Knights come in looking for a win for the ages.
17 Freshman saw the field against Hawaii. Which one impressed you the most or has the best shot to be a permanent presence?
Anthony Broome: It's hard not to be excited about what Chris Evans brings to the table. Every year it seems like there is a player in camp that everyone says is ready to breakout, but sometimes it doesn't translate to the field. It did for Evans, regardless of it was against Hawaii or not. He definitely has a shot to stick. He brings speed and pass catching ability to the running back position and is going to be a nice change of pace for the offense. He may not put up huge numbers every week, but he is a special talent and he will continue to get opportunities.
Alex Shashlo: Chris Evans impressed me most but it's hard not to say Gary will have the best shot as a permanent presence. Love that he got extended time and was basically fighting off holds the whole day.
Zach Travis: Chris Evans. McDoom, Bredeson, and Gary get honorable mention, but Evans was the breakout star, and the level of athleticism and running instinct he showed bodes well for him to continue contributing to the offense as the competition gets tougher in the coming weeks.
Nick Catoni: Chris Evans. The easy and obvious answer.
Kevin Bunkley: I was counting on Mike McCray to take control of the linebacker spot that has been waiting for him since last season, and he grabbed it by the neck. I spotted him in the backfield constantly and all over the middle of the field making quick tackles. By the end of the game, McCray had nine tackles, a forced fumble, and two sacks. That’s very, very, encouraging going forward.
TW: I mean, the obvious answer has to be Chris Evans right? Ran for a 100+ yards and showed a burst that Michigan hasn't had since Denard Robinson. I think Cap has the potential to become a 2-3 year starter after this year. Unless Najee Harris commits. *Ducks*
DH: I have a different answer for each question you asked. The true freshman that most impressed me was Chris Evans. There were reports during training camp that Evans was performing well, but I wasn't expecting such a dazzling debut from him. He had eight carries for 112 yards (14.0 YPC) and two scores, and what stood out most were three traits that Michigan's other backs don't seem to have: decisiveness, elusiveness, and explosiveness. He demonstrated patience in following his blocks and seeing gaps. He juked a defender out of his cleats on one run before spinning off a tackler in the backfield on another. He burst through a hole for a 43-yard score that likely would have closed on DeVeon Smith after 12 yards. Evans demonstrated that he can be a different kind of weapon for the Wolverines -- a change-of-pace running back -- and that he should be getting more touches as the season progresses.
However, just because Evans was the most impressive and should get more touches doesn't mean he has the best shot to be a permanent presence. That true freshman is Rashan Gary. Evans still is the #3 running back on the depth chart and will be battling Smith and Ty Isaac, both of whom the coaches like, for carries. Plus, there is always the possibility that Hawaii was a one-hit-wonder type of game for Evans. On the other hand, Gary is a sure thing. He was the top overall recruit in the 2016 class and nearly broke into the starting lineup despite Michigan having one of the most talented and experienced defensive lines. He will be a mainstay in the (frequent) rotation all season and should get more snaps in the coming weeks after injuries to Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone. There is no chance Gary fades into the background.
Are you pleased with the choice of Speight or should O'Korn still be in the conversation?
AB: Jim Harbaugh maintains that competition at quarterback is always going, but Speight is the guy unless the wheels fall off. He will have his fair share of ups and downs, but we've seen how he deals with adversity early on in his career and he just fights through it and gets the job done. I would expect him to stay at the top of the depth chart barring an injury.
Shash: Yep, c'mon. Don't ask me to disagree with Harbaugh.
ZT: LOL at anyone who wants to second-guess Jim Harbaugh's choice of quarterback based on scout team hype from last year. If Jim's happy then I'm happy.
NC: Yes. I trust Harbaugh.
TW: I am very pleased with Speight. As I said in the preseason roundtable, he makes good decisions with the ball (minus the first throw) and has ample enough arm strength to make most throws. The deep post to Darboh was the only throw that disappointed me, because late-season Rudock makes that throw. He has plenty of time to clean things up, though.
KB: I foresee a similar path as Rudock last year: a QB steward. Speight knows the offense, and will make plays when Michigan needs them. However, the grand plan is to let O’Korn and Peters learn the system apace in the meantime so they can maximize their readiness for the future.
DH: I had no qualms with Wilton Speight being named the starter, and I would have had no qualms if it had been John O'Korn instead. There was a trust in Jim Harbaugh that, regardless of whom he chose, that individual would be more than serviceable at the position. That's what we saw from Speight in his first career start against Hawaii. Yes, he threw the poor pick, but he settled down thereafter and threw a couple of nice passes, particularly the post to Jehu Chesson just before his touchdown pass to Grant Perry. He did benefit from facing an awful Hawaii pass defense, so we still need to see how he performs when pressured by Big Ten defenses. But Speight is the starter. There is no conversation.
As far as I can tell from the Michigan record books, in the modern era (i.e. since 1950), they've never scored 70 points. Is that in play this time?
NC: Point-a-minute, baby!
Yes, Michigan won by a lot, but did you see anything that concerned you?
AB: These are nitpicky, but I thought that Michigan could have played better up front on both sides of the ball. Hawaii did not present much of a challenge, but I thought the run blocking could have been better at times, but it seemed that once Ben Bredeson came in for Patrick Kugler it improved a bit. I was surprised the defensive line did not get more of a push,but they played fine even after losing some guys to injuries. There was a sequence in the game where Hawaii picked on Channing Stribling and that was when they started to move the ball a bit. It's hard to find too many issues in a game where Michigan won by 60.
Shash: I actually saw a few second reads from Speight, unless I was hallucinating. I liked this. I'm going to hop past the obvious M comments and talk about other games for a second. If I'm an MSU fan, and I most definitely am not, what concerned me most was Tyler O'Connor doesn't seem to understand that there are other receivers on the field after his first read. Dude's going to have a real hard time against a team as driven as Furman but loaded with talent. Also: did anyone else get really frustrated watching Chad Kelly hold the ball as long as he did? I counted at least three play-action sacks that just KILLED drives. That's why Ole Miss lost. That and FSU is loaded as hell.
ZT: Injuries and that one stretch in the second quarter where Hawaii moved the ball with a few quick passes. Coincidentally, both of these things are concerning for the same general reason: Michigan's defensive strength is in its defensive line's ability to control the game. A rash of injuries up front could thin that unit out, thereby reducing its ability to run an eight- or nine-deep rotation. That, and quick passing is a way to negate Michigan's advantage in the trenches by (theoretically) removing the pass rush from the game (you know, if it works against what is still a good secondary). This isn't a huge concern given that a few guys were sitting out, but it is something I will look for now that Michigan isn't a man-press-all-the-damn-time team on defense anymore. Does Brown have something diabolical up his sleeve to deal with teams that try to say "screw running, let's just dink and dunk". Survey says he does, but we'll need to wait and see.
NC: The final drive of the first half. So no, not really. I can't really remember though, the opening-weekend-euphoria-blinders were on.
TW: Not really, though when Hawaii went up tempo and went four and five wide it seemed to throw Michigan off. They will clean that up, but it was something to take note of. A 63-3 win doesn't allow much concern to be had.
DH: I still need to see how Michigan's offensive line holds up against stiffer competition, but the biggest concern from the Hawaii game was the injuries. Jourdan Lewis, Maurice Hurst, and Ben Braden missed the opener with injuries, albeit minor ones reportedly. De'Veon Smith (ribs), Taco Charlton (leg), and Bryan Mone (leg) left the field during the game and did not return. The good news is that Lewis, Hurst, and Smith should be back this Saturday, while the others should be back by no later than the end of the month before the schedule begins to toughen up. Nonetheless, Michigan has an excellent chance to contend for a title this season, and we saw what happened to the Wolverines' defense at the end of last season when the defensive line wore thin. Michigan does not want a repeat of that, so it is imperative that injury luck favor Michigan.
KB: Hawai’i scored points. That really grinds my gears.
Attempt to explain why UCF was the worst team in Division I last year.
AB: That was really strange to me. UCF has always been solid but last year was a nightmare. Nowhere to go but up from there, but it won't come on Saturday.
Shash: Man oh man don't make me do this I'm pretty sure George O'Leary's soul left his body midway through last summer and UCF was coached by a bunch of squirrels in a human suit.
ZT: I can't, because RUTGERS.
NC: They didn't want that Orlando bar to stop serving free beer.
TW: No idea. Maybe they wanted to allow all those UCF fans to get all that free beer last year.
KB: No one can understand a team in the prime talent pool of Florida not winning a game. Not even Central Florida’s coaches. That is probably why many of them no longer coach there.
DH: It's arguable that UCF was the worst FBS team in 2015 because Kansas also didn’t win a game, and North Texas took the throne of finishing 128th in S&P+. But that's just me picking nits because it is undeniable that the Knights had a horrendous season. From my understanding, it was a combination of two things: (1) lack of leadership and (2) injuries at key positions. Apparently, then-head coach George O'Leary tried to delegate his duties as a coach as he became acclimated to his new title: athletic director. However, once the injuries took their toll, UCF did not have the leadership in place patch up the cracks, and everything collapsed around them. UCF actually should have a quicker bounce back than other 0-12 teams because the Knights do have talent within their program. But Scott Frost must mold that talent to his uptempo schemes.
A big drop-off in quality games this Saturday, so instead, what're ya drinking?
AB: Something cold. Suggestions?
Shash: BUNKLEY I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU. This weekend I'm diving into every Marzen - Oktoberfest beer - I can find. Looking forward to shitting on the staff's picks.
NC: Water and coffee.
TW: I have a wedding, so all of the beer. And liquor, baby.
DH: Last week while in Dallas for USC-Alabama, I very much enjoyed the Velvet Hammer from Peticolas Brewing Co. This week, I will be watching from home, which means returning to my usual favorite: Fat Tire.
KB: Whatever is handed to me at the tailgates I crash. Wait, that sounds dangerous...
Overtime Q: UCF is coached by first-year man Scott Frost -- what's his connection to Michigan?
AB: Scott Frost was the QB for Nebraska in 1997 -- the year the Huskers shared the national title with Michigan. Paper championships are LAME.
Shash: Other than sharing the national title with them as Nebraska's QB in '97 I'm not sure. I believe he and Charles Woodson also beat Peyton Manning in '97 ;)
NC: Stupid ‘97 Nebraska.
TW: Living in Lincoln, Frost is a folk hero around here. And I despise it. Despite being only 2 in 1997, the shenanigans he pulled after the bowl games anger me. Plus, that resulted in me hearing all about the split decision all the time. Maybe I should just move to Ann Arbor.
DH: If you have read Maize n Brew at all this week, I think you know the answer.
KB: That reminds me: everyone read Mark Lennox’s column on the site this week.