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Key Matchups: Michigan vs Air Force

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It's week three and the Wolverines will welcome the Air Force Falcons to the Michigan Stadium for the third-ever meeting between the two programs. Here's the key matchups.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In the case of being an over 30-point favorite coming into week two’s matchup against Cincinnati, Michigan’s 36-14 win was very underwhelming.

The defense held its own once again, while the offense and special teams struggled at times. Major improvements for quarterback Wilton Speight and company will be an emphasis in week three as the Wolverines take on Air Force.

The Falcons are coming off the rare week two bye, which could also play to an advantage with Michigan only having one week of film to view. In the opener, Air Force demolished the VMI Cadets 62-0, recording 457 yards on the ground with seven rushing touchdowns — each coming from a different rusher.

The last time these two schools met was in 2012, before the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan. Denard Robinson totaled over 400 yards and four touchdowns to top the Falcons in a close game throughout, 31-25. This will be the third-ever contest between the two programs.

Here’s a look at the key attributes to this week's matchup.

Wilton Speight figuring it out

Harbaugh has said throughout the week that Speight will still be the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart until further notice.

His numbers can be deceiving against the Bearcats: 17-for-29, 221 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Two big throws for touchdowns (Kekoa Crawford and Grant Perry) really saved his day and, in the end, the game for Michigan.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

He still had multiple overthrows and didn't look very comfortable in the pocket when a rush started to form. Speight needs to find a way to correct these mistakes and start finishing drives with touchdowns because soon enough Big Ten play will start.

Those types of errors and shortcomings seem minimal now, but will loom large against other opponents with more physical teams that can wear down the Wolverine defense.

For Michigan it needs to start now, Air Force is a team that can score quick and make this game more interesting than most would think it should be. While shutting out VMI may not seem like much, zero points is zero points, proving they have a group that can be good.

This may be one of Speight’s biggest weeks of the season just to keep his job. Soon enough, Harbaugh will be forced to try Brandon Peters or John O’Korn again if the miscues don’t lighten up.

Playing a clean game

Turnovers can keep any team in the game and Michigan knows that from last week. The pair of fumbles they had were big reasons for Cincinnati hanging around as long as they did.

The main concern seems to be in the punt return game. Donovan Peoples-Jones struggled last week by failing to take command as the punt returner. He allowed the ball to drop and bounce around with Michigan players right next to it multiple times, resulting in a key fumble that bounced off of Benjamin St. Juste’s leg.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bearcats were able to capitalize and score a touchdown with the short field, and Peoples-Jones was taken out for the remainder of the game as a returner.

If those kind of mishaps continue on offense or special teams in deep in their own territory, the Falcons will take advantage more times than not. They can score points in a hurry and giving them a short field to work with only enhances those chances.

Peoples-Jones will be the return man this week, according to Harbaugh. It’s evident that the freshman wants to make big plays, but sometimes making the smart one wins in the end.

To eliminate some of those errors, making the smart play would probably be in Michigan’s best interest.

Power football

Air Force runs a very unique offensive scheme known as the “three-headed monster,” or the triple-option attack. In week one it worked to perfection, rushing just under 470 yards and scoring seven touchdowns, five of them in the first half.

NCAA Football: Virginia Military at Air Force Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan, however, comes right back with one of the best defenses in the country so far this season. So far this campaign, the Wolverines rank third in the country at stopping the ground game, allowing just 79 yards on 57 carries. Regardless of the opponent, those are video game numbers.

Air Force will need to try and have that quick start once again, as Michigan gets even tougher to run on in the second half, allowing just over one yard per carry in the final two quarters.

It's been said many times and it is very cliche, but the winner of this game will come from the trenches. The power of both of these teams starts there.

Prediction

Michigan has had to play its starters for nearly the entirety of both games while Air Force is coming off a bye week with a majority of its starters only playing one half in the opener.

Regardless, the Falcons have to come to the Big House and try to take down a Michigan defense that hasn't allowed squat to its opponents in the first two weeks.

The Wolverines should be able to keep the sideline-to-sideline quickness in their advantage, wearing down the rushing attack of Air Force as the game goes along.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of Michigan’s success however will come on the shoulders of Speight and the offense. They need to keep the time of possession in their favor so the defense can have fresh legs on the field throughout the game.

I think Speight plays a better game and gets some of the impatient fans off his back, the defense continues to stop the run and Michigan pulls away in the second half with the victory.

Final Score: Michigan 38 Air Force 17.

The game is on Saturday, Sept. 16 at noon EST from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. You can watch the game on the Big Ten Network with the betting lines opening up at Michigan -26.