Week one is in the books, and while it was a great win for currently ranked No. 8 Michigan over No. 22 Florida on Saturday, it’s a new week and Jim Harbaugh has his crew by now focusing on the next opponent.
The Cincinnati Bearcats will come to Ann Arbor for the first game at the Big House of the 2017 season, and they aren't doing it quietly.
The 34.5 point underdogs believe that they can come into the Wolverines house and come out with the victory, or at least running back Mike Boone does.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we can go out and shock the world. We just want to come out and execute,” Boone said.
This is coming from a halfback whose team just barely topped Austin Peay (26-14), a team that has lost 28 games in a row after losing to the Bearcats.
Nevertheless, the two teams will have to line it up on the field on Saturday, and that's where Boone and company will live up to those words or have to eat them.
Here are the matchups that could be the difference in the contest.
Cincinnati’s offensive line vs Michigan front seven
While Boone has been talking a lot, his team didn't exactly put up numbers that will wow you in week one. He did have the put-away, 3-yard touchdown run for his lone score of the day, recording 104 yards on 19 carries. Boone and the rest of the running game could only manage 3.3 yards per carry, which isn't terrible, but against Michigan probably won't be enough. Boone’s 26-yard run was a big reason that average even surpassed three yards.
With players like Rashan Gary and Mo Hurst up front creating gaps in the offensive line, with Mike McCray and Devin Bush blitzing the backfield and blowing plays up, the Bearcats will have to find ways to slow that rush if they want any chance to win. Boone and the running game won’t be able to gain any ground if they can’t start with blocking and opening up running lanes.
Kicking Field Goals
While the spread for this game indicates it shouldn't be close at all, without a consistent field goal game, Cincinnati will struggle even more so to have a chance.
More than likely, Michigan will force some of Cincinnati’s drives to stall in field goal range, and who knows if they can trust their place kicker to put it through the uprights at this point. Bearcat kicker Andrew Gantz pushed a 26-yard field goal and an extra point this past weekend. Those are both gimme kicks that can really put a toll on your teams confidence when they needed those points.
Quinn Nordin on the other hand, was very impressive for the Wolverines. The highly-recruited freshman hit two field goals that were over 50 yards (50, 55) for a Michigan record in a single-game, while also nailing a 25-yard and 30-yard field goal to help put Florida away. While he did miss another plus-50 yard attempt and a 32-yard chip shot, the kicker lived up to expectations on a huge stage in Jerry World.
Field goals can be the difference in a game by keeping it close or winning the game at the end, and right now you would have to give Nordin the nod over Gantz.
Michigan’s rushing attack vs the Cincinnati defense
Last week wasn't exactly one that the Bearcats would like to replicate on the defensive front against the Wolverines. Austin Peay gained 224 yards on the ground against Cincinnati last weekend with a touchdown. That would probably not just lose them the game against Michigan, but have it result in a blowout.
With the trio of Chris Evans, Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon being the base of racking up 248 yards against a defense like the Gators, it speaks volumes to what could happen against Cincinnati if they fail to sure up their run defense. They were the 56th ranked defense in the nation for 2016, and allowing over 200 yards on the ground in week one isn't exactly making progress.
With deep threats like Tarik Black and Nick Eubanks opening up the running game for Michigan, it seems to be a battle they may have an advantage in for Saturday’s game.
Yes, Jim Harbaugh is the more well-known and proven coach coming into this game, and can clearly coach with anyone in the country.
However, Bearcat head coach Luke Fickell (a name you are probably familiar with) won’t be coaching his first game on the sidelines of the Big House. The former Ohio State Co-Defensive Coordinator coached under Urban Meyer from 2012-16 and is familiar with how Michigan plays.
The ex-Buckeye has been given the task of turning this Cincinnati program around, which has turned into a rather mediocre group over the past few years. Fickell said that “there isn't a major difference in talent” between the top-22 on each team’s roster.
Prediction: Michigan 49 Cincinnati 10
Michigan is simply the more talented bunch of players and athletes. On defense, Michigan moves sideline-to-sideline quicker and can clog any holes created in a heart beat, and the pass rush should allow the secondary to hold its own all game.
For Michigan’s offense, expect a more clean game with less mistakes and more drives resulting in touchdowns. They have to potent of a rushing attack for Cincinnati to stop and Wilton Speight should be eager to burn this defense after his interceptions last weekend.
This game will be played at noon this Saturday on ABC from the Big House in Ann Arbor. It will be the first-ever meeting between Michigan and Cincinnati in football.