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Game Preview: Michigan looks to kickstart 2019 as heavy favorite vs. Middle Tennessee

The Speed in Space era kicks off with Michigan Football

Indiana v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan Football makes its long-awaited 2019 season debut after what seems like the longest offseason wait of all-time. Opponent No. 1 on the schedule is the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, who come to Michigan Stadium for the first night game opener in the history of the program.

Rick Stockstill’s team has won at a nice clip since he has been there, but he consistently challenges his teams in non-conference play with these gargantuan matchups as a measuring stick for where his program is at. Coming off of an offseason of fan rage for how 2018 ended, followed by an insane amount of hype over a new offense, the Big House crowd figures to provide a raucous atmosphere with an entire day’s worth of tailgating and libations to send the 2019 hype into a fever pitch.

MTSU has some players that might be trouble, especially wide receiver Ty Lee going up against a thin secondary, but Michigan is a 34-point favorite for a reason. This team will be looking to send a message and get off to a critical fast start for 2019 in a year where they have plenty of labels they would like to shed about themselves.

Game Info

Teams: Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at No. 7 Michigan Wolverines

Date: Aug 31, 2019

Location: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Television: Big Ten Network

Radio: 950 AM in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, see affiliate stations here

Spread: Michigan -34, over/under set at 54 points

Storylines to Watch with Michigan

#SpeedInSpace debuts

After months of hype and speculation as to what the Wolverines will look like offensively, coordinator Josh Gattis finally gets to unleash his new system upon the Big House. Outside of the now-famous hashtag, we do not know what to expect from Michigan on that side of the ball other than an increased emphasis on getting their playmakers the space. The system should be tailored more to fit the playing style of Shea Patterson and you’re going to see a ton of the RPO stuff that has become popular in recent years. This is not going to be a team that airs it out 50-60 times a game and should still be relatively balanced, but it’s exciting to see them coming into the 21st century offensively.

The running backs

One of the most intriguing storylines of fall camp has revolved around who takes that first handoff at running back. Where things stand heading into Saturday, the stock on true freshman Zach Charbonnet feels it’s at the highest it has been this offseason and he is trending upward in a big way, but the experience of Tru Wilson has continued to make this a race. Christian Turner is also in the mix and this feels like a classic backfield committee, but right now it feels like a two horse racy for carry No. 1 on the 2019 season and if it winds up being the true freshman, there’s going to be quite a crowd pop at the Big House.

The wide receiver room

Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black get the majority of the hype when people discuss the Wolverines’ wideout situation, but Michigan has six players they really like there and that should be rotated frequently. Freshman Mike Sainristil had a huge spring and carried it into fall camp, while sophomore Ronnie Bell has been singled out as one of the team’s most improved players overall. Freshman Cornelius Johnson has also been given some hype and could play early. Michigan has an abundance of talent at the position and this new offense may finally look to unleash some of that potential. Does that mean we will see them go four-or-five wide all the time? Of course not, but that is certainly something in their back pocket if they choose to go that round.

Defensive line rotation

Michigan is replacing Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, but by all accounts it seems as if they feel they have reloaded. The Wolverines could go as much as nine or ten deep on the defensive line and we are not really sure who is locked in to start at the end spots. Sophomore Aidan Hutchinson has been a surging player throughout the offseason and Central Michigan grad transfer Mike Danna has been everything they could have asked for and more so far. But then there’s Kwity Paye and Luiji Vilain also at end and a defensive tackle corps that includes Carlo Kemp, Donovan Jeter, Michael Dwumfour and freshmen Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton. Proven top-end talent might not be there yet, but this could be as deep as Michigan has ever been up front.

Linebacker pecking order

Devin Bush’s old spot is another massive hole that needs to be filled in the linebacking corps for the Wolverines, but they feel they have the speed at the position for there to not be much of a dropoff, at least in theory. Josh Ross figures to slide in there and feels he is ready to go, while Josh Uche is set to start on the strong side and be a chess piece that is moved all around the field. The battle for snaps at the WILL seems to belong to Devin Gil for the time being, but Cam McGrone and Jordan Anthony are also expected to get some time. It will be fun to see how this all shakes out.

The secondary rotation

The Wolverines are set to start Vincent Gray on the other side of Lavert Hill at cornerback and it would not be a surprise to see MTSU target his side of the field and test what on paper appears to be a somewhat thin Michigan secondary. DJ Turner, Gemon Green and Jaylen Kelly-Powell are also in the mix for time at the cornerback spot.

The safety position should be fun to watch, as well. Josh Metellus returns and has Brad Hawkins set to play next to him at safety, who is considered one of the breakout players of the offseason. Five-star freshman Dax Hill should get some time back there at some point, but his presence at safety might not be significant until later in the season while being a fixture still on special teams.

Special Teams

The only things that seem to be set here is that Donovan Peoples-Jones will be the team’s punt returner and Camaron Cheeseman is the long snapper. From there, as many as seven guys are in the mix for the kick return job — including Giles Jackson, Ronnie Bell, Mike Sainristil, Mike Barrett, Daxton Hill, Christian Turner and Ambry Thomas — as recent as earlier this week. There continues to also be a starting kicker battle between Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody, both of whom we could see kicking field goals and extra points.

Quick Hits

  • Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen and Rick Pizzo will be on the call for the Big Ten Network television broadcast.
  • This will be the first ever meeting between the Wolverines and Blue Raiders.
  • MTSU becomes the 151st opponent that Michigan has faced in program history.
  • Jim Harbaugh has a 10-2 record against non-conference opponents with the losses coming to Utah in 2015 and Notre Dame in 2018. Both of those games were season openers.
  • Harbaugh’s two wins to start the season have been in 2016 at home vs. Hawaii and 2017 in a neutral site game vs. Florida.
  • The Wolverines have a record of 113-23-3 in season openers.

MnB’s MTSU Week Game Coverage

Getting to know Michigan’s Week 1 opponent: Middle Tennessee State University

Inside the Numbers: Josh Gattis and his success as an assistant coach

Scouting Michigan’s match-up: Middle Tennessee State

Michigan Football’s projected starting lineup vs. Middle Tennessee

Matchup of the Week: MTSU wide receiver has ability to give Michigan problems

Michigan must come out of the gates strong against MTSU

The beginners guide to navigating Ann Arbor on a Michigan Football game day

Behind Enemy Lines Q&A: Middle Tennessee State writer Joe Spears

The Michigan Man Podcast - Visitors Edition: MTSU radio voice joins the show

Michigan recruiting visitors list for Middle Tennessee State game

That’s the preview. Let’s hear some of your thoughts and predictions in the comments below and if you’re going to be in Ann Arbor on Saturday, be sure to stop by Circ Bar before the game to say hi and grab a Maize n Brew t-shirt.