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Key Matchups: No. 2 Michigan vs. Bowling Green

Michigan will see a familiar face for the primetime matchup on Saturday.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines have cruised to a 2-0 start to the season with very little resistance. Behind a very accurate J.J. McCarthy and a smothering defense, Michigan has outscored their opponents 65-10. As they approach their final non-conference game, they are once again a heavy favorite. With head coach Jim Harbaugh serving his final game of his three-game suspension, Sherrone Moore will lead the Wolverines into battle.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups for Saturday’s game.

Michigan defense vs. Connor Bazelak

If the name Connor Bazelak sounds familiar, it’s because the Wolverines have faced him before. Bazelak was the quarterback for Indiana last season when Michigan faced the Hoosiers in Bloomington. Although the Wolverines fielded a significantly more talented team, Indiana found a way to stick around.

Although Bazelak is an experienced quarterback, he has been less than stellar throughout his career. He played three seasons at Missouri, one at Indiana, and now he’s at Bowling Green. In total, he has thrown 39 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. An interception prone quarterback does not stack up well against a smothering Michigan defense.

Bazelak has a bad habit of putting too much air under his passes and throwing into double coverage. He fell victim to this in his Week 1 three-interception outing against Liberty. It would be surprising if Bazelak gets out of this one without a pick.

Another positive for defensive coordinator Jesse Minter is Bazelak is not much of a running threat. In total, Bazelak has rushed for negative yardage in his career. Although this includes yardage lost due to sacks, his longest career run was 14 yards. The Wolverine’s pass rush was regularly getting home last week against UNLV. If the game plan isn’t for Bazelak to get the ball out quick, he will be adding to that number and spending a lot of time on the ground.

Corum/Edwards vs. Bowling Green’s defensive line

The run game for the Wolverines has been relatively quiet through the first two games, largely due to ECU and UNLV regularly stacking the box. With McCarthy successfully picking apart defenses to the tune of more than 500 passing yards and a stellar completion percentage, the Falcons will need to respect the pass if they desire to make this game competitive.

Bowling Green’s primary defensive play caller, Steve Morrison, is a former Michigan linebacker. Morrison was brought on staff in 2019 to serve as the associate head coach and linebackers coach. He has a lengthy coaching career that has produced mixed results. Through two games, Bowling Green currently ranks No. 75 in total defense and No. 101 in rush defense.

The Falcon defense has struggled to play complimentary football this season, but they have found ways to get to the quarterback, accumulating seven sacks so far. This is largely due to their linebacker play finding ways to confuse the offense. Similar to UNLV, they deploy their linebackers in a way to cover up their defensive weakness, primarily their defensive line. Only one defensive lineman, Evan Branch-Haynes, has accumulated more than five total tackles this season.

Look for the Wolverines to pound the rock frequently in this game as Bowling Green’s linebackers attempt to keep McCarthy and the receivers in check.

Jake Thaw vs. Bowling Green’s special teams

The benefit to being Michigan’s punt returner in these non-conference games is you get to see the field a lot. Jake Thaw, who is in his first season as Michigan’s primary punt returner, slid into the role after A.J. Henning departed for Northwestern. Thaw looks more comfortable and confident each time he steps on the field, but could use all the reps he can get before conference play ramps up.

So far, Thaw has returned five punts for a total of 38 yards. The speedy senior has the ability to break tackles and be dangerous in open space. Bowling Green has given up an average of 12 yards per punt return this season, ranking them near the bottom of all FBS teams. Assuming Michigan is able to force a lot of three-and-outs Saturday night, look for Thaw to get valuable reps.

The Wolverines should cruise to another easy victory on Saturday night under the newly improved stadium lighting. The coaching staff will have another great opportunity to fine tune their lineups and schemes as non-conference play comes to a close.