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Key Matchups: No. 2 Michigan vs. UNLV

Early season air raid?

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines downed the East Carolina Pirates 30-3, in the season opener. This came at very little surprise as the Wolverines were a heavy favorite. Now they turn the page to UNLV, a game that has a very similar betting line to Week 1.

UNLV won their season opener against Bryant, 44-14. This was a good start to the season for new head coach Barry Odom, who spent the previous three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas. With this kind of score, you would imagine UNLV put up a lot more yards than Bryant, but both teams accumulated 409 yards of total offense, respectively.

Teams that can successfully come away with points on possessions find ways to stick around. That said, I expect it to be much tougher sledding against a loaded Michigan roster.

Here are the key matchups to watch for.

Michigan’s passing offense vs. UNLV’s secondary

Michigan was never able to establish the run against ECU. This did not come as a huge surprise, as ECU has a competent defensive line and was committed to stacking the box. Because of that, McCarthy torched ECU with his arm to the tune of 280 yards and three touchdowns. The impressive showing by McCarthy and the receivers, specifically Roman Wilson, should have fans convinced Michigan can achieve a balanced attack this season.

A couple UNLV players McCarthy will want to keep an eye on are linebacker Jackson Woodard and defensive back Thomas Anderson. The two combined for 17 tackles against Bryant, with Anderson recording the lone interception. Both these players have good size and speed, capable of disrupting reads and blowing up plays. Look for them to be flying around the field on Saturday.

UNLV allowed 230 passing yards to Bryant in the season opener. This does not bode well for a team about to face a Michigan squad full of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. UNLV, similar to ECU, will need to commit to stopping the run or dropping several guys back into coverage. I do not believe their defense will be balanced enough to stop both.

Michigan’s DL vs. UNLV’s rush attack

If there was one big takeaway from the UNLV vs. Bryant game, it was UNLV’s rushing attack. The Rebels ran for 283 yards and five touchdowns in Week 1. This will be a good opportunity for U-M’s defensive line to get experience against a team that wants to pound the rock.

Luckily for the Wolverines, stopping the run was not something they struggled with in the season opener. They limited ECU to 103 rushing yards and kept its mobile quarterback in check for the most part. UNLV will get some yards, but I would be shocked if it’s anywhere near 200+.

Where UNLV thrives is a more up-tempo offense. I would expect Michigan to have to deal with this style of play for the majority of the game. Similar to most non-conference opponents that are huge underdogs, UNLV is quite undersized compared to the Michigan. What they lack in size, they make up for in speed.

This speed was demonstrated by Vincent Davis Jr.’s 69-yard touchdown run on their first play from scrimmage against Bryant. Expect UNLV to try to set the pace early and keep the Michigan defense on their heels. The Wolverines’ conditioning and depth on the defensive side of the ball will be tested early.

OC Sherrone Moore vs. DC Mike Scherer

With Sherrone Moore back on the sidelines this weekend, I would expect a good all around offensive showing by the Michigan Wolverines. Although I’m sure Moore helped set the game plan for Week 1, it is different not having him on the sideline, similar to how the players feel about Harbaugh’s absence.

Odom and defensive coordinator Mike Scherer will need to find a way to slow down the Michigan offense. Scherer, who served as the linebackers coach under Odom at Arkansas, was responsible for the vast improvement of the linebacker play in Fayetteville. That said, it will be interesting to see how he chooses to deploy them on Saturday.

The challenge for Scherer will be balancing the linebackers to stop the run or drop back into coverage. If Michigan runs a similar 50-50 offense like last week and utilizes a lot of play action, the UNLV defense will have a hard time keeping up.

I would expect more yards and points in this contest than last week, as players settle in and fine tune their assignments. UNLV is a speedy team, but Michigan just has too many playmakers to keep this one close. It will take great tackling and a defensive masterpiece by UNLV for the game to be competitive. Scherer is going to have his hands full on Saturday.