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What To Watch For: Michigan vs. SMU

Here’s what you should look to see in Saturday’s game.

Western Michigan v Michigan Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Michigan got back on track last week with a 49-3 drubbing of Western Michigan. This time out, the Wolverines will battle the SMU Mustangs in what should be another easy win. So, what do you look for in a game that should be over before halftime?

Get James Hudson and Jalen Mayfield in the game sooner

Both Hudson and Mayfield saw time against Western Michigan and looked good in the process. In fact, they were Michigan’s highest-rated offensive linemen in Week 2, according to Pro Football Focus. Neither will start this week, but as soon as the game gets out of hand I’d expect both to get on the field and receive a significant number of snaps. In a perfect world, both players would be able to play the entire second half.

Stay healthy

When playing a sub-par non-conference team, the most important thing besides picking up the win is staying healthy. It would be a shame for Michigan to lose a player, especially a starter for any amount of time because of an injury against SMU. You can never do anything to avoid injury, but getting the starters out of the game as soon as possible is the easiest way to minimize risk.

Be aggressive on offense

Against Western Michigan, Michigan ran the ball 35 times and threw the ball 18 times. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, as the run game was working just fine and with such a big lead, there was no reason to throw. However, the Wolverines showed last year they had no trouble running the ball against inferior opponents, but struggled mightily to throw the ball against elite teams.

This type of game is an opportunity for U-M to air it out and little bit and give the offensive line a chance to build on its pass-blocking ability. Instead of 66 percent running plays, it’d be nice to see Michigan run the ball 50-55 percent of the time and allow the passing game to get going. That still allows the team to milk the clock, but gain experience in an area Michigan has struggled with.

SMU running back duo

Michigan should be able to take care of SMU with ease, but if this game is more competitive than the 36-point spread indicates it will be, the Mustangs’ running back duo will be the reason.

Braeden West and Xavier Jones have each recorded 1,000-yard seasons, West doing so in 2016 (1,036 yards) and Jones doing so in 2017 (1,075). West has been the lead back thus far in 2018, carrying the ball 19 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also a threat in the passing game, with five receptions for 100 yards and a score. Against TCU last week, he had 78 yards on the ground and one touchdown.

Can the defense force a shutout?

One of the main reasons you may have stayed glued to your TV during last week’s fourth quarter was to see if the Michigan defense could hold on for a shutout. It didn’t come to fruition, as the Broncos kicked a late field goal to make it 49-3, and it’s reasonable to think Michigan could be in a similar position again this week.

U-M’s defense currently ranks No. 15 nationally in total yards (255 per game). SMU’s offense ranks No. 125 nationally, or fifth-worst (249 yards per game).