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

Three Michigan defenders will have their hands full against a solid Blue Raiders receiver.

Wisconsin v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines were torched in the final two games of the 2018 season thanks to offenses that spread the field and caused awkward matchups in the Wolverines’ man-to-man defense.

When Saturday rolls around, the Middle Tennessee St. Blue Raiders will have a similar plan with their spread offense.

The leader of this offense is senior wideout Ty Lee. Lee caught 71 balls last year, which puts in the top-40 in the country for receptions. He was also in the top-65 for yards (883) and visits to the end zone (7), statistically making him one of the top receivers in the country.

Lee can be placed anywhere on the field at the wide receiver position, but he mostly resides in the slot in the Blue Raiders’ offense. The kid is quick and runs really good routes leaving Conference-USA defenders in the dust.

This was one of my favorite play designs for Ty Lee from Mid Tennessee last season:

It’s a screen play inside the ten yard-line against a man-to-man coverage and a blitz like what you would see out of Michigan in a similar situation. A pass to the outside to Lee, who was waiting in the slot behind the line of scrimmage, gave the other two receivers a chance to establish their blocks. Lee just has to beat one man to the pylon and does so with ease.

A good wide receiver will make his quarterback look good, even when the quarterback makes a mistake. That is exactly what happened on this play against Western Kentucky.

The throw is behind Lee, but he makes the adjustment as he keeps his eyes on the football. Once it is in his hands, it’s all over. He breaks away from the defender as soon as the ball is tucked away, makes a nice move on the sideline and uses his speed to get six for the Blue Raider’s offense.

Lee is going to be a handful for this Michigan defense and there are three players from Michigan (depending on the formation) who will likely have the duty of slowing the speedy Lee down.

First off is one of Michigan’s top defenders, Lavert Hill. Hill will cover Lee when he is the the furthest wide offensively. It makes clear sense to have top corner on top receiver, but since the Blue Raiders slide Lee into the slot, more often than not it will be placed on either a nickel corner or linebacker to cover Lee.

Those two will likely be Brad Hawkins and Devin Gil. Hawkins has made the shift from safety to nickel corner and is going to be tested right away against Lee in nickel packages. We all remember when Hawkins was beat for a long touchdown against Notre Dame last season:

That play was unfortunately how Hawkins season was defined, but he began to settle in better throughout the course of the season. Now, Hawkins will try to change that narrative by having a great performance in week one where he will be needed in the nickel package.

Then, there is the Devin Gil matchup for when the Wolverines stick to their base 4-3. You best believe that the Blue Raiders watched that game film from last season where Gil was beat play after play in coverage against Ohio State.

This is the golden matchup that Middle Tennessee will strive for: the athletic and quick Lee against a slower coverage man in Gil. The Blue Raiders will certainly try to target Gil as much as possible in this spread offense based off his performances late last season. He will need to step up and prove he is capable of covering slot guys early in the 2019 season for Brown’s defense to be successful.

This is a game that the Wolverines should win solely based on the talent on either side of the ball. But if the defense doesn’t slow down Lee and the air raid offense that the Blue Raiders will throw at them, their week one matchup could end up being a shootout.