All of the narratives, position battles, changes to the program and more will begin to play themselves out in the Michigan Wolverines’ season opener on Saturday. But they will not be able to answer everything in one week. The task at hand deals with the Western Michigan Broncos, who pose a bit more of a threat than your typical non-conference tuneup game.
The Wolverines come into the showdown as a 17-point favorite, which probably has a bit to do with how pedestrian they looked in 2020 combined with the fact that WMU is, well, good. Head coach Tim Lester is 24-20 since taking over for PJ Fleck in 2017 and has finished second in the MAC West in each of the last three seasons.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh ran through what they have seen on film so far from the Broncos during his Monday press conference.
“I’ll start with the defensive side of the ball,” Harbaugh said. “Lou Esposito does a fantastic job. You’re just talking pressure, you’re talking attack–attack defense. And they’re really good at it. Fifth in the country in tackles for loss. The tackles for loss really stand out about them – they average about 8.5 in a game. Really good at sacks, too. Ranked 13th in the NCAA in sacks. A couple of really good defensive linemen. Secondary that’s – they’re covering and they do a really good job. Right now, studied them for a while here, they want a fast outcome in their favor. Get it to where you can’t find the receiver, get it to where you can’t find the one-on-one matchup. They do a good job covering. They do a good job of putting pressure on the offense.
“Offensively, they’re really good at what they do. They execute really well, at a high level. Quarterback (Kaleb) Eleby, really fantastic. When you rank third in the country in pass efficiency, that’s playing really efficient, that’s playing really good football. La’Darius (Jefferson), a fine running back. All the running backs are really, they’re north-south guys, they hit holes fast. The receivers do an excellent job. 24 (Skyy Moore), 1 (Jaylen Hall) (are) both really good. Making the catch, but also what they do when they’ve made the catch, what they do with the ball after, yards after the catch – extremely good. The offensive line, as well. They play really well together. Just – they play really good football. They execute their schemes extremely well.”
As we covered in a previous article Michigan’s not trying to do anything fancy this weekend. They want to turn the matchup in their favor quickly and get off to a fast start.
“We’re doing the same thing Western’s trying to do,” Harbaugh said about his defense. “You want to have a quick outcome, the best outcome in your favor. Sometimes you want to play cover, sometimes you want to simulate a blitz. All different things you’re trying to get done. You’re trying to stop them, try to keep them from getting points on the board, creating field position.”
The same will apply to the offensive side of the ball.
“We’ve been doing a lot of practice sessions where we get into it fast, we get into the team aspect of it, whether that’s a group of 11-on-11,” Harbaugh said. “Most of the time, we’re doing something football right off the stretch. Sometimes a short individual and then right into it. But the ability to be able to start fast is something we’ve emphasized.”
Michigan and WMU kick things off on Saturday at noon at the Big House in Ann Arbor. The game will be broadcast nationally via ESPN.