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Three key matchups ahead of Saturday’s game against Hawaii

Looking ahead to some key matchups for U-M’s game against the Rainbow Warriors.

Colorado State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines take the field this Saturday for a Week 2 matchup against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at the Big House (8 p.m. EST, BTN).

While there isn’t a ton of anticipation for this game from a competitive standpoint (the spread is currently Michigan -51.0), there is still plenty of buzz around the matchup with it being quarterback J.J. McCarthy’s first start in a Michigan uniform, along with other young players who are looking to build off of last week’s performances.

Here are three key matchups Michigan must exploit to make sure the Wolverines run away from Hawaii as expected.

McCarthy against the Hawaii secondary

Speaking of McCarthy, let’s get right into how he and the Michigan offense can attack Hawaii’s secondary.

In their first two games against Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky, the Rainbow Warriors have given up a total of 112 points, and the pass defense hasn’t helped much with that.

Hawaii ranks 101st in the nation in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 155.61, giving up 234 yards per game through the air and 12.32 yards per completion.

The yards per completion stat isn’t an egregious number, so McCarthy and the passing attack will still have to display some level of patience when it comes to moving the ball down the field and can’t assume the Rainbow Warriors’ defense will leave gaping holes behind their safeties. But if McCarthy can be patient and take what the defense gives him, the passing attack should see a level of success against this defense.

Senior safety Leonard Lee, who spent two seasons at a community college before walking onto Hawaii and spending three seasons on the scout team, is Hawaii’s leading tackler with 11 on the season. He also has one pass breakup. Malik Hausman is another senior defensive back for the Rainbow Warriors and has recorded an interception this season.

Michigan had 15 players catch a pass last week, but without a ton of explosive plays through the air other than Roman Wilson’s screen that went for a touchdown in the first quarter. Perhaps that will change this weekend with McCarthy under center.

Michigan’s rushing attack vs. Hawaii’s run defense

If there’s one area to point to when trying to figure out why Hawaii has lost its first two games by such a wide margin, look no further than its inability to stop the run.

The Rainbow Warriors have given up 545 total yards on the ground (272.5 per game), which is the fifth-worst in the nation from a yards per game standpoint. Meanwhile, the Michigan rushing attack was able to get 234 yards against Colorado State, led by Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards and McCarthy.

If Hawaii has any hope to keep the game close, it is paramount it contains Michigan’s running game. But considering Vanderbilt’s rushing attack racked up 404 yards in Week 0, that seems unlikely.

Unrelated to the rushing defense, Hawaii has also failed to record a sack in its first two games, but it speaks to the overall inability to penetrate the line of scrimmage on any type of consistent basis at all.

The one concern for Michigan may be the re-shuffling of the offensive line. Left tackle Ryan Hayes missed the game against the Rams, forcing Karsen Barnhart to take his place. Barnhart left the game with an ankle injury and is unlikely to play this weekend. But as long as the Wolverines keep their focus up front and stays disciplined on their assignments, they should have no issues with Hawaii’s front seven.

Hawaii’s OL against Michigan’s DL

In their two losses, the Rainbow Warriors also haven’t been able to protect quarterback Brayden Schager very well, giving up five sacks in the two games (three against Vanderbilt, two against WKU). Michigan, on the other hand, sacked CSU quarterback Clay Millen seven times and kept the Rams’ offense constantly behind the sticks.

Hawaii’s lack of pass protection has in part played a factor in the four interceptions and zero touchdowns Schager has thrown for this season, one of many reasons the team has only averaged 13.5 points per game.

One area Michigan will want to improve from last week is the efficiency in its pass defense once the ball gets to the air; Millen’s 16-of-20 effort was probably too efficient for defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s liking. But if the defensive line is able to continue to generate pressure, it will make things difficult for the Rainbow Warriors’ passing attack.

When Hawaii is able to keep the quarterback clean, Michigan will have to watch for receivers Jonah Panoke and Jalen Wallthall, who have combined for 17 catches for 247 yards in the team’s two losses.