Game 1 Preview: Central Michigan

Saturday, Aug. 31 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (109,901)
BTN • Announcers: Matt Devlin, Glen Mason, Lisa Byington
Series: Michigan leads, 3-0 • Last Meeting: Sept. 9, 2006: Michigan 41, Central Michigan 17

CMU Vitals
7-6 overall, 4-4 MAC (in 2012)
Head coach: Dan Enos
     Career: 13-24 (4th year)
     at CMU: 13-24 (4th year)
Offense: Multiple
     Pass: Cody Kater (2-4, 12 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs)
     Rush: Zurlon Tipton (252 car, 1,531 yds, 19 TDs)
     Rec: Titus Davis (24 rec, 287 yds, 1 TD)
Defense: 4-3 or 4-2-5
     Tackles: Justin Cherocci (132)
     Sacks: Leterrius Walton (2.5)
     INTs: Jason Wilson, Avery Cunningham  (2)

*Stats based on top returners from 2012.
When Michigan has the ball
Here we go. Game 1 post-Denard. For some reason, I'm totally excited about this. Way more excited than I thought I would be. I thought I would dread this day. But given what we saw in the last 5 games of 2012 with Devin as QB, and with the scheme change coming to the offense, I'm very excited to see what's in store for Team 134.

Michigan is going to run the ball. A lot. Michigan's OL is bigger and more talented than it was a year ago...even with 3 new starters at center and the guard spots. They boast maybe the best tackle combo in the country with Lewan and Schofield, so no worries there. Per the depth chart, Jack Miller is going to be your starter at center, Glasgow at LG and Kalis at RG. As someone who follows the OL with a certain passion, I'm okay with this. These guys are all huge. They just need some game experience as a group.

Running the ball, according to the depth chart, are going to Fitz, Drake Johnson, Justice Hayes, Thomas Rawls and Derrick Green /or DeVeon Smith. Not to put too much emphasis on the preseason depth chart, but this seems about right given what we've all expected. Derrick Green is going to have to prove his worth, and Hoke may be using the depth chart as a motivation tool.

Ground and pound is going to be the emphasis for sure, but I'm very interested to see Devin throw. He's got some good targets in Gallon, Jackson, Reynolds and Chesson as the wideouts, as well as Dileo and Norfleet at the slot. Also, we gots tight ends...lot of em. Devin Funchess leads this position, but there's also AJ Williams, Jake Butt, Hill and Paskorz. This position is going to fun to watch in this offense, which will ask the TE to mix in plenty of run blocking along with pass catching.

Central Michigan was middle-of-the-road MAC school last year, but ended the season on a high note with 4-straight wins. The 2013 CMU defense is going to be okay when they line up to play Buffalo or UMass. As MAC blog Hustle Belt points out, CMU is designed to stop the spread, which is the scheme most MAC offenses run. That bodes well for Michigan and their pro-style attack.
The idea that the secondary is awful is a bit misleading. CMU plays an unconventional 4-2-5 defense, designed to get more speed on the field, and help against the spread offenses you typically see in the MAC. The problem, is that defense is a bend-but-don't-break defense that's designed to try and contain offenses rather than completely shut them down. Despite losing Jahleel Addae, the secondary is very experienced, and should be improved this season.
But part of that improvement needs help from the defensive front four, who are relied on to get most of the pressure on opposing quarterbacks, because they typically don't blitz much. If the defensive line can't get pressure on the opposing quarterback, I don't care how good your secondary is, nobody can cover someone forever, and that was part of what plagued the CMU defense.
Central gets the unfavorable task of being the public guinea pig for Michigan's new look offense. There's probably a sense of not really knowing what to expect or gameplan for if you're Joe Tumpkin, Central's 3rd-year defensive coordinator. You know Michigan is going to pound the ball on most downs, but what is Devin going to do?

The truth is, Michigan rolls offensively. They dominate the line of scrimmage and score at will. With Notre Dame looming next week, I can see Borges showing multiple looks out there just to throw the Irish a bit. Yes, Michigan is a pro-style offense, but don't be surprised to see some spread and pistol just to mix it up. With a QB like Gardner, you can get away with that and make it believable.

When CMU has the ball
For Michigan, this is when things get interesting. As we've said before, Michigan's defense has depth everywhere. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison have both said they expect to play a lot of guys. Emphasis has been put on getting the front 4 to pressure the QB more. The idea here is to free up the LBs and DBs to cover pass routes and help the DL create more pressure. On those front four positions, there are maybe a dozen possible guys who will see the field quite a bit on Saturday.

All eyes are on Frank Clark. There's been a ton of buzz about the defensive end this off-season, and honestly, I need to see more on the field before I buy into it. Will he be the next Woodley or Graham? Maybe, maybe not. We'll see.

That said, I think this game is going to be about assessing quality depth. Ojemudia, Charlton, Glasgow, Henry, Strobel, Ash, Godin and Wormley should see the field.

CMU had the #1 overall draft pick in the 2013 NFL draft in left tackle Eric Fisher. He was a dominant player who simply isn't going to get replaced easily. That said, CMU's OL is good. The bulk of the line is around 6'4" and 300+ lbs. I think they pose a good challenge for Michigan's DL.

The Chips also replace their quarterback this year. It's been announced that junior Cody Kater will be the starter. He has exactly 12 more yards of passing offense at CMU than you or I do. Kater is being touted as a good passer who can run as well. Backups Alex Niznak and Cooper Rush could also see the field if Kater struggles, as competition among these three was pretty tight in the spring. Niznak is more of a scrambler, while Rush has the maybe the best arm of the three.

I think CMU's biggest threat is RB Zurlon Tipton. With the pretty good OL in front of him, Tipton racked up over 1,500 yards rushing last year. I suspect he'll be the feature of the CMU offense this season as well. With a new, untested QB under center, a good tailback can be leaned on heavily, and I think we'll see that Saturday.

For Michigan's LBs and secondary, it's all about getting experience as units and getting used to the new faces. Blake Countess and Ray Taylor are your starting corners. Thomas Gordon and Jarrod Wilson are  the safeties. LBs are Cam Gordon at SAM, Desmond Morgan in the middle and James Ross at WILL. Beyer will play, as will Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone and possibly Mike McCray. I have no worries this unit can hold things down until Jake Ryan's return possibly by October.

I want to see Channing Stribling and Delonte Hollowell in at the corners as well. A lot of hype around these young guys. You could certainly see one or both of them in nickel packages.

Special teams are always a roller coaster in openers. Matt Wile will handle kickoffs and punts. Gibbons is the kicker, of course. It'll be fun to watch Norfleet returning kicks. He had a nice year last season, as I predicted every week that this was going to be the week he was due to break one...which of course that never happened. So I'll just keep predicting that until it happens, because he's more than overdue.

Relevant links from sites we trust
I made a hype video a couple months ago. You may have seen it. No? Well then...

The ART (X3) schedule wallpapers. Download them. My favorite, of course...

ESPN's B1G bloggers preview week 1, UM-CMU.
Adam Rittenberg: Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner picks up where he left off numberswise and fires three touchdown passes, two to senior receiver Jeremy Gallon. The Wolverines' defense forces two second-half turnovers as Brady Hoke's crew pulls away. ... Michigan 38, Central Michigan 14

Brian Bennett: The Chippewas keep this one close for a half, but Michigan exerts its will in the third quarter. Fitzgerald Toussaint makes a nice comeback with 95 yards rushing, while Gardner accounts for three scores. ... Michigan 35, Central Michigan 17
USA Today on Michigan return to it's smashmouth roots.
This was Michigan playing smashmouth football, the game's nastiest, purest form.
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage," BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo said. "It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams. It changes your entire program. Just like the spread makes your defense soft, the West Coast offense makes your defense tough."
This was no happy accident under coach Brady Hoke. This is his football: dirty, nasty, the type that echoes.
You may have noticed previously that Big Ten stadium video boards could only show one measly replay of a play at a minimum of 75% speed. Well, that rule has been changed. Schools can now show unlimited replays at whatever speed they like. This is an effort by the Big Ten to enhance the gameday experience for fans at games.

The league also is encouraging its institutions to provide full Wi-Fi service throughout the stadiums, upgrade in-stadium video content and create social media lounges in their stadiums. Last season, Big Ten average attendance declined to 70,387, the league's lowest mark since the 2008 season.
I get emails from fans all the time Re: the lack of social media lounges around the Big Ten's stadiums. All sarcasm aside, I'm sure everyone can get on-board with better wi-fi coverage though.

You may or may not see this on the video board Saturday. We can do better than this...Michigan can do better than this.

Tweet obnoxiously if...
• The interior OL is opening holes, and running backs are running through them
• Shane Morris is playing a lot, and not because he has to
• The DL is getting good pressure
• Michigan is forcing takeaways

Commence panic if...
• Devin Gardner suffers even a hangnail
• The running backs assume their 2012 output
• It's a one-score game at halftime
• Michigan's losing the turnover battle


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