Michigan vs MTSU Preview

Previewing Michigan vs Middle Tenn. State with more than just snarky comments about MSU basketball!

Welcome back, let's try this all again.
Kickoff time: 7:30 EST
Michigan Stadium: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Michigan -34.5, O/U 54

My brain tends to compartmentalize annual events. Each year I visit the EAA Airventure air show in Wisconsin and it feels like the entire previous 51 weeks of the year never happened when I'm there; the synapses re-open the memories folder and adds a new week to a seemingly never-ending show.  This happens for a lot of annual events – holidays, camping trips, birthdays, etc. What happened in 2012 blurs together with 2017. The turkey I ate at last year’s Thanksgiving was the same one I ate 10 years ago. Like a bastardized version of the Quantum Realm, the domain of compartmentalization has its own rules – the universe outside of it does not matter and time moves at a different rate.

Sports require that same level of compartmentalization. It's a binomial event - you're either in college football season or out of it. From January til about mid-August we trek on \with an integrated clock subtly reminding us that that time of the year is slowly getting closer. When September hits, it's as if last November was a week ago. 

Same mood, but for entire season
But I don't want to think about that last week. How many months did it take for you to even get excited about football again? Did Gattis make a difference? Ohio State's change of staff?

But here we are, somehow with the same excitement we've always had. But this time there is some unfinished business and unfortunately we cannot sim to week 12 to handle it.

So let’s pick up where we left off. THAT happened. It will never not have happened. Michigan football was officially massacred at the Red Wedding. Nobody I’ve talked to can name three interesting things that happened in the bowl game because it doesn’t matter. The Starks were thoroughly massacred in Columbus, Ohio. A Greg Mattison-shaped Roose Bolton has joined the Lannisters. My brain has opened up a dusty, old folder deep in the memory banks titled “foot ball” and the first thing that pops up is a crossing route. 

This week feels less about MTSU than it does about collecting the fragments of the end of last season. Which is a damn shame. Last season had a lot of fun memories – Michigan Stadium being lit up by cell phones against Wisconsin, parading Paul Bunyan around Spartan Stadium, replicating the 2016 Penn State game. Michigan under Jim Harbaugh has proven everything but one thing. But the one thing is the most important thing and all we can do is wait to try it again.

But this season is going to play out like a linear video game. MTSU is the tutorial section. We'll learn how to use the offense and how much power the defense has. The season will get progressively more and more difficult until the final fight with Ganon at the end of November.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know much at all about Middle Tennessee. The only time they ever pop up on my radar is during the mid-December bowl schedule when we’ve fasted off football for a couple weeks and subject ourselves to any college football that’s still on while Let it Snow plays on the radio. Even then I don’t watch. Google says their famous alumni include a senator, a national teacher of the year, and multiple Miss Tennessee’s. I don’t mean this as disrespect to MTSU, I just genuinely know nothing about them (other than the funny thing their basketball team did).

Unlike last year when the season opener against Notre Dame had something resembling playoff implications on the line, this year’s opener comes at home against the projected #104 (S&P+) team in the country. MTSU is not quite Rutgers bad, but is probably Illinois bad.\

Next in line
MTSU Offense vs Michigan Defense

Senior QB Bren Stockstill, son of the head coach Rick Stockstill, has graduated and been replaced by RS Sophomore Asher O'Hara. All of O'Hara's passing stats from last season came against Florida International, where he went 9/20 for 114 yards, 0 TD and an INT. He did have 85 rushing yards on 21 carries (4.0 avg) in that game, because QBs make up about 30% of the MTSU offense's ground game (on 499 running plays, 151 of them were from the QBs). Including sacks, this only made up 225 of their 1792 rushing yards (12.6%). The reason for this?

MTSU's QBs were sacked 41 times for -261 yards in 2018. This year doesn't seem to fair much better because they only return two starters on the line. One of Michigan's biggest question marks on defense will be the interior defensive line and if the 2019 season is a linear video game, this will indeed be the tutorial level. The defensive ends may be able to feast, though. Any domination will be a good sign but taken with a grain of salt. Army will be a more decisive test.

MTSU's biggest threat on offense is speedy slot Ty Lee. The 5'9" 186 lbs receiver led the team with 883 yards last season. A big chunk of these yards are on quick passes that allowed Ty to make a play after the catch, but they managed to get the ball to him downfield on several occasions.

But other than Ty Lee, the MTSU offense is a shrug. Running back Chaton Mobley (#44) averaged less rushes per game than the QB and only had 613 yards on the season. If Michigan was facing  MTSU with Stockstill then maybe there would be some concern, but with an untested QB in the first game of the season under the lights in Michigan Stadium, the defense will mostly likely gobble up the Blue Raiders in an early season confidence booster.

With Dylan McCaffrey as a viable backup option, expect to see more of this
MTSU Defense vs Michigan Offense

MTSU's defense projects to be better than the offense... marginally. S&P+ has them at #86 in the country (next to an offense that projects to be #113). While MTSU was one of the worst teams at getting sacked, they were also one of the better teams doing the sacking. Returning LBs Khalil Brooks (#6) and DQ Thomas (#20) were responsible for a combined 14.5 of these. In fact looking at MTSU's 2018 sack production paints an immediate picture:


The top three are LBs and the next three are defensive ends - MTSU will blitz their linebackers. A lot. In 2017 this would have been a concern for Michigan's offense, but last year showed that they can handle it. Tru Wilson is elite for picking up blitzes and will help mitigate this.

Michigan's new #SpeedInSpace concept should in theory shred defenses apart, but there will inevitably be a learning curve any time you implement a new concept. But if Michigan's offensive line is the best in the Big Ten (??!?!?!?) then they should be able to handle the blitz pick-ups.

MTSU starts new corners but returns both safeties. JR Safety Reed Blankenship (#12) tallied 69 (nice) solo tackles and had four interceptions. The most tackles of anyone else starting in the defensive backfield are from Safety Jovante Moffatt (#7) with 18. While the MTSU DBs have some talent and an experienced safety, they are still relatively young and inexperienced as a group. Matching up against DPJ, Nico Collins, Tarik Black, Ronnie Bell, Sean McKeon, Erik All..... will probably favor Michigan significantly.

Best Case Scenario

#SpeedInSpace is a roaring success and Michigan's experienced offense takes off tremendously. We see the best offense since 2010 Denard and by the 3rd quarter we're starting to see back-ups. On defense, the D-Line picks apart a reloaded MTSU offensive line and rattles an inexperienced QB. The cornerbacks look good and we see Ambry Thomas get back in the game after a challenging offseason. Also it doesn't rain.

Worst Case Scenario
The new offense is not fully operational and we see some mental mistakes. MTSU's blitzing linebackers takes the Michigan O-Line by surprise and rattles Shea a bit. The Michigan defensive line is not getting push and the linebackers have trouble with the MTSU slot ninja. Ambry Thomas and DPJ don't play because of some lingering injuries/illnesses. Also it rains.

The Part Where Patrick Gets the Score Completely Wrong 

Michigan - 56
MTSU - 10

Past Highlights  


missed u college football

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