Saturday, August 30, 2014

Preview: Michigan vs. Appalachian State

Yep, she attended school at Appalachian State. And her name is Caitlin Upton.

Run vs. Appalachian State Defense
Michigan's running game has been dissected ad nauseum all last season and in the off-season. Michigan brought in a new offensive coordinator who will concentrate more on the inside zone play, whereas Al Borges used a mish-mash of schemes and Rich Rodriguez was mostly an outside zone guy. Michigan is very inexperienced on the OL and will be without its best lineman for this game (Graham Glasgow, suspended 1 game for a DUI). In the backfield, Michigan's top two backs have been neck-and-neck so far, with sophomore Derrick Green taking the lead over similarly built sophomore De'Veon Smith. Meanwhile, Appalachian State runs a 3-4 defense with a quality nose tackle in Tyson Fernandez (6'2", 330 lbs.), who will be a problem for center Jack Miller (6'4", 295 lbs.). Both inside linebackers are 235 lbs., but the outside guys are small-ish (anywhere from 185-210 lbs.). For a 3-4 that often uses defensive tackle-sized ends, the defensive ends are manageable in size, but they'll be facing off against first-time starters at the tackle positions. I like Green's upside more, but I actually prefer Smith to see more carries, because he's more of a bruiser and could wear down the defense; Green's a guy who could bust a couple long runs in the second half against a sluggish defense. I like the backs once they get to the second level, but until Michigan proves they can block at the first level . . .
Advantage: Appalachian State

Pass vs. Appalachian State Defense
Michigan has a dynamic quarterback in Devin Gardner who is under the tutelage of an up-and-coming quarterback guru in Doug Nussmeier. That will be a good combination. The top receiver will be tight end-sized Devin Funchess, who supposedly ran a forty in the 4.3's over the summer. Flanker Jehu Chesson improved steadily throughout last year and can take the top off the defense - as well as deliver some devastating blocks. Slot guy Dennis Norfleet is a pint-sized dynamo. All of them are big-play threats, and Michigan will use three or four receivers quite a bit without tight end Jake Butt being available. The pass protection is shaky, but Appalachian State will have to generate a pass rush by blitzing - something that Gardner and his receivers should be able to counter. The Mountaineers will probably match up 6'2", 190 lb. cornerback Jordan Ford with Funchess whenever possible, but the Wolverines have a decided size advantage on the edges. Strong safety A.J. Howard (5'11", 185 lbs.) is a true freshman. If Michigan can establish any kind of running identity, the play action pass should be a large factor. If the Wolverines still struggle to run the ball, Michigan should be able to spread it out a little bit and make some things happen. Gardner has the ability to get out of the pocket and make things happen if protection breaks down, too.
Advantage: Michigan

Run Defense vs. Appalachian State Offense
Michigan's good recruiting classes over the past few years are matriculating through the ranks, and this should be the year when Michigan takes a step forward with the talent level on the field. The Wolverines have size at the defensive tackle positions, plus a 282 lb. backup nose tackle (Maurice Hurst, Jr.) who can shoot gaps in certain situations. Strongside end Brennen Beyer is undersized for the position, but he uses good technique and can hold his ground. Michigan also has a stable of good linebackers who can make solid tackles and plays in the backfield. The center, right guard, and right tackle spots are all listed with an "or" between two players, so it's tough to say how much size they'll have. Either way, the strength appears to be the left side of the line. Sophomore running back Marcus Cox (5'10", 200 lbs.) had 1,250 rushing yards, 559 receiving yards, and 21 total touchdowns in 2013. He will be a multi-purpose threat who will be tough to corral, but he is the only proven commodity. The primary backup is redshirt freshman Terrence Upshaw (5'10", 200 lbs.), who is less of a big-play threat and more of a short yardage guy. I respect Cox's abilities if he can get into open space, but Michigan has enough athletes to keep him sufficiently in check.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Defense vs. Appalachian State Offense
Michigan has not had a dynamic pass rush in recent years, but there should be at least a slight improvement this season. Especially against a team that often uses four wide receivers, weakside end Frank Clark should have a good day and strongside end Brennen Beyer's lack of size won't hurt him as much. Michigan also has a couple solid pass rushers at defensive tackle in Willie Henry and Chris Wormley, not to mention some good blitzers at linebacker in Jake Ryan and Ben Gedeon. Michigan has a very good crew of corners, so Appalachian State will probably try to attack the young and relatively unproven safeties. Junior quarterback Kameron Bryant (6'1", 205 lbs.) completed 71% of his passes for 2,713 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions as a part-time starter last year, but the top returning pass catcher is running back Cox. None of the returning wideouts caught more than Malachi Jones's 31 receptions or 293 yards, and none caught more than Simms McElfresh's 2 touchdowns. Jones and his backup are both a little over 6'0" tall, but every other receiver on the two-deep is 5'11" or shorter. Michigan has allowed lots of short passes in recent years but come up to tackle. This year we'll see some tighter, perhaps riskier coverages. Michigan might get burned over the top on occasion, but overall, the pass defense should improve.
Advantage: Michigan

Roster Notes
  • Appalachian State has zero players or coaches from the state of Michigan
  • Devin Funchess goes over 100 yards with 2 touchdowns
  • Jabrill Peppers returns a punt for a touchdown
  • Derrick Green leads the team with 80 yards rushing
  • The defense allows 250 total yards
  • Michigan 34, Appalachian State 7


  1. My goal for this year is to go 0-14 in predictions.

    Did you know Michigan has never beaten the University of App______ State in football? (Because they are bitter rivals, I refuse to to spellout their name.) The App State Marshalls are undefeated against Michigan AND have never lost at Michigan Stadium. As a guy who believes in quanitative analysis, I have found that the numbers rarely lie.


    Michigan 20 App_____ State 21

  2. That's a ridiculous prediction! How could you even do that to yourself?