Don’t look now, but college football is on the cusp of its magnificent return. There are some games during this week, starting Thursday night, and then a full spread Saturday, including Michigans big opener against Appalachian State. After such a lengthy offseason, one might not know exactly what to be watching for on Saturday when Michigan takes on Appy State. Well, here is a mini guide of sorts for Saturday’s game.
What held Michigan’s offense back the most last season was their offensive line. While youth, also referred to as inexperience by some, was a theme throughout the roster, the offensive line was particularly green. And while youth doesn’t guarantee poor play, Michigan’s o-line was horrific. They ranked absolutely last in all of FBS in stuff rate (how often the running back gets hit at the line) at 29.6%, and 112th in adjusted sack rate. While yes at times the running backs lacked much punch or intention coming out of the backfield and Devin Gardner didn’t show the best pocket presence, a large portion of the blame has to be placed on the line.
In 2014, the unit will be a more experienced one, if just purely because a lot of them were thrown into action last season. While there are few cemented starters and the situation is still fluid, based off of the open practice last week the starting offensive line looks like this, from left to right: Mason Cole (Fr), Erik Magnuson (So-R), Jack Miller (Jr), Graham Glasgow (Jr) and Ben Braden (So).
Miller and Glasgow would seem to be the most stable starters of the group. Cole was a big time recruit and it seems he may have a huge role right out of the gate, being asked to protect Gardner’s blindside. They believe Cole has what it takes, but don’t expect Cole to fill Taylor Lewan’s massive shoes; Lewan was one of Michigan’s best players of the Rich Rodriguez/ Brady Hoke era, at any position.
Saturday likely won’t provide the best test for Michigan’s offensive line. Appalachian State, despite their prior success at the Big House, is still a lower level team and Michigan should at least have a physical advantage. Nonetheless, look for how well Gardner and Miller communicate. Far too many times last season Gardner had trouble with snaps and that type of mistake is incongruent with Michigan’s expectations this season.
Also look to see how much trust Gardner has in his line, and specifically Cole, on passing plays. Does he ditch the pocket quickly, instinctively believing it will will collapse any second or does he step up and make throws with the belief that he is protected?
The status of Michigan’s backfield has been an evolving one. Hoke has three sophomore rushers trying to make the case to be the top running back in Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson. As of last week, Green was newly on the top of the depth chart. But I wouldn’t put too much weight into the running back depth chart at this point. While yes, Green will likely start the game, thus making him the starter, expect Smith to see a generous amount of the field and Johnson could even get some action.
This point ties in to the previous one, though. If the offensive line gets a good push against Appalachian State at the line of scrimmage, all of the running backs will look good.
It’s unlikely Hoke makes any longterm decisions at running back based off what happens in this game, but it is an opportunity for Green to make a case to cement his name as the starter. At least for now.
Red Hot Jabrill Peppers
Peppers, Michigan’s five star freshman, was recently announced as the starting punt returner. He will also likely start at defensive back, either at corner or in the middle of the nickel. If you’re aware of how exciting an athlete Peppers is, just hearing he will be on the field should get your blood pumping. If you haven’t, go watch this. And this. And, don’t forget this.
Peppers is damn talented. He’s capable of attaining Denard Robinson levels on the electrifying scale. The more Peppers is on the field, the better Michigan can be.
Now, let’s see if little Michigan can crack the code and notch their first ever win over mighty Appalachian State.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdalecfb
Tags: Michigan Football