Michigan football: 3 Storylines to Watch vs. UNLV

Michigan place kicker James Turner (32) attempts an extra point against East Carolina during the first half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.
Michigan place kicker James Turner (32) attempts an extra point against East Carolina during the first half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. /

This weekend, Michigan football enters round two of their lightweight non-conference schedule as they take on UNLV.

While the outcome is in little doubt with Michigan being given a 98% chance to win, there are still a few interesting storylines within the game for Wolverine fans to keep an eye on.

1. Offensive Line

Much has been made of Jim Harbaugh stating he believes Michigan football has 10 starting-caliber offensive linemen this season. While returning starters Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan have the two guard spots locked down there is still room for movement in the starting rotation.

Drake Nugent had a great game last week and seems to have the starting center spot locked down as well. However, I wouldn’t completely rule out talented redshirt sophomore Greg Crippen getting some game action this week.

Tackle is where Michigan football has the most to figure out. Myles Hinton started at right tackle last week against ECU and played fine.

There was room for improvement and Hinton even admitted he can play a lot better. Karsen Barnhart figures to start at one of the tackle spots. Barnhart won the starting right tackle job in season last year and started on the left side last Saturday.

You also have to factor in Arizona State transfer LaDarius Henderson, who many people had penciled in as a starter back in the spring. Trente Jones who started some at right tackle last season and saw snaps as a sixth offensive lineman in the matchup last week could very well win a starting spot as well.

Aside from who starts, there is also the question of can this offensive line establish the running game more effectively?

ECU stacked the box all game and was determined to make Michigan football beat them through the air. Whenever you have a new starting unit it takes time to build chemistry and I believe that is Michigan’s biggest challenge right now. With how many high-caliber players there are on this roster you have to figure there has been a lot of juggling of personnel all camp.

This position battle will resolve itself in the next few weeks and once it does this unit should start clicking. All you really want to see is improvement from week to week and I fully expect this offensive line to be opening big holes for the backs come Big Ten play.

2. Running Back Play

Both Michigan running backs looked solid in the opener. However, for a group dubbed as the best in the country, just solid doesn’t match lofty expectations. We need to cut Blake and Donovan some slack though as both are coming off of injuries and faced limited running lanes all day.

Neither of them saw much contact during fall camp and there is a mental component to coming back from an injury that takes time. Once both backs get some games in this year and teams start respecting J.J. McCarthy and the Michigan football passing game more, we’ll start seeing the running game dominance we’ve grown accustomed to the last few seasons.

3. Kicking Game

Michigan fans might be realizing we took Jake Moody a bit for granted last year. The Wolverines picked up James Turner from Louisville in the transfer portal this season. His Big House debut was unceremonious to say the least, missing an extra point as well as a 52-yard attempt. He did however hit 50 yarder as time expired in the first half.

5 bold predictions for Michigan football vs. UNLV. dark. Next

I don’t expect Michigan to give up on Turner after just one game, but the Wolverines do have other options and it will be worth watching to see if Turner can settle in and find his rhythm. With special teams being such a huge part of Michigan’s success the past two seasons, this is an under-the-radar indicator of Michigan’s potential this season.