Washington (0-1) at Michigan (1-0)
5 p.m. Saturday, Ann Arbor, Mich.
TV: ABC. Radio: SportsRadio 950 KJR.
Latest line: Wolverines by six.
UW key players
QB Dylan Morris: 226 passing yards, 58.7% completions, one rush TD, three interceptions
RB Richard Newton: 62 rushing yards, 3.6 yards per carry, four catches, 23 receiving yards
CB Trent McDuffie: two tackles, two pass breakups
LB Jackson Sirmon: nine tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
Michigan key players
QB Cade McNamara: 136 passing yards, 81.8% completions, two pass TD
RB Blake Corum: 111 rushing yards, 7.9 YPC, 1 rush TD, 2 catches, 22 yards, 1 receiving TD, 79 kick return yards
DE Aidan Hutchinson: four tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one blocked kick
LB Josh Ross: 6 tackles, 2 QB hits, 0.5 TFL
Establishing the run
Remember that running attack that was supposed to be the lifeblood of the Husky offense this season? Well, it didn’t show up in last weekend’s loss to Montana, mustering just 65 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry. And while Richard Newton carried the ball 17 times, there was little variety in a supposedly stacked running back room. Redshirt freshman Cameron Davis received just four carries, Kamari Pleasant didn’t get one and sixth-year senior Sean McGrew didn’t play for reasons that were not explained. With UW’s top four wide receivers unavailable against Montana, and perhaps against Michigan, the Husky running attack needs to be able to consistently move the chains. We’ll see if they can do that against a Wolverine defense that struggled in that department last season, surrendering 178.9 rushing yards per game and 4.16 opponent yards per carry.
Wherefore art thou, wide receivers?
Speaking of the Washington wide receivers, Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan — the Huskies’ starters throughout the vast majority of the offseason — didn’t play against Montana, and Texas Tech transfer Ja’Lynn Polk left with an apparent injury after the first series as well. From a playbook perspective, UW didn’t seem to have much faith in Taj Davis, Giles Jackson and Sawyer Racanelli, although Davis did contribute six catches for 59 yards in his first career start. And after working primarily with Bynum, Odunze and McMillan in scrimmage drills throughout the spring and summer, quarterback Dylan Morris didn’t appear to have much chemistry with his remaining wide receivers, either. It’s unclear how many, if any, of the missing wideouts will be back against Michigan. But Morris and UW offensive coordinator John Donovan need to find a way to make explosive passing plays against a Wolverine team that allowed quarterback Kaleb Eleby to complete just 20 of 37 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown in a 47-14 victory over Western Michigan last week.
Sophomore running back Blake Corum was the star of the show for Michigan last weekend, piling up 111 rushing yards with 7.9 yards per carry and a touchdown while adding 22 receiving yards, a receiving score and a 79-yard kickoff return. This is a particular concern for a Washington team that struggled both with run defense (opponents averaged 4.54 yards per carry) and kick coverage (25.54 yards per return) last season. And though Montana rushed for just 127 yards and 3.7 yards per carry last Saturday, a 37-yard Xavier Harris scamper on the Griz’s opening drive set up their first field goal of the game. Moreover, UW starting defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa — who contributed four tackles and one tackle for loss — appeared to suffer a minor injury late in the loss, leaving his status for this weekend unclear. Michigan struggled to establish the run last season, and has emphasized becoming a more physical offense in 2021. After piling up a whopping 335 rushing yards and 7.8 yards per carry last week, let’s see if the Wolverines can repeat the effort against Washington.
When we published our game-by-game predictions roughly a week ago, I picked the Huskies to earn an impressive 27-21 win in a marquee non-conference match up on the road at Michigan. But that was before four starting wide receivers went down, the running game sputtered, the offensive playbook evaporated and a ranked Washington team produced the worst loss in program history at home against Montana. Now, it’s hard to imagine how the Huskies could rebound in “The Big House” against a legitimate Big Ten opponent. UW will struggle to move the ball against Michigan, with a one-dimensional offense failing to establish the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Corum and fellow Michigan running back Hassan Haskins will wear down UW’s defensive front seven. For UW fans, this is going to get worse before it gets better.
Final score: Wolverines 28, Huskies 14