Friday, September 8, 2017

No. 8 Michigan continues its makeover on both sides of the ball as Cincinnati comes calling

After a thorough domination on defense in a 33-17 win over the Florida Gators on Sept. 2, the No. 8 Michigan Wolverines look to continue to establish their identity as the Cincinnati Bearcats come calling on Saturday (Noon ET, ABC) at Michigan Stadium in the first meeting ever between the schools.

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight gets an opportunity to redeem himself in the home opener at Michigan Stadium after back-to-back interception passes for touchdowns and being benched in favor of John O’Korn in the Florida game.

The benching lit a fire under Speight and came back into the game and finished with 11-of-25 for 181 yards through the air and a touchdown. Speight will be the starter against Cincinnati, but expect O’Korn to see some playing time according to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.

“There’s always things to improve on and if you can’t handle that type of situation where things go wrong, then the quarterback position is the wrong spot to be playing in,” Harbaugh said in Monday’s press conference. “I thought [Wilton] handled it really well and sometimes that can break players.”

Any doubt of Michigan’s defense being a weakness would be answered as linebacker Devin Bush led the way with a team-high seven tackles (three for loss) and two sacks against Florida.

With Kenny Allen no longer the primary field goal option due to graduation, freshman placekicker Quinn Nordin did not miss a beat with four makes (two from 50-plus yards out) against Florida. Nordin will be counted on to deliver for the Wolverines on Saturday in his debut home game.

Familiarity rings as first-year Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell worked in the same capacity and in other positions at Ohio State the previous 18 years and knows a lot about the rivalry with Michigan, which could serve as a rallying cry.

Expect things to be more of a challenge for the Bearcats as they transition from a 26-14 win against the Austin Peay Governors on Aug. 31 to a daunting Wolverines defense, which did not yield a touchdown to the Gators offense.

Cincinnati quarterback Hayden Moore fared well going 17-of-28 passing for three TD’s in the Austin Peay win, but could be in for a daunting challenge as Michigan’s secondary could have a field day if it can corral the short pass strategy. Cincinnati’s offense could be forced to expand in order to keep Michigan's defense on alert at all times.

The Bearcats held the ball for 22:19 of the 60 minutes against the Governors and could face an uphill climb against Michigan if similar numbers are produced. Long drives and keen playcalling could be necessary in order to keep Michigan’s offense away from the field for long periods.

On the other side of the ball, the Bearcats forced a fumble and an interception against Austin Peay and will need more impact plays in order to hang with the Wolverines for four quarters.

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