Michigan hosts No. 22 BYU in first true home test Saturday
Wolverines coming off home wins over Oregon State, UNLV
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team will face its first real home test under Jim Harbaugh Saturday as No. 22 BYU visits the Big House. The Wolverines, who head into the game with a 2-1 record after rolling over Oregon State (by a score of 35-7) and UNLV (28-7), are looking to finish the nonconference schedule with a trio of wins before kicking off Big Ten play on the road next weekend.
Harbaugh's defense impressed over the last two weeks, holding Oregon State and UNLV to an average of 186.5 total yards and limiting the West Coast schools to just 151 total yards on the ground. This defense is no fluke. It ranked 28th in the country last season by allowing just 22.4 points per game and returns a slew of major contributors on the line and in the secondary.
Still, Michigan's defense can't be crowned elite after bullying subpar teams. On Saturday, fans will get a look at how D.J. Durkin's unit matches up against a legitimate offense.
A legitimate offense led by freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum.
BYU's season jumped out to a disastrous start as star quarterback Taysom Hill went down for the season with the Cougars trailing Nebraska 28-24 in the opener in Lincoln. Hill, considered a Heisman Trophy candidate heading into the year, handed the reins of a dangerous offense over to Mangum, who didn't miss a beat.
With his team trailing in the 4th quarter, Mangum led the offense to 10 points in three drives, including a 42-yard Hail Mary pass to Mitch Mathews as time expired to win the game. The following week, Mangum's 35-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Juergens on 4th and 7 put BYU up 35-24 with 45 seconds left in the game.
Michigan won't see some wide-eyed 17-year-old kid under center on Saturday. Mangum loves the big stage. He was a top recruit coming out of high school three years ago before heading overseas to spend three years preaching as an LDS church missionary in Chile. He impressed the BYU coaching staff during the offseason and entered the season as the future successor to Hill. But when Hill injured his foot in Week 1, Mangum heard his name called early.
In three games, Mangum has completed 54 of 86 passes (62.8 percent) for 664 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. His mobility in the backfield helps him extend plays and at 6 foot 3, 210 pounds, he's tough to bring down. Mangum suffered his first loss as a starter last week at the Rose Bowl, where No. 10 UCLA scored a late touchdown to squeeze by BYU, 24-23.
Now, for the fourth straight week, the Cougars will kick off a game as underdogs.
Despite the betting lines that pit Michigan as a solid favorite, the Wolverines have way more to prove in this game than the Cougars do. In fact, a win on Saturday would arguably be Michigan's biggest victory in over three years.
Since knocking off No. 11 Virginia Tech to win the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3, 2012, Michigan's biggest wins came over Northwestern in 2012 and Notre Dame in 2013. Northwestern finished the 2012 season without a win over a ranked opponent. The 2013 Notre Dame team won its biggest game against an average Arizona State team and struggled against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Even the Wolverines' 2012 win over Michigan State came against a Spartan team that finished just 7-6.
Simply put, Michigan hasn't won a big game in three seasons. On Saturday, it has a chance to end that streak.
Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. from Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor
BYU is already battle tested, coming within one point of a 3-0 start against teams that finished the 2014 season a combined 31-9. No. 22 national ranking aside, the Cougars have looked like one of the top teams in the country.
Michigan's advantage will come through its ground attack, where De'Veon Smith and Ty Isaac have led the team to an average of 239.5 rushing yards over the last two weeks. Smith rumbled to 126 yards and three scores against an Oregon State defense that could not bring him down, while Isaac broke off a 76-yard dash to pace Michigan against UNLV. Michigan's starting running back in 2014, Drake Johnson, will also get into the mix Saturday after being fully cleared this week.
BYU ranks 74th in the country in rushing defense, giving up 162 yards per game. The Cougars are even more susceptible to the pass (240.7 yards per game -- 86th), but Jake Rudock has struggled to get on the same page as his receivers since coming to Ann Arbor.
Johnson, Smith and Isaac will have to set the tone for Michigan and open up the play action pass for Rudock. The Iowa transfer is comfortable in the play action and has developed an early chemistry with tight end Jake Butt and wide receiver Amara Darboh in the short passing game.
But one of those targets might be off-limits for Rudock on Saturday. BYU's Kai Nacua, the country's leader in interceptions, picked off four passes in his first three games and will be looking for a fifth against Rudock, who's already turned the ball over six times this season.
On defense, Chris Wormley and Jourdan Lewis lead Michigan against the potent passing attack of BYU. Wormley ranks fourth in the nation with seven tackles for loss and he'll be asked to contain a quarterback who loves to scramble around the backfield to extend plays. Meanwhile, Lewis will face his stiffest test of the season after knocking down four passes against UNLV. The junior leads the Big Ten with six pass break ups.
Michigan is not a National Championship contender this season, so on the surface, this nonconference game means nothing toward the team's goal of competing in the Big Ten. But for a program desperate to win a big game, knocking off BYU would be a step in the right direction toward getting back in the national picture.
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