10 players who could have breakout games for Michigan football vs. Air Force
Wolverines look to stay unbeaten in final nonconference test
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The nonconference season is coming to an end Saturday as Michigan hosts Air Force, looking to stay undefeated on the year.
Michigan struggled in its first home game, letting Cincinnati hang around for three quarters before running away with 19 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes.
This week's matchup will be much tougher, as an experienced Air Force team brings its triple-option offense to Ann Arbor following a bye week. The service academies offer unique challenges for any team, but Michigan is a heavy favorite to come away with the win.
It's been a solid start to the year, but there's still plenty of uncertainty for Michigan on both sides of the ball. Here are 10 players who could have breakout games against Air Force:
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
It was surprising how little Donovan Peoples-Jones got involved in the offense against Florida, as he was limited to returning punts. Last week, he lost his punt-returning duties mid-game, but was much more involved on offense.
Peoples-Jones is only going to improve. He's got the highest ceiling of any young receiver, and his raw tools have already been on display when he gets the ball in space. Air Force, which is built on strength and discipline, has no answer for the athletic abilities of Peoples-Jones.
He picked up 44 yards on an end-around and was targeted on two passes. Peoples-Jones did his job both times, getting open on his route, but Wilton Speight missed him with inaccurate passes. If those throws are on target this week, Peoples-Jones could have a big game.
S Josh Metellus
The Michigan secondary had its coming out party against Cincinnati, picking off two passes and returning them for touchdowns. Michigan is allowing just 156.2 passing yards per game thanks to big plays by Tyree Kinnel, Lavert Hill and Brandon Watson, but against Air Force, it's Metellus' time to shine.
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Metellus is a big-hitting safety who has all the tools to be really good against the run. He's not bad in coverage, but his calling card is the support he gives the front seven in defending the rushing attack.
He has six tackles and a forced fumble this season, so he's already making an impact as a sophomore. Air Force's offensive scheme plays to his strengths, so look for a big performance from Metellus.
WR Eddie McDoom
Last year, Eddie McDoom was one of the most exciting surprises of the nonconference season, especially because Jim Harbaugh got creative in how he used the true freshman.
Through two games as a sophomore, McDoom has been nonexistent. He has one carry for four yards and no catches.
Like Peoples-Jones, McDoom has elite speed and athleticism, which should give him an edge against Air Force if Harbaugh pulls out a few tricks.
McDoom was expected to be one of the offense's top weapons coming into the season, but so far, he hasn't been featured. With one more tune-up before Big Ten season, McDoom could get rolling this weekend.
LB Noah Furbush
The excitement surrounding young players such as Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson has overshadowed some of the older players who are contributing on Michigan's defense, and Noah Furbush is in that group.
Furbush has never been a full-time starter for Michigan, but he's contributed to the rotation for the past calendar year. His big play was a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Florida, but Furbush is also a solid tackler who has a knack for getting to the ball carrier.
Bush is the best linebacker on the team, but Furbush is a good complimentary player who can rack up the tackles on any given Saturday. He'll be an important replacement on the second level against Air Force.
RB Chris Evans
I've been calling for a big game from Chris Evans all week, and I think he has a great chance to get back into the conversation for starting running back. Evans entered the season as the unquestioned starter in the backfield, but Ty Isaac has taken over the role with two 100-yard rushing performances.
Evans still has the highest ceiling of any Michigan running back, and the offense desperately needs the added dimension he adds in the backfield. Evans averaged 7 yards per carry last season, but he's at just 3.4 yards per carry so far this year.
Evans hasn't had a great matchup through two games, but he's too talented to slump for very long. I expect he'll have his best game yet against Air Force.
CB Ambry Thomas
Ambry Thomas is the only cornerback on the list because Air Force doesn't throw the ball very often. The true freshman has worked his way into the rotation, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Falcons try to exploit him on one of their surprise passing attempts.
Thomas was brought to Michigan because he's a playmaker, and if he's given an opportunity to force a turnover, he'll take it. Michigan has already scored three times on defense this season, and Thomas is among the skilled players who could make it a fourth.
Thomas is also a candidate to return kicks and punts with Michigan's special teams spots unsettled. If he gets a chance in the return game, he's a home-run threat.
TE Tyrone Wheatley
Harbaugh is known for his wizardry with tight ends, and that's already been apparent as Michigan breaks in a new crop of young players this season.
Nick Eubanks, Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry have made big plays already this season, but Tyrone Wheatley was the most highly touted tight end coming into the season.
Wheatley doesn't have great speed, but he's a matchup nightmare with his combination of size and good hands, so it's only a matter of time before he becomes a reliable target for Speight. Look for Wheatley to make some timely catches on third down or in the red zone.
DE Rashan Gary
It's strange to think about Rashan Gary as a player who hasn't broken out yet, but he really hasn't made a critical impact play in a Michigan uniform. With his talent and work ethic, Gary will excel against the run-heavy Air Force offense.
When officials called a roughing the passer penalty with targeting against Gary after a hit on the Cincinnati quarterback, it spurred Gary to play at another level.
The targeting call was overturned, and on the next play, Gary broke into the backfield untouched and delivered a huge blow to the quarterback. On the following pass, Gary came inches away from his first solo sack of the season.
Gary has played well on the defensive line, but opposing offenses have done a nice job limiting his impact in the backfield. Against a team that's likely to run the ball 50 times, Gary could really boost his tackle-for-loss numbers this weekend.
DL Aubrey Solomon
This one's a bit of a Hail Mary, because Aubrey Solomon hasn't seen the field very much this season. Michigan has a deep defensive line, but the true freshman is bound to get his snaps against a team that will test the front seven for 60 minutes.
Solomon was Michigan's most highly ranked defensive commit in the 2017 class, and he's expected to be a star pass rusher in the future. Don't be shocked if he offers a glimpse of that potential against the triple option, because Harbaugh will have him ready.
P Will Hart
Sometimes you have to recognize the unsung heroes, and Will Hart certainly needs to have a good game after shanking two straight punts against Cincinnati.
Hart beat out the top punting commit in the nation this offseason, Brad Robbins, to earn the starting job, so it's obvious he was the best punter on the roster. When Michigan was locked in a tight game with Cincinnati, Hart booted two 21-yard punts that gave Cincinnati excellent field position.
Hart has also unleashed a punt of 61 yards this season, and five of his nine kicks have pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line.
Punters rarely get noticed unless they make mistakes, so Hart was the victim of some grumbling from Michigan fans, but if he rights the ship against Air Force, he should be fine going forward.
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