Big 10

Michigan vs. Air Force: Scouting report, prediction

September 15, 2017

Posted September 15, 2017 at 07:27 AM | Updated September 15, 2017 at 07:28 AM

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Photo: Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

Week 3 is here

By Aaron McMann | amcmann@mlive.com

Michigan is 2-0 to start a season for just the second time in the last four years after a 36-14 win over Cincinnati. The victory was enough to convince voters to move the Wolverines up a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, to No. 7.

But the opponent this week is a unique one, not only in its prestige and history but in the offense it runs. Air Force is known for running the wild and wacky triple-option offense, forcing teams to abandon their core defensive principles to try and stop the run. The Falcons are coming off a 62-0 win over VMI in Week 1, and have won seven straight games dating back to the 2016 season. 

Here’s a position-by-position scouting report to help get you ready for Saturday’s game (noon, BTN), along with my prediction at the end. Hope you enjoy.

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Photo: Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

Quarterback

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Air Force’s game, junior quarterback Arion Worthman was 8-of-12 for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against VMI. Senior Nate Romine even got a few snaps, completing two passes for 18 yards. Yes, the Falcons like to run the ball, and do it often, 14 attempts for 190 yards is nothing to ignore either. Given Wilton Speight’s play the last two weeks, throwing two interceptions against Florida and fumbling twice against Cincinnati, this isn’t an automatic lock for the Wolverines that some would expect.

EDGE: Michigan, slightly

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Photo: Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

Running back

Here’s the trouble with trying to defend a triple-option offense: you never know where the ball is going. Air Force used a total of 16 different ball carriers in its first gams of the season, with 15 of them totaling two carries or more. Tim McVey is the top guy, but even he only 10 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. Air Force will go with a regular three-back look, mix it up with disguises and misdirections, forcing defenses to stay on their toes. Meanwhile, the Wolverines will rely largely on three backs of their own, led by fifth-year senior Ty Isaac, who is coming off a career-high 133-yard rushing game against Cincinnati. Sophomore Chris Evans will need to be more involved this week to give Michigan the depth and ability to try and keep up with Air Force.

EDGE: Air Force

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Photo: Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

Receivers

Running back McVey had more catches (3) against VMI than any of the other Falcons receivers, a group that is lacking serious depth and experience. Junior Garrett Sanders (2 catches, 62 yards), junior Marcus Bennett (2 catches, 24 yards) and sophomore Adam Farah (1 catch) are all playing the first season of their college careers. The Air Force offense will get them involved occasionally, requiring defenses not to forget about them, but Michigan’s secondary should have little issue in man-coverage this week. 

For the Wolverines, it’s largely been a three-man band through two games, with Grant Perry (8 catches, 112 yards), freshman Tarik Black (6 catches, 94 yards) and sophomore Kekoa Crawford (5 catches, 86 yards) leading the way. Michigan has also turned to its tight ends with regularity, especially when it needs to pick up some quick yardage and score. Keep an eye on Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry in case things go south early.

EDGE: Michgan

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Photo: Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

Offensive line

For a team with such an emphasis on running the football, Air Force works with an undersized offensive line. The Falcons return three starters and will start four seniors and a junior, but none of the five are listed any heavier than 290 pounds. Instead, they will rely on speed and strength to open up holes, which they do a good job and are successful at in the Mountain West Conference.

How they fare against a Big Ten defensive line, especially one the size of Michigan, will be a test. The Wolverines have been very good up front defensively in their first two games, but that was also against a pair of more traditional-style offenses where they had time to rush the quarterback. Michigan certainly has a size advantage here, but the key will be how quickly they can adapt. 

EDGE: Michigan

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