Clearly the largest concern on everyone’s mind for the start of the Michigan Wolverines‘ season opener is how the offensive line looks in this system under offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, which is supposed to be much more friendly to the big men up front. So naturally, that’s where our inaugural “Matchup of the Game” takes us on Week 1.
Matchup of the Game: Michigan’s offensive line vs. Appalachian State’s pass rush
We all know Appalachian State is one of the more popular smaller programs in the country, mostly because of its gargantuan win over Michigan in 2007. But a trait this team carries with it is a solid defensive unit. Last season featured a defense that played soundly throughout the season but lacked a lethal front, which is where the Mountaineers could find success on Saturday.
The defensive line loses only one starter from a season ago; it’ll be a relatively deep and talented unit taking the field in The Big House. Defensive ends Deuce Robinson and Thomas Bronson combined for 10.5 tackles for loss in 2013, but that’s not where Appalachian State could really excel. If the Mountaineers can work up consistent pressure in the gaps, Michigan’s young offensive line could struggle and allow quarterback Devin Gardner to get knocked around like he did last season.
From left to right, Michigan’s offensive line will look like this Saturday: Mason Cole, Erik Magnuson, Jack Miller, Joey Burzynski, Ben Braden. Not a single senior is getting a start for the Wolverines on the offensive line, which means there’s plenty of room (and time) to gel completely, but for the here and now, this unit looks vulnerable to something consistent.
Appalachian State will likely also try to get the linebackers involved in the pass rush, using the defensive line to occupy blockers and free up opportunities for guys like John Law and Kennan Gilchrist to make plays in the backfield on a delayed blitz. On the other hand, Appalachian State would be wise to drop back into coverage and force Michigan to put the ball on the ground.
It’s a broken record—talking about the offensive line—but we’re all thinking the same thing. Michigan will obviously face much better pass rushers as the season goes on, but a test against Appalachian State isn’t going to be a breeze; keep an eye on how Michigan’s youth fares this Saturday.