Keys To The Game: Michigan Wolverines Football vs. Washington
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Keys To The Game: Michigan Wolverines Football vs. Washington

If history is any indication, Power Five teams that lose to FCS teams in their opener are doomed in game two ...

OK, still too soon.

Everyone still remembers Michigan's 2007 loss to Appalachian State (ESPN and others won't let them forget), but Washington's recent shocker at Montana's hands hasn't gotten as much play. The then-No. 20 Huskies plummeted out of the top 25, showed painful inadequacies on offense and scored only one touchdown in a 13-7 loss.

Now, head coach Jimmy Lake's team has to travel across the country to take on Michigan in a night game against a 'name' program in game two. Pac-12 squad Oregon hammered Lloyd Carr's Wolverines following the Appalachian State shocker, but the Huskies are intent on turning their season around — and this is a great opportunity.

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Michigan football defensive back Daxton Hill
Michigan Wolverines football defensive back Daxton Hill had a big game against Western Michigan. (AP Images)

“If you look at the history of Washington under Jimmy Lake since he’s been there — obviously, before his time even as a head coach as a defensive coordinator — I’ve known Coach Lake for a long time," offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He’s had some really talented defenses, and they’ve got a track record of sending a lot of guys to the NFL and having very productive defenses.

"Our message to our team was not about the score of the [Montana] game, but about the opponent we’re facing. It’s a very talented team ... talented defense. They played extremely well on the defensive side of the ball last week, and when you look at that game, it’s not like it was a blowout. It was a 13-7 game, so we have a tremendous challenge defensively and offensively for us."

Here are keys to a week two Michigan win:

Michigan Football Key: Improve On Both Lines Of Scrimmage

Michigan's offense did exactly what it should have in a 47-14 win over Western Michigan, putting up 551 yards, including 335 rushing. On paper, it would appear the Wolverines were dominant and owned both lines of scrimmage.

In reality, there's still a lot to improve upon up front offensively, and Washington's front will be a test. The corners are good, and it's likely the Huskies will crowd the box a bit behind their big defensive tackles. Montana managed only 232 total yards but won because of turnovers (Washington threw three picks) and some timely defense.

Sixth-year senior Andrew Vastardis looked like an All-Big Ten center in his first game, but he'll have a bigger test Saturday night against much more beef (the starting interior tackles are 300 and 330 pounds, respectively). The Wolverines' guards were inconsistent — there's hope freshman Zak Zinter will return to his right guard spot after playing sparingly due to a hand injury — and they need to do a better job establishing the line of scrimmage consistently.

Defensively, we still don't know this line's capabilities. They played with only two players' hands in the ground for most of last week to combat WMU's wide-open passing attack and were rarely tested in the run game. We expect the Huskies to try to establish ground dominance and take pressure off QB Dylan Morris, who struggled.

Michigan Football Key: Respect The Opponent

This one seems easy given how much was made of this game in the offseason, and the fact that head coach Jim Harbaugh admitted his team has been preparing for the Huskies for a while, but it's not always that easy with 19- and 20-year-olds.

Take last year as an example. U-M was riding high after a season-opening win over Minnesota, while Michigan State lost at home to Rutgers, turning it over seven times in the process. The Wolverines seemed to put it on cruise control and took a win for granted — and then they got punched in the mouth, were stunned and never recovered against a bad football team that, go figure, didn't turn it over in week two.

Granted, we think this Michigan team is much more focused and well-prepared. At the same time, this Washington team is much better than the MSU squad that came in and stunned the Wolverines.

Any complacency will be evident early. We don't expect it from this group.

Michigan Football Key: Turn To Page Two (And More) Of The Playbook

The Wolverines didn't show much offensively against Western because they didn't have to. They ran on most early downs, were able to set up several third-and-shorts because of it and were never in danger of losing once they got up a few scores.

While they mixed in the occasional reverse (successfully), Gattis and staff kept it pretty vanilla, and quarterback Cade McNamara executed the game plan nicely. He took a few deep shots, but mainly dinked and dunked with short and intermediate routes, taking advantage of positive down-and-distance situations.

With top receiver Ronnie Bell sidelined after suffering a major knee injury last week, one that will keep him out for the year, the Wolverines are going to need to out-scheme some opponents, something they haven't done enough of the last few years. That doesn't necessarily mean airing it out 40 times or abandoning the run, but variations in the run game, going against tendency, etc. ... whatever it takes, especially against a good defensive opponent.

Good, sound, fundamental football is still the key to winning games, but great game plans can go a long way toward making it easier.

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The Breakdown: Washington Huskies at Michigan Wolverines

Washington will come to Ann Arbor with a purpose — to try to start salvaging their season after an embarrassing home loss. They still have plenty to play for — this was never going to be a national contender, but the conference is still (theoretically) in play — and the Huskies do have some talent.

"I don’t think it’s relevant,” Harbaugh said of their loss to Montana. “You always think the first game is the hardest to prepare for, but the second game is even harder, because both teams will go back and work on [things]. They know where they’re at ... they go back and work on the things they need to improve, and they will. It’s a race to make those improvements in one week.

"We've got a good idea that Washington has been preparing for us for a long time. It’s an important game for both teams, so I think that makes that first game irrelevant ... as it almost always is, but as they say, especially in this second game scenario.”

In short, you just never know. First games are often fool's gold or not indicative of what a team really is (one way or another) — history has proven that over and over — so we expect we'll learn much more about both squads Saturday night.

We expect a tight one.


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