Week 4 - SDSU at Michigan
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San Diego State (3-0) at Michigan (3-0) Sept. 24, 12:00, BTN
Here’s The Deal … It’s the Brady Bowl as Michigan head coach Brady Hoke’s old San Diego State program looks to show that there’s life after its head man bolted. The Aztecs went 11 years in a row without a winning season, and then Hoke worked his magic and it all came together last season with a 9-4 campaign finished off with a bowl win over Navy.
As good as last year was, the best wins were over Air Force and Navy. For new Aztec head coach Rocky Long, a win over Michigan would show that what Hoke set in motion has improved. This year’s team started out a little rough with a fight to beat Army and an uneven performance against Cal Poly, and then last week came the 21-point fourth quarter to put away Washington State for the program’s first 3-0 start since 1981.
Michigan started 4-0 in each of the last two seasons, but it didn’t turn out to mean much overall. This year’s team appears to be on the right track, and the thrilling win over Notre Dame might end up defining the first half of the season, but now there isn’t any room for mistakes. Ohio State looks beatable, Nebraska isn’t playing well, Iowa is shaky, and Michigan State got destroyed by the Irish; there isn’t a game on the slate Michigan can’t win. But first, it’s going to be in for a fight.
Why San Diego State Might Win: The Michigan defense still doesn’t work.
While defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will eventually have the Wolverines a frothing at the mouth brick wall, it might not be this year. So far, the Wolverines haven’t been able to stop a decent passing game, outside than a few well-timed hits on Western Michigan’s Alex Carder, and the sacks have been few and far between.
The run defense still whiffs way too often and the secondary gives up too many big plays. San Diego State has been phenomenal so far in pass protection allowing just one sack in three games, and it’s playing with an almost perfect offensive balance, running for 221 yards per outing and throwing for 207. This is a veteran team that’s not going to make a bunch of dumb mistakes, committing just 13 penalties so far, while the two turnovers last week against Washington State were the only two on the season. This is a tight team that has the athleticism and the experience to not be overwhelmed by the moment, and it’s more than talented enough to hang with the Wolverines for a full four quarters in a shootout, or it can get tough in a slugfest.
Why Michigan Might Win: Who knows this San Diego State team better than Brady Hoke? Obviously some things have changed under Long, but the new coaching staff is basically keeping the wheels in motion from what Hoke put in place.
Defensively, the Aztecs already faced two running quarterbacks and were lit up by Army for 403 rushing yards, led by Trent Steelman’s 157 yards and three scores, while the Cal Poly combination of Mark Rodgers and Andre Broadous combined for 71 yards on the ground, with each scoring. This is the game for Denard Robinson to take off and make big things happen if he wants to, and while the last thing Hoke and the coaching staff want to do is let No. 16 get beaten and bruised with the Big Ten season starting next week, but to win, that might have to be what happens because …
What To Watch Out For: Robinson’s been doing too much.
Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint have done a little to help out the running game, but Robinson has 352 of the team’s 680 rushing yards. Against Eastern Michigan, Robinson ran 26 times for 198 yards; Michigan could’ve won the game with Robinson running just six times. The bigger problem going forward is that Robinson has been awful at throwing the ball. He might have been scintillating against Notre Dame, but his receivers did most of the heavy lifting on lobbed up passes. So far this year Robinson has completed just 49% of his passes for 531 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions, and completing just 7-of-18 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns with a pick against a defense like Eastern Michigan’s is an issue.
San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman is second in the nation in rushing behind Marcus Lattimore, but he’s averaging more yards per carry. Robinson is third, averaging 153 yards per game and averaging 7.29 yards per pop, but Hillman is tied for the nation-lead in touchdown runs after exploding for four scores last week against Washington State. Steady and ultra-productive, he started out with 189 yards and two touchdowns against Cal Poly, ran for 117 yards and two scores against Army, and last week came up with 191 yards on 32 carries against Wazzu. Can Hoke stop his former star pupil? Hillman might be too good.
What Will Happen: Be very, very careful, Michigan. The Wolverines haven’t played all that well over the first three weeks and are hardly fully jelled. With the balance of Ryan Lindley through the air and Hillman on the ground, San Diego State is dangerous, but this is the game when the supporting cast helps out Robinson. The running backs will do more and the receivers should have an advantage against the Aztec corners. Michigan will win, but it’ll sweat.
CFN Prediction: Michigan 31 … San Diego State 27