TSX Files: Michigan vs San Diego State

The Sports Xchange's Keys to the Game, Scouting the Teams, Players to Watch, Fast Facts, Injury Watch.

KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
GAMEDATE: 9/24/11
SITE: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: Big Ten Network
SERIES: Michigan leads 1-0 (last meeting, 2004, Michigan 24-21)
RECORDS: San Diego State 3-0, Michigan 3-0
POLLS: Michigan (No. 22 AP, No. 21 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Michigan 31-21

-- For San Diego State: Control the clock. Fortunately, RB Ronnie Hillman has been more than capable of doing that since he burst onto the scene as a freshman last season. SDSU can't get into a shootout with the Wolverines, or else its defense will wear down quickly.

-- For Michigan: Don't let San Diego State get off big plays. The Wolverines want to keep moving the chains and sustaining drives. The offense likely will continue to lean on QB Denard Robinson.

Just because Michigan coach Brady Hoke knows how good a runner San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman is doesn't mean that he can devise a plan to stop the Aztecs running back. Hoke knows too well that if he concentrates solely on Hillman, QB Ryan Lindley could have open targets downfield. Michigan will try to stop Hillman without putting any extra defenders in the box. If it can play straight-up defense, the Aztecs will be hard-pressed to score points. But if Hillman has a big day, the momentum can snowball in San Diego State's favor.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson will be a handful for any opponent, but he has the potential to make the Aztecs' aggressive blitz scheme pay if he can elude the rush. The Aztecs secondary has been solid but not spectacular, and if Robinson can buy himself some time, Michigan's wide receivers will find open space downfield. The Aztecs have to guard against the big-play threats of Jeremy Gallon (seven receptions for 135 yards and a 19.3-yard average per catch) and Junior Hemingway (four catches for 202 yards and a whopping 50.5-yard average per catch).

Michigan has scored in each of its 10 red zone trips this season, and those scores have been touchdowns nine times. Michigan also boasted a pair of 100-yard rushers last weekend in RB Vincent Smith (118 yards) and QB Denard Robinson (198 yards). Michigan wants to see Robinson throw more often and tilt the offense back towards a more balanced approach, not have him carry the ball the 26 times he ran against Eastern Michigan.

The Wolverines were a sloppy bunch when they allowed Eastern Michigan 122 rushing yards in the first quarter of last weekend's game, and a repeat of that performance will be disastrous against an unbeaten San Diego State team. Michigan needs to apply plenty of pressure from its defensive line and make sure there is contact at the line of scrimmage when the Aztecs run the football. San Diego State has the athletes to scare Michigan, if the Wolverines are not assignment sound.

Aztecs: San Diego State is 3-0 for the first time in 30 years. The five-game overall winning streak is now the nation's third-longest active streak. ... The Aztecs will be facing their former coach, Brady Hoke, now on the opposite sideline running the Michigan program. ... The Aztecs haven't had a lot of success in games in the Midwest but the games haven't been blowouts. They lost 27-24 at Missouri last season, at Notre Dame 21-13 in 2008, 14-0 at Wisconsin in 2006, 27-6 at Ohio State in 2005 and 24-21 at Michigan in 2004. ... The Aztecs have scored 14 points in the first quarter in each of their last seven games, dating to last season. The Wolverines have yet to score in the first quarter this season and have given up three TDs. ... RB Ronnie Hillman is second nationally in rushing yards per game with his 165.7 average. ... With wins of 49-21 over Cal Poly, 23-20 over Army, and 42-24 over Washington State, the Aztecs now have scored at least 21 points in 17 consecutive games.

Wolverines: Michigan coach Brady Hoke was involved in the scheduling of the San Diego State game at Michigan when he was head coach of the Aztecs. ... With the most-recent win over Eastern Michigan, Hoke moved to 50-50 in his career and reached the .500 mark for the first time since he was 4-4 in his first year at Ball State. ... The Wolverines held a 2-1 edge in the turnover battle against Eastern Michigan, giving Michigan a plus-6 turnover differential this season. Last year, Michigan was minus-10 in turnovers over its 13 games. ... Heading into the game against San Diego State, Michigan has won its last 11 regular season games against non-conference opponents, and won its past dozen games played in September. ... QB Denard Robinson had 198 rushing yards in the win over Eastern Michigan, giving him 2,405 for his career and pushing him within 152 yards of the second position in the Big Ten's all-time rushing leaders among quarterbacks.
-- QB Ryan Lindley - He has been able to provide glimpses of what the SDSU passing game could be, but hasn't been able to make it a showcase that can explode for points if opponents ever shut down RB Ronnie Hillman.
-- DE Jordan Thomas - He will have enough of a problem trying to get around Michigan's 300-pound offensive tackles, but he must also figure out what he will do once he has QB Denard Robinson in his sights. He must come after Robinson under control around the edge because if he loses contain, the Aztecs will be vulnerable to big plays in the pass or the run with Robinson's ability to scramble and run.
-- P Brian Stahovich - He looms large because of his ability to pin back the Aztecs' opponents. Seven of his 16 punts have landed inside the opponents' 20, and that would force Michigan to have to embark on long drives.

Wolverines: -- RB Vincent Smith -- Smith made his cas
e to be the featured back in this offense with his 118 yards on just nine carries against Eastern Michigan.
-- S Thomas Gordon -- Coach Brady Hoke challenged Gordon to become a better football player. Gordon took those words to heart in his film review, training and in practice. He had an interception and a fumble recovery last week.
-- LB Brandin Hawthorne -- A junior Hawthorne got the first start of his career last week against Eastern Michigan and led the Wolverines with 10 tackles. He had one stop in all of the 2010 season.

-- S Brandon Davis (neck, doubtful).

-- LB Cam Gordon (back, probable), LB Brandon Herron (leg, probable), P Will Hagerup (suspended, out).

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