Michigan and Western Michigan have one important thing in common other than the fact they reside in the same state: Both got off to lousy starts in their season openers last week.
Most know about the bad start No. 21 Michigan got off to in a highly-anticipated matchup at Notre Dame, as the Wolverines fell behind 21-10 at halftime and saw their vaunted defense that got all sorts of preseason hype get shredded.
Notre Dame not only scored 21 points against a defense that returned 10 starters from a unit that ranked third nationally in 2017, but the Fighting Irish also had 233 yards of total offense in the first half, alone.
Ultimately, Michigan couldn’t rally and lost, 24-17.
Western Michigan also bemoaned a horrid start, as the Broncos fell behind at home to Syracuse 24-7 after the first quarter and 34-7 at halftime.
WMU managed to score 28 points in the third quarter, but ultimately, they dug too big of a hole for themselves and lost, 55-42.
Now, the squads will hope to rectify those bad starts and earn their first win of the season when they clash in a noon kickoff on Saturday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
“They are very aggressive,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said of WMU. “Their game against Syracuse was a hard-fought game. They battled. We looked at the team in the summer and continue to do so now. Been impressed.”
Now, not a lot of observers are impressed with the state of Michigan’s football program as Harbaugh enters his fourth season.
Some of the same issues that plagued Michigan during a disappointing 8-5 season last year were on display against the Fighting Irish, which led to a lot anger among fans.
The offensive line struggled to protect new quarterback Shea Patterson and there still seemed to be a lack of playmakers at the skill positions.
Patterson managed to complete 20 of 30 passes for 227 yards, but many of those yards came in the fourth quarter when Michigan was down two touchdowns and Notre Dame played more conservatively to avoid giving up a big play.
The defense, supposedly the strength of the team, also cracked in the first half.
Despite a lot of criticism heaped toward the offensive line, Harbaugh said there likely won’t be any lineup changes among that unit this week.
“I think the way we played this game is the way we will play the next game with the offensive line,” Harbaugh said.
The good news for Michigan is that it is in a favorable portion of its schedule in hopes of rectifying its issues.
The Wolverines begin a stretch where they will play four of their next five games at home and against opponents they should be favored against.
The first of those winnable games for Michigan comes against the Broncos, who are a rare team in that they have experience despite having only nine seniors on the roster this year.
WMU is loaded with juniors who have played extensively the last two years, especially on offense.
Quarterback Jon Wassink (379 yards and three touchdown passes against Syracuse), running backs Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy, and junior wideouts D’Wayne Eskridge and Keishawn Watson are playmakers at the skill positions, while center John Keenoy and guard Luke Juriga are two of the best linemen in the Mid-American Conference.
Eskridge was named the MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week after catching eight passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos struggled mightily on defense against Syracuse in the first half, but WMU head coach Tim Lester made sure to emphasize the fact his team outscored the Orange in the third quarter, 28-14.
“I just liked the fight,” Lester said. “That’s something we have to be known for. We have to fight earlier. We can’t be pushed back into a corner.”
It will be the first meeting between the teams since 2011. Michigan leads the all-time series, 6-0.