The year was 1963 the last time the Michigan Wolverines (1-1) and SMU Mustangs (0-2) met up on the gridiron, with the Wolverines winning 27-16. Their second matchup in 55 years isn’t expected to be all that close, with Michigan opening up as five-touchdown favorites to begin the week.
The new-look Mustangs under head coach Sonny Dykes are off to a nightmarish start to the 2018 season with consecutive blowout losses to North Texas and TCU in which SMU allowed more than 40 points in both contests. The concerning issue at this point is the offense, which is supposed to be Dykes’ strong suit. After two weeks, SMU ranks 126th in the country, averaging just 249 yards of offense per game. That number has to increase if the Mustangs are to even flirt with a bowl game in 2018.
As for the Wolverines, they did what they were supposed to do last week in beating in-state rival Western Michigan 49-3. Saturday will be yet another tune-up before hitting Big Ten play next week at home against the new-look Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Can SMU get the offense back on track and make this a competitive fight against the Wolverines?
SMU at Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan -35
Three Things to Watch
Last year during the regular-season non-conference slate, the Wolverines outscored their opponents by 54 points in three games. In 2016 it was a 114-point differential in favor of Michigan. Yes, the Wolverines did drop the opener to Notre Dame, but with last week’s blowout victory, combined with this week’s likely outcome, Michigan will once again have a sizable point differential following its non-conference schedule. And like we saw last year as the Wolverines limped to a 8-5 finish, these blowouts mean very little. Can they be meaningful in terms of building a rhythm and consistency before heading into the Big Ten schedule? Sure. But this will likely end up being a glorified practice for the Wolverines, and those following the team are ready to see a consistent performance against an upper-echelon school as opposed to these overmatched non-conference foes like Michigan will face on Saturday.
2. Where is the offense?
This was supposed to be Sonny Dykes’ calling card. So why are the Mustangs 126th nationally in total offense after two weeks? Returning starting quarterback Ben Hicks is certainly having a rough go of it to start the year after throwing for 3,500-plus yards and 33 touchdowns a season ago. Through two games, Hicks has thrown just two touchdowns and is not even completing half (48.4 percent) of his throws. Last week against TCU, Hicks completed just 18-of-38 passes for 111 yards. The absence of last year’s pair of 1,000-yard receivers, Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn, is evident, and the running game is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. The Mustangs are in major trouble if they cannot outscore opponents. Don’t expect any of these issues to be rectified this week against arguably the best defense in the Big Ten.
3. Wide receivers are back
The 364-day touchdown drought ended last week for the Wolverine wide receivers when sophomore Nico Collins nabbed a 44-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shea Patterson. That would be the first of two touchdowns from Michigan wideouts as fellow sophomore Donovan Peoples-Jones also caught a TD pass late in the third quarter in the win over WMU. With those two touchdowns, Michigan receivers are now one score away from matching the total from ALL of last season (3). For Michigan to develop that aforementioned consistency, especially on offense, the rapport between Patterson and his receivers is crucial, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if this group surpasses last season’s total with a few more touchdowns on Saturday.
This would have to be a collapse of epic proportions if Michigan were to fall to SMU on Saturday. The only way the Mustangs can possibly keep pace is if the offense somehow gets back on track, which is highly unlikely against a defense that allowed just 208 yards and three points to Western Michigan a week ago. The Wolverines win in convincing fashion yet again.
Prediction: Michigan 52, SMU 7
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
(Top photo courtesy of smumustangs.com)