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Western Michigan Broncos vs. Michigan Wolverines Prediction and Preview

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh

Both the Michigan Wolverines (0-1) and Western Michigan Broncos (0-1) had their seasons start off on the wrong foot this past weekend, but for vastly different reasons.

For Michigan, it was much of the same against Notre dame — inept offense, untimely mistakes on defense and to put it bluntly, horrendous blocking along the offensive line. There is hardly any shame in losing to the Irish on the road, but it is a troubling sight when the majority of issues that plagued last year’s team are still reoccurring in 2018.

Western Michigan had zero trouble on offense in Week 1, rolling up more than 600 total yards, but allowed Syracuse to rush for 300-plus and eventually fell 55-42 to the Orange.

Despite being so close in proximity, the Wolverines and Broncos have only met six times since the year 1917, with the last meeting coming back in 2011, and Michigan winning all six contests. WMU will be looking to change that trend on Saturday.

Western Michigan at Michigan

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Michigan -28.5

Three Things to Watch

1. No changes happening
Head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed this week that there will be no changes along the offensive line for Saturday. Against the Irish, Michigan surrendered three sacks, but with the way quarterback Shea Patterson was pressured and battered throughout the game, that number felt much higher. It wasn't just the pass blocking either. The Wolverines rushed for just 58 yards on 33 carries — less that two yards (1.8) per carry. If Michigan is to make substantial improvement on offense in 2018, the line has got to be better, and from the sound of it, Harbaugh is confident that will happen. "It's going to continue to get better and better, but I think it was one of the areas that we're improving in," Harbaugh said in his weekly presser. "The way we played this (Notre Dame) game is the way we'll play the next game."

2. Explosive plays

It’s highly unlikely that the Broncos will be able to sustain extended drives against this Wolverines defense, so the offense will have to find ways to create some explosive plays on Saturday to stay within striking distance. Western Michigan had no trouble doing that against the Orange last weekend, racking up four plays of 35 yards or more. Both running backs, Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy had runs of 50-plus yards, while wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge had an 84-yard touchdown. As we saw against the Irish on Saturday night, this Michigan defense can be susceptible at times to the big play, especially in the secondary, given their aggressive nature under coordinator Don Brown. Western Michigan will need to take advantage of those opportunities to have a chance.

3. Eliminate mistakes

The Michigan offense got much of the criticism for Saturday night’s loss, but they shouldn’t get all of it. While the defense did hold the Irish to just 302 yards of total offense, the same glaring mistakes that popped up in 2017 continued to happen in this game as well. Defensive breakdowns in the secondary, untimely penalties and other self-inflicted wounds plagued the defense, especially early on in the ball game as the Wolverines allowed touchdowns on three of Notre Dame’s first four drives, falling into a quick hole that they were unable to recover from. Michigan might be able to get away with those kinds of mistakes against Western Michigan, but the Wolverines do not have the offensive firepower to withstand these types of blunders against top-tier opponents that they will face down the line.

Final Analysis

While both teams suffered a loss in Week 1, and have issues that need fixing, it was not all doom and gloom. In a game in which the Wolverines were seemingly outplayed on both sides of the football, they still had a chance to tie on the final possession, on the road, against a high-level opponent. The Broncos need to shore up their defense, but the offense looked vastly improved from 2017, especially throwing the ball where they struggled mightily a year ago. If WMU is to have any shot at upsetting the Wolverines in their home opener, they will need to create explosive plays on offense and win the turnover battle. If not, it could be a long afternoon for the visitors.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan

Prediction: Michigan 34, Western Michigan 13

— 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.