There are three ways to look at this BYU team. The first is that they got incredibly lucky in their first two games, winning on two last-second desperation heaves to the end zone, and are lucky to be sitting at 2-1 thus far. The second is that the Cougars are unfortunate not to be undefeated at this point, losing by a single point to undefeated, No. 9 UCLA, after having a chance to go ahead in the final minute before freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum saw his late-game luck run out, throwing a game-ending interception. Finally, there’s the third option, which is that BYU has won two very close games to pretty good football teams (at least, Boise State is a good team, Nebraska has been fairly mediocre thus far) and lost another close game to another very good team. However, all three of these options for looking at the Cougars as a team revolve around the idea that they’ve made a case for themselves as a solid team so far this September, either by winning games they probably shouldn’t have, or by losing a game that they very easily had a chance to win. This means that coming into Saturday, they can put the finishing touches on an impressive start to the season with a statement win against a revitalized Michigan program.
Conversely, Michigan has proved that it’s no longer one of the running jokes of the Big Ten that it has been for the last few years. Yes, people had a lot of fun laughing at Jim Harbaugh losing his first game of the season to Utah, but that’s also a pretty good, undefeated Utah team, and is probably the third toughest game on UM’s schedule. But the Wolverines managed to put up 17 points on a very salty Utah defense, despite senior quarterback Jake Rudock throwing three picks, and still showed a lot of power on the defensive side of the ball despite giving up 24 points to the Utes. This identity of wearing opponents down on the defensive side of the ball has really developed for them over the last two games, a 35-7 win against Oregon State and a 28-7 win against UNLV, which has taken the pressure off of the offense to perform above average.
Jake Rudock Has To Be A Difference Maker For The Wolverines
All of these things will collide on Saturday, and the question is which of these offenses can outlast the other. BYU has had a strong run defense against non-UCLA opponents this season (the Cougars are allowing a mere 162 yards on the ground so far, a number skewed by the Bruins gaining nearly 300 yards on the ground against them last Saturday), and if the Wolverines want to find any breathing room moving the ball, it’ll have to be a product of Jake Rudock making plays with his arm. However, this isn’t the best defense the Wolverines have played this season, and while Rudock has thrown at least one pick in every game so far, and looked pretty below-average against a weak UNLV team, he can still make a strong showing against a BYU defense that likely won’t give away much on the ground to De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and the rest of the Michigan backfield.
This Is The Toughest Defense BYU Has Played By Far
Conversely, this is the best defense Magnum and the Cougars will have played yet this year, and it’s going to make for tough sledding for them to see a ton of offensive output. While Mangum has looked very, very good in his first two full games of the season, he’s also shown some inconsistency, throwing just as many picks as he has touchdowns. To put it simply, that won’t work against Michigan, who will use a nasty front seven and a secondary led by junior Jourdan Lewis and sophomore Jabrill Peppers to make the freshman QB as uncomfortable as possible for the entire 60-minutes of play. BYU has some tall, talented receivers, but if there’s any defense that can overwhelm them in the secondary, it’s most likely Michigan’s.
The Winner Of This Game Will Likely Come Down To Which Quarterback Performs Better
While Michigan could possibly survive a mediocre game from Rudock and still walk away with a win, it certainly wouldn’t come easy, if at all, and likewise BYU will almost certainly not find a way to win without Magnum’s play being the best it’s been so far in this young season. Ultimately, this will be a question of seeing which quarterback can limit their mistakes, and which defense can give its offense more time to get going. Michigan certainly has the edge on the latter, so the pressure falls on Magnum outperforming Rudock against a superior defensive unit to win this game.