When taking a look at Michigan's 2012 season schedule, this Week 3 match up against Massachusetts seems to be the easiest of the year, and it is a terrific tune up game heading into the storied rivalry against Notre Dame.
The most important part of Week 3 will be the establishment of position. Both lines need a boost heading into the meat of the schedule, Fitz Toussaint could really use a solid game to get his season on track, Denard Robinson would benefit from consecutive weeks of high performance, and the defense as a whole needs to get back to the basics of tackling.
There are a number of things the Wolverines can do to prepare themselves for the part of the schedule that really matters to the program. So here are my top keys both teams.
Michigan is coming off their first win of the season last week against Air Force and desperately needs to find a way to tune themselves up before heading into South Bend next week.
1) Control The Lines
It has been no secret through the first two weeks that Michigan has been dominated on the offensive and defensive lines both. Granted, they were facing two of the most respected rushing attacks in the game, but there was not a lot to be proud of for the men up front.
On defense, gaps are being opened that even Moses would be jealous of -- yes, that is my attempt at humor. UMass will be trying to exploit the exact same thing come Saturday. The MinuteMen don't necessarily have the greatest run game, but they see it as their best chance to penetrate the Michigan defense.
On offense, it's basically a different chapter in the same book. Right away, you can look at Toussaint's first game back from suspension and see that he wasn't productive... at all. Now, most of that blame can directly be placed on him, but the O-Line did not give him much to work with. It was a different story for Shoelace, but it will be vitally important that the offensive line can open gaps for Toussaint and make the Wolverine offense dangerous from different angles.
2) Fitzgerald Toussaint
Piggy-backing off of my first key to the game, it is of parallel importance that Toussaint becomes a factor in this game. I'm not saying they will need a 100+ yard effort from the starter, but he needs something to build off of heading into a key game against Notre Dame next week.
Last week against Air Force, Toussaint just didn't look all that comfortable to me. It was his first game of the season, but I'll admit I was expecting a lot more from the starting Junior. Either way, last week happened last week, and it's time to look forward and move on. I see Fitz coming out strong for this one and setting the tone for the rest of the season.
UMass, simply put, has had a terrible start to their season. They are 0-2 and have been outscored 82-6. Some basic knowledge of sports will quickly tell you that is not a good ratio. Still, they will march into Ann Arbor looking to put up a fight.
1) Hold Up On D
UMass does not have a big-time playmaker on their offense that has proven they can suddenly change the course of the game in a single play or possession. It just hasn't happened. That is why the MinuteMen's only chance against Michigan is to make plays on defense.
There are obviously a number of ways Michigan can beat you with their electric offense, but they need to find a way to slow them down. Whether it's by pressuring Denard with the rush or dropping into coverage and trusting the line up front, UMass needs a way to hang with the Wolverines offense.
2) Run The Ball
That's pretty straight forward, right? Michigan's defensive problems thus far begin and end up front, where they are both undersized and short in depth. UMass has not proven they can run the ball, but it is their best shot to be successful on Saturday.
One thing the MinuteMen should have taken notice of from last week is that Michigan does not deal with diversity very well. Air Force's triple option attack ate them up all afternoon. I'm not saying this offense needs to be adapted, but mixing up the looks they give the Wolverines could prove to be useful throughout the game. I'm expecting at least a couple of attempts at a trick play to try to spark this offense and get something going.
I really think this a perfect game for the Wolverines to get on track as they head into the rest of the season, and I believe that is exactly what will happen. Toussaint will be productive; maybe not the 100+ yard productive, but enough to prove that he wiped away the dust. Also, I'm expecting to see better tackling from the Wolverines defense. They haven't done a terrible job of gang tackling, but I have not at all been impressed with the overall ability to bring the ball carrier down in one on one situations, especially up front. Look for that to change on Saturday.
When the final whistle blows, expect an outcome looking something like 45-9. I know 9 is pretty precise, but I have a good feeling with this one.