It’s week two of the college football season for the Cincinnati Bearcats and this week’s opponent is a good one. The Michigan Wolverines downed a nationally ranked Florida Gators squad in their opener and have been in the running for the College Football Playoff in each of the last two years.
We asked the folks over at Maize N Brew to discuss Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines defense and summer movies.
Down the Drive: Michigan has obviously had some great teams under Jim Harbaugh. How does this year’s team compare?
Josh LaFond (Maize N Brew): Man, you put me on the spot right out of the gate! Coach [Jim] Harbaugh has done an amazing job at developing the talent he inherited. He started out by turning what was a 5-7 team into a 10-3 squad that contended for the Big Ten East for the majority of the season. Also, last season, helping to get 11 guys drafted and several others onto NFL practice squads is an achievement in of itself.
Now that he finally has his guys in place, and has started developing those guys, they will have a real shot to make some serious noise come this late November and on into December (Big Ten Championship/College Football Playoff). The question will be can this group work out the kinks that come with youth, and lack of experience for that matter, before heading into the gauntlet of Penn State, Wisconsin and then, of course, Ohio State?
DTD: How confident do you feel about the rest of the season after beating Florida? What was your overall assessment of that game?
JF: The Florida game showed me that the defense is still going to be elite, and that the offense needs some time to gel.
As I mentioned in your last question, for this Michigan team to have success, they need to find their groove and work out any prevalent issues before week eight’s matchup with the Nittany Lions, which is in Happy Valley I might add. The success of this season will hinge on the outcome of that game, in my opinion.
DTD: Who are the offensive playmakers that UC needs to be on the look out for?
JF: That's a good question, Phil. There's a lot of guys you could pick from but I'll give you a few I think are due for a big game. Tarik Black, Chris Evans, Sean McKeon and Khalid Hill.
Black, who was a four-star receiver in the 2017 cycle has emerged as one of the best receivers on the team in just a few short months of being on campus. He totaled 83 yards and one touchdown last week against the Gators.
Chris Evans is a shifty, illusive running back who seems to always find the hole in the line, or get to the edge, but regardless of how he gets in space, he's a threat for a big play nearly every time he touches the ball.
Sean McKeon who came out of high school as ranked as a low three-star in the 2016 recruiting class has shown that he was severely underrated. He is one of Wilton Speight’s favorite targets and could be due for a huge day.
Let's not forget Khalid Hill, or as Michigan fans have named him, “The Hammering Panda.” Although he's listed as a fullback, the former tight end can catch the ball out of the back field, lay down the hammer (no pun intended) on a vicious block, or rush it up the middle for a score in goal line sets.
DTD: Now to defense, which is clearly Michigan’s strength. Can you tell me a little bit about the scheme and how you can beat it? (Asking for a friend)
JF: Don Brown -- the Wolverines’ defense coordinator -- is known as Doctor Blitz, and for good reason. He doesn't necessarily stick to a traditional look like a 3-4, or a 4-3, or even a 3-3-5 on a weekly basis. What Coach Brown likes to do, however, is blitz the heck out of the opponent.
Two of his favorite things to do is are blitz everyone who isn't in coverage, or put corners in a man to man look with two high safeties and then blitz the linebackers.
For game watching purposes, keep your eyes on No. 7, Khaleke Hudson, and No. 10, Devin Bush Jr. Hudson plays what Don Brown calls the VIPER position. This is what Jabrill Peppers played last year. The person who mans the VIPER can be asked to do nearly everything. You will see Khaleke blitz on a regular basis, drop into man coverage attempting to lock down the slot or hinder any success the tight ends may have.
Bush Jr. is the starting middle linebacker. You will also see him not only in man coverage which displays his sideline to sideline speed, but also in blitz packages, where he again shows that great burst of speed rushing the passer.
Blitzing on nearly every play is extremely hard to defend. The only way to really beat this defense is to connect on passes, especially deep ones. Michigan's biggest weakness on D is the secondary. For Cincinnati to pull of the upset they will need to test these young corners with frequent deep shots and hope to connect on them. If they can hit on those bombs, we will be in a for a close game.
DTD: Jabrill Peppers was the standout defensive player last year, at least on a national level. Who are the defenders who will make the biggest impact on Saturday/this season?
JF: I'll go with the defensive line. That group is made up of Rashan Gary (No. 3), Maurice Hurst (No. 73), Bryan Mone (No. 90) and Chase Winovich (No. 15).
The D-Line is the strength of this team, any of those four guys I listed could have a huge day and a huge year. Keep your eyes peeled for those guys. They have a lot of chemistry together, and are a very tight knit group.
Rashan Gary (2016’s No. 1 overall recruit) is probably the most talented of the bunch and looks like a superstar in the making, so as far as who will have the biggest impact over the course of the season, I'll go with Gary to be that guy.
DTD: With Luke Fickell (former Ohio State defensive coordinator) now UC’s head coach, is there added incentive to win this game?
JF: For Luke Fickell, most definitely there is. With the way the Buckeyes, with Fickell as the head ball coach, [played] in The Game back in 2011 I think that he wants to remove that bad memory with what would be a huge upset over Michigan.
Beating the No. 8-ranked Wolverines on their home turf would be a big stepping stone. It would prove that Fickell has the makings of a not only being a successful head coach, but would propel the Bearcats to success this season that many wouldn't have seen coming.
DTD: What percentage chance would you give UC of winning on Saturday?
JF: As of today, I put the win percentage for UC at 20 percent. I think Cincinnati is heading in the right direction under Coach Fickell. Being a defensive coach by nature should help Cincinnati’s immediate future.
His choices in assistants have already shown to be successful on the recruiting trail as they're building a nice class. I could see UC being a Group of 5 favorite to make a New Year's Day game (similar to how Tom Herman at Houston) within the next couple of seasons.
DTD: What was the deal with Harbaugh keeping his roster secret for so long?
JF: To be honest, it's just a competitive advantage. When you have information that would give your opponent an advantage over you, when you're not obligated to share said info, why share it? I never understood too much of the hoopla around it anyway, and for this reason: if the media (ourselves included), opposing teams, or any fan for that matter is desperate for this information it's simple to find. All you would have to do is find out who was on the team last year, who graduated or went pro, and then add in the incumbent freshman.
If any opposing coach did this when playing Michigan, I would not have a problem with it, and here's why. Anything you can do to give yourself a competitive advantage over the team you're playing -- as long as it's within the legal guidelines laid out by the NCAA -- you should do it.
DTD: BONUS NON-FOOTBALL QUESTION: What was your favorite movie of this past summer?
JF: Geez, Phil, that's a tough one! For me, though, it's got to be Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I'm a huge Marvel fan (and any comic book hero for that matter). I grew up listening to the songs that were used as the soundtrack so hearing them on the big screen was an added bonus.
I love how Marvel tends to give their flicks so much comedy -- effortlessly I might add -- into a serious storyline like that. It gives you all the feels, and all the laughs throughout the movie. I can't wait to see what Marvel has in store!