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What you need to know: BYU vs. Michigan preview

After winning the previous important meeting, BYU looks to go up on Michigan 2-0.

De'Veon Smith leads a potent running attack for the Wolverines.
De'Veon Smith leads a potent running attack for the Wolverines.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The History

Although the two teams have only played once previous to 2015, the game may have had the most impact in the history of the BYU Cougars program. With a national championship on the line for the Cougars, Robbie Bosco and company ensured that the Cougars would finish the year undefeated in 1984 by beating Michigan. Since the one game was in the bowl game and on a neutral field, BYU will be taking their first trip to the historic Michigan Stadium. For the second time this season, BYU will have a chance to upset a storied program in their home stadium.

San Diego, CA - 1984
Holiday Bowl
BYU 24, Michigan 17

With history on the line and a chance for a national championship, the undefeated Cougars entered Jack Murphy Stadium ready to take on the 6-5 Michigan Wolverines. Things started poorly for BYU as their first drive ended with a Bosco interception, and things got worse from there.

On the Cougars' second drive, a roughing the passer late hit led to a knee ligament strain to Bosco who was carted off the field and to the locker room. The game remained scoreless through the first quarter.

When Bosco returned in the second quarter, he led the Cougars down the field and Kelly Smith rushed for the first touchdown of the game. BYU had a chance to jump up 14 when they sacked the punter at the Michigan 5-yard line, but a fumble into the endzone by Bosco gave the Wolverines the ball back. After Michigan drove 80 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, BYU responded with a field goal just before the half and a 10-7 lead.

The first two BYU possessions of the third quarter didn't fare any better than the first quarter, as another interception and Bosco fumble kept the Cougars from increasing their lead. BYU had another chance as they drove down for a field goal attempt that was blocked.

After the blocked FG, the Wolverines mounted a drive for a go-ahead touchdown to lead 14-10. BYU would once again fumble before they could get a drive going, but the defense held tough and kept Michigan to a field goal, their final points of the game.

With just under 11 minutes left in the game, Bosco threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Glen Kozlowski. With the score tied at 17-17, BYU escaped another Bosco interception and the Cougars' defense gave the offense one more shot. After driving the field the injured Bosco found Kelly Smith for the winning touchdown. After the Cougars intercepted a pass to seal the game, the Cougars celebrated what they hoped would be their national-championship-clinching win. BYU was later voted #1.

The Outlook

After another performance by the Cougars that came down to the wire, BYU lost its first game of the season at UCLA. Once again it came down to a fourth down play, only this time it ended in an interception instead of a completed hail mary. Even with the loss to a top 10 team, the Cougars played well and showed that they are the real deal. Many fans even feel more confident coming out with a one-point loss, than they had with the previous two wins.

The Positives

Once again, Tanner Mangum showed how much poise and talent he has, even as a freshman. Even against the 10th ranked UCLA Bruins, the youngster only threw one interception, which came on the last drive in what may be considered desperation, and made adjustments in the passing game. Previous games let fans see how well he throws the long ball. Against UCLA, the Bruins took the long ball away from the Cougars and allowed Mangum to show that he can be just as efficient with the short to mid-range pass as he could throwing deep.

Once again, Adam Hine jumped into the spotlight as he pushed put the running game on the map again. With 23 carries, 149 yards rushing and a touchdown the Cougars can look forward to success on the ground and through the air with a balanced attack.

The Negatives

There weren't too many negative to draw from the game but one that did stand out is the third down conversion rate, with exception to the last drive. A number of times the Cougars were forced to go for it on fourth down instead of taking care of business on the first three. The Cougars will need to shore up this area if they want to move the ball consistently on offense and not risk giving up the field position or leaving points on the board. Giving up a big amount of rushing yards while UCLA had the ball under 20 minutes is also a concern.

The Match-up

The key to this game will be the BYU defensive front against the Michigan offensive line. The Cougars' defense gave up almost 300 yards on only 38 rushes at UCLA. This led to a final drive for the Bruins that won the game, but also an average of almost eight yards per carry. With another strong run game coming up from the Wolverines, the Cougars need to figure out how to limit the big runs.

If the Wolverines' line can open up holes for their running backs, the Cougars will be unable to take advantage of the poor quarterback play. If the defense can limit the run and force Michigan to pass, this bodes very well for the Cougars' chances of winning.

The Keys to Watch

When the Wolverines have the ball:

Watch for Michigan to come out of the gate trying to hit the Cougars in the mouth and force the defense to play back on their heels in the run game. Up to this point, the strength for Michigan appears to be the run as they have run for almost as many yards as they have in the passing game. Watch for most of the carries to be given to De'Veon Smith as he has roughly three times (53) as many carries as the next guy (18). Smith has 206 yards through three games and Ty Isaac has 161. In all the Wolverines have 555 yards on 116 carries, with an average of 4.8 per carry.

Watch for the Cougars to force the Wolverines to pass the ball and rely on the arm of Jake Rudock. Rudock has a decent completion percentage as he completes over 60% of his passes, but he has only three touchdowns to five interceptions and completes many of his passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. If the defense can force the pass, and then disrupt the quarterback and backfield, the Cougars could snag a few turnovers and turn the tables on Michigan.

When the Cougars have the ball:

Watch for the running game to continue to improve. As Hine has come on the last game and a half, hope has sprung up again that the Cougars can have a balanced attack. Watch for a continued mixture of pass and run as Mangum improves in the Anae 2.0 offense. Watch for even better reads and progression from the freshman and even more open receivers as Hine draws players in to stop the run.

Watch for the Wolverines to do the same thing BYU's defense wants to do -- take away the run game as they work at making BYU one-dimensional. Even with the progress Mangum has made, the defense will still challenge him and succeed if the running game is shut down.

Watch for Michigan to take a page out of the UCLA defensive book and take away the long ball. Without the long ball, Mangum will be forced to throw the short and mid-range, leading to more plays and longer drives. With this scenario the defense feels it can cause, and take advantage of, mistakes and turnovers.

Interesting Tidbit

Not many people know that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has a connection to BYU that goes beyond recruiting Taysom Hill. In 1984, a young Harbaugh won the starting job as a quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines. He played the first four games of the season as a redshirt freshman, but ended up breaking his arm in game five. Due to his season-ending injury, Harbaugh was unable to play in the only meeting between the Cougars and Wolverines, and had to watch as a spectator as BYU won the Holiday Bowl in what clinched the national championship.

Next Meeting

At this time, there is no future meeting scheduled between BYU and Michigan.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 10:00 am MDT

Where: Michigan Stadium (The Big House) - Ann Arbor, MI


Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

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