Washington faces a tough test when they travel to Ann Arbor on September 11th to take on the Michigan Wolverines
Photo: Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times
Article by WestCoastCFB
Washington and Michigan meet in a premier non-conference matchup between two historical power programs on September 11th in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Wolverines are coming off a disappointing 2-4 season but always feature one of the most talented rosters in college football with 36 players drafted in the past 5 years while the Huskies return nearly every impact player from their 2020 season that resulted in another Pac-12 North Title. Who has the edge in 2021 at each position group? We present you with an early preview.
Quarterback: Dylan Morris returns to lead the Washington offense after a solid Freshman season that resulted in 4 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions. Morris brings a winning attitude and his outstanding leadership was on full display when the former 4 star from Graham, Washington led the Huskies to a 24-21 win over Utah after trailing by 21 points at halftime.
Michigan has struggled to find quality QB play in the Harbaugh era and enter 2021 with question marks once again. However, the Wolverines are loaded with talent and feature Cade McNamara who threw 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions last season as well as 5 star recruit JJ McCarthy and Texas Tech transfer Alan Bowman. Bowman joins Michigan in Fall Camp and brings plenty of experience with 33 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions for his career.
Running Back: For a team that wants to run the ball, the biggest issue for the Washington offense is they don't have a big time running back they can lean on for 25-30 carries per game. The Huskies will take a running back by committee approach once again in 2021 with Sean McGrew, Kamari Pleasant, Richard Newton and Cam Davis all getting carries. McGrew is Washington's most experienced Tailback with 1,015 career yards while Richard Newton might be UW's best option and was an excellent short yardage threat as a Freshman in 2019 when he ran for 498 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Michigan lost Zach Charbonnet to the transfer portal but still have one of the better running backs in the Big-10 with Hassan Haskins back for his Senior Year. Haskins has imposing size at 6-1 220 and will make it difficult for the Huskies to bring him down. The Michigan running back has 188 career touches for 1,037 yards.
Wide Receiver: Washington has struggled to find quality WR play since John Ross and Dante Pettis left for the NFL. UW has recruited the position well while loading up with 4 star players but many just simply haven't panned out. In 2021, the Huskies will hope Terrell Bynum can have a breakout year after accumulating 577 total yards the past two seasons. Across from Bynum will be Rome Odunze who had 5 catches for 69 yards against Stanford last season and came to Washington as a 4 star recruit. The Huskies have potential at the position but until there is proven production the question marks will remain.
UW and Michigan feel like very similar programs over the past few years and that continues at the wide receiver position where Michigan has talent but it is still fairly unproven. The leader of the unit will be Ronnie Bell who has 1,311 career yards and can make big plays with an average of 15.4 yards per catch. Cornelius Johnson is a big receiver at 6-3 and will pose matchup problems for the Huskies who have had trouble stopping Stanford's tall receivers the past few years. The rest of the Michigan receiving room is unproven after electric playmaker Giles Jackson decided to leave the program for Seattle to join the Huskies.
Tight End: The Huskies have arguably the top Tight End in the country in Cade Otton who excels in both the run and and pass games. The Star TE is an excellent blocker and was often UW's best offensive weapon last season while reeling in 18 catches for 258 yards.
Washington has a clear edge at Tight End but Michigan's projected starter Erick All has plenty of unrealized potential and could be due for a breakout season. Wolverine's OC Josh Gattis called Eric All a "special talent" after he contributed 12 receptions for 82 yards last season.
Offensive Line: Led by projected first round pick Jaxson Kirkland, the Huskies have one of the best Offensive Lines in the entire country. UW returned all 5 starters from last season's unit that allowed just 1 sack and UW should be able to lean on their OL to help give Dylan Morris time to throw and to open lanes for their running backs.
The Michigan offensive line was strong last season and allowed the 2nd fewest sacks per game in the Big-10 and should be solid again even though the Wolverines will return only two starters from that unit. Due to injuries last season, many of this year's starters were given snaps last season and that experience should prove valuable.
Defensive Line: UW's Defensive line is largely unproven and struggled against the run last Fall. UW received more bad news when their star pass rusher, ZTF, was injured in the offseason and will likely miss most of the season. Tuli Letuligasenoa, Sam Taimani and Faatui Tuitele will rotate on the interior and all are 300+ pounds and former top recruits. If the Defensive Line can improve from last year, the Husky defense will be dangerous.
Michigan has one of the best defensive lineman in the country in Aidan Hutchinson. The 6-6 Defensive End has 94 career tackles and 11 for loss. Hutchinson will team up with another returning starter, Donovan Jeter, who is massive at 6-3 318 and should eat up blocks. Michigan will have one of the larger defensive lines that the Huskies will face this year and it should be a good test for the Husky OL. Keep an eye out for a breakout season from former 5 star Chris Hinton who could be primed for a dominant season.
Linebackers: Edefuan Ulofoshio was recently named the best Linebacker in the country for 2021 by PFF and is an exciting player to watch as he fly's around and makes game changing plays. Next to Ulofoshio will be former 4 star recruit Jackson Sirmon who is a good run defender and has 56 career tackles.
Josh Ross is a team captain and decided to return for his 5th season which was great news for what might be Michigan's worst unit. Ross has had some inconsistent play but led the defense in tackles with 53 last season and will be joined on the inside by fellow LB Michael Barrett who showed flashes of great play in 2020.
Secondary: UW has become known for their secondary play and has earned the moniker of West Coast DBU as a result. 2021 should be no different as the Huskies are led by one of the top corners in the country in Trent McDuffie and also feature Kyler Gordon and Oklahoma transfer Brendan Radley-Hiles. It's tough to find a better trio of corners than what Washington will have in 2021 and they should make things difficult for the Wolverines in the pass game.
At safety, Michigan will start former 5 star Dax Hill who has 80 career tackles and 7 passes defended over the past 2 seasons and Brad Hawkins who has racked up 118 tackles for his career. Gemon Green will be the top starter at corner and earned a solid grade from PFF last season as the Big Ten's 13th best corner.
Special Teams: Peyton Henry is back for another season and will give UW a solid kicker with plenty of experience after connecting on 41 of his 52 career attempts. Michigan transfer Giles Jackson gives UW a return threat and has 2 career KR touchdowns.
Jake Moody will be Michigan's kicker in 2021 and has made 17 career field goals on 24 attempts.
Coaching: Losing DC Pete Kwiatkowski to Texas was a major blow for the Huskies but they should be in good hands with Bob Gregory who led some formidable defenses at Cal during their glory days under Jeff Tedford. John Donovan is back to lead the offense and looks to prefer a heavy rushing attack. Donovan's offense could be effective in the Pac-12 where many teams don't have the size up front to stop a downhill rushing attack but the Huskies currently don't have the running backs on the roster to fully capitalize.
Jim Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the game despite the feeling that he has underperformed at Michigan. Harbaugh built Stanford into the power they are today before heading to to San Francisco where he led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2013. Since coming to Michigan, Harbaugh has a 49-22 record and has won 10 games 3 times.
Special Teams: Washington
Home Field: Michigan
Conclusion: Jim Harbaugh enters 2021 on the hot seat and needs to get the Wolverines back on track to keep his position. The Michigan defense has usually been one of the best in the nation since Harbaugh took over but after a major drop off in 2021 where they gave up 34.5 points per game they made the decision to fire Don Brown. Michigan's season hinges on making improvements on defense and finally finding a playmaker at QB. Expect Michigan to try and pound the rock against the Huskies who have a vulnerable defensive line while also targeting their tall receivers on 3rd down and in the red zone. Stanford has had success with this approach against the Huskies and you can expect Harbaugh to follow that recipe as he is close with David Shaw after the two coached together from 2006-2010. UW will have a tough test going into Ann Arbor and earning a win but if the Husky offensive line can protect Dylan Morris and create running lanes, expect the Huskies to pull out a close win in a low scoring game.