Michigan Football Preview 2017

2017 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 128 of 179

THE WOLVERINE 2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 127 BY RYAN TICE Cincinnati has a lot of Ohio State flavor to it with the arrival of new head coach Luke Fickell, a former Buckeye nose guard who started 50 straight games from 1993‑96 and a longtime OSU assistant who served as the interim head coach in 2011 after Jim Tressel resigned. It doesn't end there — defensive coordina‑ tor Marcus Freeman also played at Ohio State, while veteran safeties coach Jon Tenuta and sev‑ eral others either worked at OSU or are Ohio natives (or both), so there might be a little more motivation and familiarity than usual for the Bearcats when they line up across from Michi‑ gan's winged helmets. However, that doesn't change the fact that Cin‑ cinnati would be way overmatched by most Big Ten squads. The Bearcats return just 10 offensive and defensive starters — which is tied for 114th nationally — off of a team that went 4‑8 a year ago and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2010. The team placed just one player, defensive tackle Cortez Broughton, onto the preseason first‑team All‑American Athletic Confer‑ ence squads put out by Athlon and Street & Smith's. The redshirt junior was a second‑ team all‑conference pick in 2016 after total‑ ing 42 tackles, five stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and one interception. The defensive line might be the strongest part of the club — versatile junior Marquise Copeland isn't considered a returning starter, but he is the top returning tackler after notching 59 stops (4.5 for loss) and forcing two fumbles a year ago. Junior defensive end Kimoni Fitz is counted as a returning starter, but wasn't nearly as productive (37 tackles, three for loss). Fickell's specialty is defense, but there isn't a lot of returning experience outside of the front line. Junior cornerback Alex Thomas picked off four passes and defended three more last year, while fifth‑year se‑ nior counterpart Grant Coleman opened 12 games last season. Junior Kevin Mouhon notched 50 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and one sack, and should lead the way at linebacker after mov‑ ing back from defensive end, while redshirt junior Tyrell Gilbert has 90 career tackles and showed a nose for the ball last year with two forced fumbles and three intercep‑ tions, which he returned for 119 yards. He broke up six passes and intercepted another in 2015, but is also being imported to the middle of the defense (at a Sam linebacker role similar to Jabrill Peppers at U‑M last year) after playing safety his first two years. The offense moved the ball through the air somewhat effectively last year — Cincinnati ranked 44th nation‑ ally with an average of 255.9 yards per game — despite multiple quarterbacks playing, but it could not finish drives. The Bearcats av‑ eraged just 19.3 points per game, which ranked 123rd nationally. The key to improv‑ ing that could be the return of two seniors who were hampered by injuries last fall — run‑ ning back Mike Boone and senior kicker An‑ drew Gantz. Boone had racked up 1,399 rush‑ ing yards and 18 touchdowns while averag‑ ing 6.8 yards per carry before injuries ren‑ dered him ineffective last year (388 yards, two scores, 3.7 yards per rush), while Gantz was a second‑team All‑AAC pick in 2014 and 2015 but was lost for the year after mak‑ ing two kicks last season. Gantz's replace‑ ment went 11 of 17 on field goals. The offense will also be bolstered by the return of the team's top two receivers from a year ago, Devin Gray (58 receptions for 860 yards and five touchdowns) and Kahlil Lewis (48 catches for 605 yards and five scores). Boone also proved to be an effective weapon in the pass game last year, finishing with 20 catches for 249 yards. That should help junior Hayden Moore improve on last year's passing line of 146 completions on 255 attempts (57.3 percent) for 1,744 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven games. Cincinnati could have Woody Hayes coaching them in 2017, and it would still require a monumental effort to make them competitive at the FBS level. Fickell is try‑ ing to get them there, and if he can anywhere close it won't be long before — like Hayes, who coached two years at Miami (Ohio) be‑ fore getting the call up to Ohio State — he'll moving on to lead a Power Five program. Notes A wild card under center could be former Ohio State quar- terback Torrance Gibson, a five-star recruit, but his status was still up in the air as of mid-May because he had report- edly not completed his associate's degree (which would have made him eligible to play in 2017). He is expected to redshirt. ❏ A Long Rebuild Is Ahead For New Bearcats Coach Luke Fickell 2017 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2016 Result Aug. 31 Austin Peay — Sept. 9 at Michigan — Sept. 16 at Miami (Ohio) W, 27-20 Sept. 23 at Navy — Sept. 30 Marshall — Oct. 7 UCF L, 24-3 Oct. 21 SMU — Oct. 28 at USF L, 45-20 Nov. 4 at Tulane — Nov. 10 Temple L, 34-13 Nov. 18 at East Carolina W, 31-19 Nov. 25 UConn L, 20-9 PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: Mike Boone, Sr., RB — The 5-10, 205-pounder led the team with 650 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in nine games as a true freshman … In 2015, he rushed for 749 yards and nine scores in 11 games … Injuries lim - ited him to nine games again in 2016, and his production dipped to 388 yards and two scores on the ground … Has averaged 5.8 yards per carry for his career. Defense: Alex Thomas, Jr., CB — The 6-1, 180-pound Florida na - tive snared four interceptions last year to rank second on the squad … He broke up three more passes while totaling 25 tackles … Cincin- nati ranked second in the Ameri- can Athletic Conference and 11th nationally with 17 interceptions; Thomas will have to lead the way after the graduation of safety Mike Tyson (five picks in 2016). Senior wideout Devin Gray hauled in 58 receptions for 860 yards and five touchdowns in 2016. PHOTO COURTESY CINCINNATI BEARCATS CINCINNATI BEARCATS • SEPT. 9 • GAME 2 QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: First meeting Head Coach: Luke Fickell, first year at Cincinnati and 6-7 overall (served as Ohio State's interim head coach in 2011) 2016 In Review: 4-8 overall, 1-7 AAC (4th East) Final 2016 Ranking: Unranked Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 5 defense, 1 spe - cialist) Last Bowl Appearance: 2015 (Hawai'i, vs. San Diego State, L 42-7) Conference Championships (last): 14 (2014, shared AAC) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Hayden Moore (1,744 yards, 11 TD, 7 INT) Rushing: Mike Boone (388 yards, 2 TD) Receiving: Devin Gray (860 yards, 5 TD) Tackles: Marquise Copeland (59) Sacks: Cortez Broughton (2.5) Interceptions: Alex Thomas (4)

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