Michigan’s football team will look to build off its impressive 49-24 victory over Minnesota last week when its hosts Michigan State on Saturday.
Here are five things we learned about the Wolverines ahead of the rivalry matchup.
Lead-up to this year’s game just feels different
There won’t be any dueling chants of ‘go blue’ and ‘go green’ inside Michigan Stadium on Saturday. There won’t be large tailgates with a blend of Wolverines and Spartans fans getting in their last-minute trash talk before the game.
Instead, the two teams will take the field to an empty stadium, except for a few hundred close family members of the players.
The Wolverines dominated last year’s matchup 44-10, and the Spartans didn’t instill much hope for their fans after a surprising 37-28 loss to Rutgers last week in Mel Tucker’s debut as head coach.
With Michigan rolling in its opener against the Golden Gophers, it is favored by more than three touchdowns Saturday.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and several players this week talked about the importance of not overlooking their in-state rival, but there wasn’t much vehemence in their responses. With the teams trending in different directions, plus the game occurring during a global pandemic, the vitriol between the two programs appears to have subsided.
Will that change once the players take the field?
Daxton Hill, Nick Eubanks questionable to play
Harbaugh said Monday that he believes Daxton Hill “is going to be fine” after the sophomore safety exited last week’s game with an undisclosed history. Harbaugh anticipated Hill practicing this week, but we likely won’t get an update on his status until just before Saturday’s game.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh didn’t offer much of an update when asked if senior tight end Nick Eubanks should be available Saturday. He did not play against Minnesota for unspecified reasons.
“We’ll find out more about Nick today and tomorrow,” Harbaugh said on Monday.
Michigan won’t name its third-string quarterback
The Wolverines surprisingly dressed just two quarterbacks at Minnesota last week, begging the question, “Who is No. 3 on the depth chart?”
We spoke with quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels on Wednesday, but he didn’t offer much insight into why the team dressed two quarterbacks in its opener and who is behind them on the depth chart.
“I’ll let that speak for itself, and let everyone that we play kind of guess at that,” he said.
True freshman Dan Villari is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster, but there also are four walk-ons.
With Michigan playing at home for the first time on Saturday, it will likely dress more than two signal-callers, so we could get more clarity then. In a typical year, third-string quarterbacks usually don’t garner much attention, but with Wisconsin’s top two quarterbacks testing positive for COVID-19, along with Heisman Trophy candidate Trevor Lawrence, depth at the position is as important as ever.
Speaking of the Badgers…
Is Michigan’s Nov. 14 game against Wisconsin in jeopardy?
Wisconsin’s game against Nebraska on Saturday has been canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak. The Badgers now have 16 current cases on the team, including eight players and eight staff members.
While Wisconsin’s next two games – Purdue and Michigan — remain on for now, it still is a situation worth monitoring. Any player who tests positive must wait 21 days before returning to action.
The Badgers have paused all team activities for seven days, but if the team and population positivity rate remain high, future games could also be in jeopardy.
Michigan DT Christopher Hinton never considered opting out of 2020 season
This summer, Hinton’s parents launched the advocacy group “College Football Parents 247” and were forthright in expressing their concerns about student-athletes returning to campuses without proper safety measures in place.
Throughout the summer and fall, as the Big Ten postponed the season and then reinstated it weeks later, Christopher said opting out of the season was never a possibility.
“I never considered opting out,” Christopher said Tuesday in a video conference call with reporters. “I’m not the type of guy where I could see my teammates putting in work and goin’ hard every day and me just sittin’ on the sideline watching. That’s just not my DNA. It’s not in my blood. It was never a concern of mine. My parents just wanted the best for every college athlete with just uncertainties of COVID and things of that sort, but I was never concerned.”
Meanwhile, his parents are satisfied with the safety protocols the Big Ten put in place when it reinstated the season.
“We are just excited about them playing,” Hinton’s father, Chris, told MLive. “I think the decisions that were made, I agree with the decision to postpone, find out more about what’s going on. And returning, I think that was the right decision.”
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