Michigan football: Wolverines to watch vs. Northern Illinois
Before focusing on Michigan players to watch Saturday vs. Northern Illinois, let’s focus on one Huskies’ starter in particular: QB Rocky Lombardi.
As Michigan fans may reluctantly remember, it was roughly 1 year ago that Lombardi helped lead Michigan State to a shocking 27-24 win over the Wolverines. Throwing for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns, Lombardi put his arm on full display. His 83.3 QBR, per ESPN, was the second-highest of his career. In short, he had one of his best games, if not his best, against the Wolverines that Saturday in Ann Arbor.
During Week 1, Lombardi struggled during a 50-43 loss to Wyoming, throwing for 233 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs. So, depending on which Lombardi comes out for NIU on Saturday, he’ll either struggle or pick up where left off with Michigan in 2020.
Definitely keep an eye on him. The reasons are pretty obvious.
Now, onto the Wolverines who should command a lot of attention this weekend.
You already know who …
Due mostly to Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins, Michigan has the No. 5-ranked rushing offense in the country (339 yards per game), with 7 TDs on the ground through 2 games.
This past Saturday, the duo ran wild through Washington, racking up 323 of the Wolverines’ 343 rushing yards during a 31-10 victory in Ann Arbor. Considering that NIU just gave up 191 on the ground to Wyoming (101 to Xazavian Valladay), it’s safe to say that Corum and Haskins will continue their freestyle through another group of Huskies this weekend.
With Haskins’ powerful burst and Corum’s quickness and agility, Michigan has an ideal combo. They’re always going to be players to watch this season, so get used to seeing their names.
The Wolverines safeties and cornerbacks simply can’t afford to let Lombardi let loose Saturday. Yeah, he’s on a different team with a different O-line and different receivers, but still … he has the same arm.
Cornerback Vincent Gray is in need of a rebound game and a rematch vs. Lombardi, who frequently targeted Gray’s assignment last year.
Daxton Hill will, as usual, provide run support and pass coverage.
Michigan enters Saturday with the No. 12-ranked pass defense in the Big Ten. This has to be a primary focus of improvement before opening the Big Ten season Oct. 2 at Wisconsin.
More time for Kris
Kris Jenkins appeared in 1 game during the 2020 season. So far, he’s been a reliable option on the defensive line. On Saturday, he had a career-high 5 tackles as the Wolverines held Washington to 50 yards on the ground. The Wolverines have consistently had elite-level D-lines during Harbaugh’s tenure — and they’ve always found a way to groom the next guy in line. Jenkins looks to be a candidate for such recognition.
At 6-3/275, Jenkins is a long and athletic run-stopper. He’s also shown an ability to get into the backfield. He was constantly in the mix as the Michigan DL attacked Washington QB Dylan Morris.
“Really pleased with our defense. And (DC) Mike (Macdonald) — he did a great job calling the defense. From an offensive perspective, Washington ran everything,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the 31-10 win. “They ran everything known to man in the first three quarters. And for the most part — three straight 3-and-outs to start the game, and that was huge. And that got us off to — you talk about getting off to a fast start, I think that precipitated that. I think four 3-and-outs over the course of the game; it was really solid and strong.”
Caden Kolesar returned 2 punts for 24 yards against Washington, apparently taking over those duties for WR Ronnie Bell, who suffered a season-ending knee injury after returning a punt vs. Western Michigan.
A junior, Kolesar has gone relatively unnoticed to the general public. Saturday was just his 10th appearance. He’s primarily contributed on special teams and is listed as a defensive back. But really, he should be listed as a “UTL” for utility. He’s 5-10, 196 pounds and has good hands and speed.
Sneakily athletic, Kolesar might end up doing a few things for the Wolverines at some point this season. On a team of big names, Kolesar stands out as a player who should be fun to track this season.