Freshman kicker Quinn Nordin kicked a school-record five field goals to help No. 7 Michigan (3-0) overcome red zone deficiencies in a hard-fought 29-13 victory against Air Force (1-1) Saturday afternoon in Michigan Stadium.
For the third straight week, Michigan’s offense continued to sputter at best, leaving some questions for the Wolverines as they prepare to enter Big Ten play next week. Michigan managed to score just one touchdown against the Falcons, and the Wolverines really showed some warts trying to move the ball. Give Air Force credit for the defensive effort they presented, but Michigan only converted three of 11 third-down attempts and was unable to score a touchdown on any of their four red zone trips. It may not have cost Michigan a win today, but at some point, that trend cannot continue if the Wolverines are going to make a run for the Big Ten championship this fall.
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight was never pulled from the game, but his day was far from impressive as the leader of a Michigan offense still trying to find itself three weeks into the season. Play calling lacked creativity at times as well, but that just means there is room for improvement for Jim Harbaugh and his squad. Fortunately for Michigan, they have a kicker who continues to be automatic from any distance early on and the defense continues to rise to the occasion.
Air Force did find something to work with in the second half as they worked to tire down Michigan’s defense using their trademark option attack, but the Wolverines proved to have the decisive edge anytime Air Force tried to mix things up using their speed. Michigan was just faster. On a fourth-quarter drive, with Air Force trailing 22-13, a promising drive was thwarted when the Falcons tried running Timothy McVey to the right side. The Wolverines gobbled him up behind the line of scrimmage inside the red zone and Air Force kicker Luke Strebel sailed a field goal attempt wide left. Air Force probably needed to get a touchdown on the drive anyway, but the missed field goal midway through the fourth quarter felt like a near knockout blow for an Air Force offense not known for quick drives.
Michigan now enters Big Ten play looking to finish what they failed to do a year ago; win the Big Ten East Division, and perhaps the Big Ten championship. The defense is locked in for the job. Next week, the Wolverines head to Purdue to take on a Boilermaker team that has looked like a new program this season under new head coach Jeff Brohm. Purdue is playing at Missouri today and has already pushed Louisville into the fourth quarter. Can Michigan avoid an upset next week?
Air Force will return home for a big Mountain West Conference game against San Diego State. The Aztecs will be coming off a home game against Stanford.
A week after the defense set the tone in a season-opening win against the Florida Gators, No. 8 Michigan (2-0) once again could count on the defense to get the job done in their home opener against Cincinnati (1-1). In a 36-14 win in The Big House, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh still has some work to do to get the offense in gear.
Michigan’s defense accounted for two touchdowns, with Tyree Kinnel and Lavert Hill each recording a pick-six. Wilton Speight had a nice day in the box score with 221 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns, but there is still some passes that were off the mark and could use some polish. Ty Isaac led all players with 133 rushing yards, with 53 coming on one run. Of the 192 rushing yards Michigan compiled as a team, 97 of those yards came on two separate runs. The Wolverines converted just five of 15 third-down conversion attempts, and Michigan was flagged for seven penalties.
But defensively, the Wolverines have not skipped a beat this season. Through two games, the Wolverines have showed some of the best defense in the nation, thus putting to rest any concerns about the roster turnover from a year ago. That defense will see better tests coming their way though, as neither Florida or Cincinnati was expected to do much on offense against Michigan in the first two weeks. Air Force will present a different offensive style, but Michigan should have the depth to preview once again even if the offense is not clicking as desired.
Cincinnati hung around into the second half, cutting a Michigan lead to 17-14 in the third quarter, but the Bearcats simply could not keep any momentum with their own shaky play going up against a solid Michigan defense.
Michigan will stay home next week for a game against Air Force. Cincinnati will remain on the road but will stay in state to face Miami Ohio.
It goes without saying that coaches will say what coaches say. Suggesting their team is on a mission to score a big win in front of fans clad in the school colors should not be taken for anything more than simply aiming to get a rise out of the fans. Mission accomplished for Florida head coach Jim McElwain, but possible bulletin board material for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Speaking before Florida students over the weekend, McElwain laid it out there by saying his Gators were looking to do one thing against Michigan; win with authority.
“We’re heading to Dallas here in a couple weeks to go beat the heck out of Michigan, and then come back to you guys,” McElwain said, according to SEC Country.
The Gators are opening the college football season next week in Arlington, Texas against the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten. Florida will be a bit undermanned with the recent suspension of seven players, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Michigan also won the most recent meeting between the two schools, with Harbaugh’s Wolverines dominating McElwain’s Gators in the Citrus Bowl two seasons ago (41-7).
Michigan will be looking to reestablish its identity with a good amount of roster turnover this season, but the depth hit from the recent suspensions in Gainesville may help give Michigan an edge. Either way, we can only look forward to seeing how Harbaugh potentially responds once this claim from McElwain makes its way to Ann Arbor.
Wilton Speight and John O’Korn are the two leading candidates to be Michigan’s starting quarterback when the 2017 season opens against Florida. That’s the message that is being delivered by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh as the Wolverines continue with preseason practices in Ann Arbor.
“It’s not to say anything is set in stone right now, but I think that the two guys have created a little bit of separation,” Harbaugh said Friday following practice, according to Dan Murphy of ESPN.
Speight was Michigan’s starter for the 2016 season and entered the spring as the most likely starter for the offense going into the fall. O’Korn, who transferred from Houston started one game in place of an injured Speight last season, was expected to push for the starting job. Harbaugh has kept the competition wide open from the start of practices, but Harbaugh’s latest comments suggest redshirt freshman Brandon Peters is no longer in the running for the starting job and will be designated in a backup role for the upcoming season.
With such a big game to open the new season, Harbaugh may choose to hold off on naming a starter for as long as possible. Such a move would be a typical coaching move seen around college football in an attempt to not give the opponent any advantages. It’s a tad silly, but makes sense from a gamesmanship point of view as well. There is no timeline for when Harbaugh is expected to name a starter, so until then it is still a bit of a guessing game.
Michigan kicks off the 2017 season in Arlington, Texas against the Florida Gators. The Wolverines are coming off a 10-3 season that ended on a bit of a sour note. Harbaugh has also said he hopes the way last season ended drives the Wolverines to take the next step this season despite a good amount of roster turnover in the starting lineup.
After looking like a legitimate national title contender for two months last season, the Michigan Wolverines lost two games in November to finish in third place in the Big Ten East Division and then failed to finish the season on a winning note by dropping the Orange Bowl against Florida State. It was a rough way to end an otherwise stellar season in Ann Arbor, and it was a finish that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is hoping will help set the tone for the 2017 season.
”I hope a lot,” Harbuagh said when asked how much inspiration he hopes the Wolverines take from last season’s finish, according to the Associated Press. ”Maybe that will motivate us to put more into it. Coach better. Play better. Train harder. Put more of our heart into each and every one of those ballgames.”
Michigan will see a good amount of roster turnover this season and will face some good challenges this upcoming season. Aside from opening up the year on a big stage in Arlington, Texas against the Florida Gators, Michigan will also look to compete in a division that will be headlined by Ohio State and Penn State (both widely accepted to be playoff contenders in 2017) and a crossover division matchup against Wisconsin. The Wolverines may have a lot of starters to replace, but Harbaugh and his staff are now truly putting their stamp on the program by developing players they have been responsible for recruiting to Ann Arbor as Harbaugh begins his third season as the head coach of the Wolverines.
With so much turnover on the roster, it would not be a shock to see the Wolverines take a few weeks to really hit their stride. That could mean Michigan will be a better team at the end of the season than they may be in the opener. Fortunately, one area Michigan appears to thrive in is with game preparation. Harbaugh’s staff is regularly praised for the amount of prep work that is done with the game plan. Michigan could either be in a shaky toss-up against Florida in Week 1 or win it going away as they did the last time the two programs met, in the 2016 Citrus Bowl (Michigan blasted the Gators, 41-7).
Michigan will be a tough team this season, but matching last season’s win total in the regular season (10) will not be easy.