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.
Michigan may have one of the top defense sin the nation, if not just the Big Ten, but offensive worries are not hiding in Ann Arbor this afternoon. Michigan leads Air Force, 9-6, but have had to settle for two field goals on each of their two red zone trips.
Michigan took the game’s opening possession into the red zone but could not get past the Air Force 17-yard line before settling for a Quinn Nordin field goal. The Wolverines then fumbled away the football on their next offensive series when Chris Evans fumbled away a nine-yard gain. Air Force also took advantage by working their way into the red zone before Arion Worthman took a bad sack for a loss of 13 from the seven-yard line. That meant the Falcons had to settle for a field goal inside the red zone as well.
On the ensuing possession, Michigan again moved their way into the red zone, but Air Force stood tall and held Michigan to no gain from a 1st and Goal from the nine-yard line on the next three plays. Nordin again came out for his second field goal. Nordin added a third field goal just before halftime to give Michigan the lead.
The Wolverines entered the game with the Big Ten’s worst red zone touchdown percentage at 16.7 percent, roughly half of the percentage Rutgers has had early on this season. Michigan may find a way out of this game at home, but that is going to be a key area to focus on moving forward regardless of what happens in the second half.
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.
A week after flexing their defensive muscle against Florida, the Michigan Wolverines appear to be in pretty good form once again on the defensive side of the football. The offense is a bit of a different story, but Michigan still owns a 17-7 halftime advantage against Cincinnati in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines started well with a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, but the only other touchdown scored by the Wolverines came courtesy of the defense. Tyree Kinnel picked off a pass from Hayden Moore of Cincinnati and returned it 28 yards for a 14-0 lead.
Cincinnati took advantage of a special teams turnover by on a Michigan punt return. Cincy Tyrell came up with the loose football to give the Bearcats possession at the Michigan 38-yard line. A drawn-out nine plays later, Cincinnati punched the ball across the goal line on a Mike Boone run (which needed to be upheld by video replay) to cut the Michigan lead to 14-7 at the time late in the first quarter.
The Wolverines would later tack on a field goal, but the offense hit a wall in the second quarter and still seems to strugle to find some consistency. Michigan went 4-for-8 on third down conversion attempts and Michigan’s offense has turned the ball over once.
Will it all come together in the second half?
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.