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.