Michigan 29, Air Force 13

Submitted by Ace on September 16th, 2017 at 4:10 PM

Quinn Nordin got his second school record in three games. [Eric Upchurch]

Michigan had their J. Walter Weatherman game today.

You could practically hear "...and that's why you don't schedule Air Force" echoing through the stadium as early as the first quarter, when the Falcons somehow used 6:13 of game clock to drive 24 yards in 12 plays for a field goal to knot the game at three apiece.

While Michigan's defense played up to their lofty standard, Air Force lingered in a contracted game that featured only 11 full drives from each team. The Wolverines could only move the ball in fits and spurts, generally going in the right direction until they hit the red zone, where all-too-familiar problems from the season's first two games cropped up again. Whether it was blown blocks, conservative playcalling, or missed opportunities, those problems forced Michigan to settle for field goals on all four of their trips to the red zone.

"They were doing a really good of disguising coverages, disguising blitzes," quarterback Wilton Speight said, noting Air Force did a particularly good job in the red zone.

"They had a better call than we had most of the time down there in the red zone," said Jim Harbaugh. "We'd like to score more touchdowns in the red zone. I think that'll come. We're moving the ball."

Speight finished an underwhelming 14-of-23 for 169 yards in what's become a typically uneven performance. He had a few excellent throws and lost some yardage to drops—most notably on a third-down pass that clanged off Kekoa Crawford's hands in the fourth quarter—but also missed a couple open receivers and couldn't lead the offense to a touchdown until the game's waning minutes.

DPJ couldn't be stopped once he got his eyes on the end zone. [Upchurch]

Fortunately for Michigan, while the offense found their footing, the other two units were rock solid. Quinn Nordin tied a program record with five field goals in five attempts, including a 49-yarder with room to spare to give Michigan a 9-6 halftime lead.

After the defense forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half, it looked like Michigan would finally break the game open. Donovan Peoples-Jones fielded a Charlie Scott punt that outdistanced the coverage, sprinted past the first wave, reversed field, and then tightroped the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown, the first of his Michigan career.

"My punt return team did a great job of blocking," Peoples-Jones said. "It made my job very easy. It just opened up like the Red Sea."

"I feel like great things are going to happen for Donovan Peoples-Jones," said Harbaugh.

Air Force countered with a rare explosive play, however, as receiver Ronald Cleveland got a step on Tyree Kinnel and took at third-down slant 64 yards to the house only four plays later.

That proved to be Air Force's only completion of the afternoon.

Somewhere in there is Air Force's quarterback. [Upchurch]

The defense, and the defensive line in particular, controlled this game. Against an offense that avoids negative plays at all costs, Michigan recorded nine tackles for loss and had three sacks on just 12 Air Force dropbacks. The three-man line of Rashan Gary, Mo Hurst, and Chase Winovich controlled the A- and B-gaps, allowing the back seven—led by Devin Bush and Mike McCray, who both finished with a team-high 11 tackles—to flow to the ball unencumbered.

By the second half, they were kicking the Falcons off the field with ruthless efficiency. Gary damn near beheaded quarterback Arion Worthman while forcing a third-quarter fumble the Falcons were fortunate to recover, inducing a roar of bloodlust from a previously stagnant crowd.

Their dominance meant two more field goal drives, plus a miss from Air Force's kicker, were enough to all but put the game away. Michigan was in clock-killing mode when Karan Higdon broke down the left sideline for a 36-yard touchdown with 1:02 to play.

"They play a brand of football that I really like, which is keep jabbing away," Harbaugh said. "They make you go beat them. They don't beat themselves."

That held true in this game. Frustratingly, it took the offense far too long to put the game away and still have fans feel comfortable heading into Big Ten play. Next week's trip to Purdue, a reinvigorated program under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, is looking far more perilous than it did a few weeks ago.

"We'll keep forging ahead, keep making improvements," said Harbaugh. "I like where this team is at right now."



September 16th, 2017 at 4:33 PM ^

Drevno or Harbaugh, they need to get out of turtle mode and open things up next week. We can't keep dicking around like this and putting Speight in 3rd and long with blitzers in his face. Unleash the Speight and roll with what you've got or we're going to lose a game we shouldn't.


September 16th, 2017 at 5:13 PM ^

Maybe its just that they know the D is special and they can lean on it whist working on basic plays with the O. Have to get good at the basics before adding too much other stuff. If they simply cut down on the mental mistakes they'd have a wicked O to go along with the D. 

Plus why show all your cards before you have too? UM is 3-0 with a nasty D, excellent ST and tons of potential on O. All with a team of nearly all first and 2nd year players. 

I'm excited...by the potential of this team this year and the years to come. 


September 16th, 2017 at 7:52 PM ^

I absolutely reject the notion that the coaches are purposefully not calling the plays they believe will most likely succeed to work on plays that are less likely to succeed.  What is happening is that they are calling plays that they think will work, Airforce brings out a defense that counters their play (by guessing correctly), and Wilton Speight fails to check us out of our play into a more successful one.  It's all of those things happening.  Accept it.


September 16th, 2017 at 8:47 PM ^

I see you forgot to mention an extremely weak and soft offensive line that failed to get any push against a d-line given up fifty pounds per player. I had bigger arms than there linebackers when i was wrestling 138 in high school. Either Harbaugh is delusional or just doesn't want to throw someone under the bus but this offense is miserable especially in the red zone. Yes I would be extremely happy with todays performance if it was against alabama, clemson or osu. I really don't care what type of offense air force runs and all that because Michigan should be able to go man for man down in th ered zone and run the ball down there throats. Are o-line is flat out weak fat slow and soft. Absolutely no push against a inferior smaller team equals future ass whoopings from the teams with real big boys. Totally disgusted with o-line play and Harbaugh can paint it any way he wants. His o-line is soft and Michigan will lose several games because of it. If you can't line up and punch it in by running the ball against air force you can't and will not do it against anyone this year. The last real lineman we have had at Michigan is Taylor Lewan and until we recruit these types we will continue to kick field goals. At least Nordin will rewrite the record books. Thought we had a chance this year, but with no offensive line it seems all but impossible. Speight is not the problem or really anyone else. It is the offensive line just like it has been for years. We struggle on offense because of  weak offensive line play. Soft 320 pound men.


September 17th, 2017 at 12:51 AM ^

for one.  Last week the first play of the game Michigan lined up with the center and the guards in tight and the tackles and everyone else out wide and then motioned to a normal alignment. 


September 16th, 2017 at 8:45 PM ^

Maybe because the receivers don't have it all down. We're relying on a true sophomore and a couple of true freshmen, and the role involves a lot more than just drawing up a route on the palm of your hand in the huddle.


September 16th, 2017 at 10:04 PM ^

It was better than the first two weeks, but Speight is still having to redirect Black and the tight ends.  Face it, they don't know the playbook yet.  We are used to seeing the last two years of upper classmen running where they are supposed to be.  This whole year is like watching Jake Rudock trying to hit Grant Perry during the Utah game.

The Fan in Fargo

September 17th, 2017 at 3:50 AM ^

It's funny you don't see some of these good plays from past games. It's not like any team has the time or focus to go back over all of those games. Not to mention the kids on those teams that cant absorb it all during a season and busy class schedule. There's no way. I remember in 2015 there were some good runs with the fullbacks. How come we don't see any of those against like an Iowa or buckeye opponent anymore? Even if a team does run those sets once or twice during the week, all Jim would have to do is tweak the formation just a smidge and they are all fucked.


September 17th, 2017 at 4:22 PM ^

and the other team is prepared.  Like on jet sweeps to McDoom.  So they need some different plays from last year (and the vanilla stuff they've been running).

Not sure how much of this is on the young newcomers or how much is just keeping it vanilla because we can and want to save things for when it's needed. 

If it's the former, it's a potential long-term problem. If it's the latter, then I'm actually fine with us beating these teams by 22 and 16 respectively and saving the good stuff for bettert teams.

Orrrr, it could be that Fisch was a better coordinator than Pep, or that Pep is settling back into the college game or something.  Did we throw a screen in this game?  That is baffling to me, considering it seems like an easy thing to get your young freshmen some catches (WR screens) or to neutralize aggressive blitzing.


September 17th, 2017 at 10:40 AM ^

He said Speight can be a danger to the team, basically, and that kept the play calls away from passes to areas of the field. This was what I said to my wife yesterday. The playcalling was run up the middle or to the edges for a large part of the middle of the game. I wondered if they were trying to keep Speight from turning over the ball or if they were just trying to work on more basic stuff against a different defense.


Sten Carlson

September 17th, 2017 at 10:59 AM ^

A lot of truth here.

AF is a team designed around chewing up clock, wearing out your defense, getting them sucked in and confused, and gashing them. We saw this after the Evans fumble, and with their lone TD. They don't beat themselves, they play good disciplined defense, and if you turn it over twice or more, you could easily have so few possessions that a comeback is near impossible.

yossarians tree

September 17th, 2017 at 11:09 AM ^

While Michigan's offense definitely has been shaky, give Air Force some credit. They played very hard-nosed, inspired, disciplined football on both sides of the ball for the entire game, against a talented but very young team. They had won 8 straight games before this, and they were doubtless sky high to play well on the big stage, and they did. Also I guarantee you to a man their offense will say that was the most physical and punishing defense they've faced. They were taking some big hits out there. That was a good test for a young team. 


September 16th, 2017 at 9:02 PM ^

Just what I just wrote. O-line play and play calling period is less than mediocre. Lay off Speight because that o-line is not a QB's or RB's best friend.Air forces nose tackle weighed like 265 and Michigan can't push that guy around. Face the facts and quit with the Speight bashing gentlemen because are main problems are a weak offensive line play and inept play calling. I will repeat it WEAK OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY AND INEPT PLAY CALLING. Mason Cole is the only one on that line that will ever get drafted. Hope those guys are getting good grades because none of them have what it takes. Absolutely no nasty to them at all which helps the defenses we face immensily.


September 17th, 2017 at 4:42 PM ^

called the OC.  He is the run game coordinator.  Same as last year.  Pep is the passing game coordinator and it is well-known and talked about by the coaches that JH + RGC + PGC call plays by committee.

They all take the blame and really it's JH who has override and is the HC, so he's ultimately responsible.  But since no one will criticize him around here, Drevno takes the brunt of it.


September 16th, 2017 at 5:02 PM ^

like a nice guy but not really a great football player.  He clearly can't hit wide open recievers and doesn't seem to have the scanning ability that other QBs have plus there is no chemistry between him and the wideouts.  Throw in Peters, there is no reason not to.  Speight may be a bit better but this is already a 8-4/9-3 season, if we go 7-5 with Peters in there it doesn't matter that much, he'll get great experience for next year.  We should give Peters an opportunity to build a relationship with the talented freshman.  Glad we started off the season with teams we can beat at least!


September 16th, 2017 at 5:09 PM ^

Somehow, you need to get the word to Harbaugh. Just explain to Harbaugh that he doesn't know what he's doing. That the team would be much better with Peters in there instead of Speight. I mean, who does Harbaugh think he is? Why does he keep on running Speight out there? You go on and make sure Harbaugh knows he is doing this all wrong.

The Fan in Fargo

September 17th, 2017 at 4:16 AM ^

It's called looking at the bigger picture there genius. I get what Harbaugh's doing and I respect it. He is the best head coach in the country. Hands down. If the B1G is out of reach towards the end of the season though or even in the middle, I might start to question things pretty seriously if Speight is still the guy and having the same troubles.