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 4:42 PM ^

And they have needed to acquire experience and gain confidence. You saw TE Gentry catch and run briefly today. Our TEs will make their appearances known soon enough. For now Air Force was a helpful tune up before Purdue next game. Have faith.


September 16th, 2017 at 4:35 PM ^

I'm at the point where I'm ready to start blaming playcalling. Thought Speight was okay today. Had one throw that made me groan (McDoom in the endzone), but didn't turn the ball over. With this defense, we are going to have a chance in every game, but this offense means there are no more gimmes left on our schedule.


September 17th, 2017 at 1:08 AM ^

throw to McDoom didn't make me groan, but I think that was the first post route that Michigan has thrown in the red zone this year.

The throw to Black on the sideline was a little wonky.  It reminded me of the throw that Minnesota made in 2015 that they scored a TD on.  The defender ran his route for him and had underneath position.  Fortunately he didn't turn to look for the ball.


September 16th, 2017 at 4:40 PM ^

I thought Speight was ok, but the offense didn't help him out very much. He stood in there on several plays where he was hit while throwing or rushed. The repeated up the middle runs wasn't working very well. I'm guessing we're in a big hole on RPS on offense today.

Swayze Howell Sheen

September 16th, 2017 at 4:44 PM ^

so many people worried about Purdue (!)

so many people worried about the coaching

so many people worried about the playcalls

so many people worried about the QB


I grew up watching UM in the 70's and 80's, and all I can say is, given what I remember the fan base being like after games like then, and how similar it is to now, is this: WE'RE BACK!



September 16th, 2017 at 4:50 PM ^

Since the 70's and 80's, when I was a kid, not much has changed in terms of the look and feel of Michigan games. We seldom put lesser teams away early and often prevail over them by narrow margins. It's part and parcel of Michigan football unfortunately, but a win is a W at the end of season.


September 16th, 2017 at 4:50 PM ^

The O-line is struggling- in protection, in run blocking. But also, the running backs had some shaky decision making. Isaac dancing back there on 3 & 2, instead of hitting the hole or even pushing the hole, the fumble, and not bouncing it outside (until Higdon did that last td) when needed. These guys seem a little robotic instead of playing loose. Grinding out wins is not going to help in November, but these issues are better ironed out now than later. I'll take 3-0- no apologies. Go Blue!


September 16th, 2017 at 6:14 PM ^

Dunno why you think this troll would fly, Sparty.  Speight threw 14 completed passes for 169 yards (7.3 ypa), so it wasn't the passing game that sucked, and any team leaving their DBs home will egt crushed.

Next time, Sparty, wait more than a week between creating your account and starting to troll.


September 16th, 2017 at 4:52 PM ^

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

I like that we're 3-0 now rather than 0-3 but we're not a top ten team.  Harbaugh won't criticize his players, and rightly so, but there is no way he can be proud of or confident in this team.  The defense is young and there are a couple of players who are playing beyond their years; Gary, Bush, etc.  The DB's are trying to get better and one can feel a measure of enthusiasm in their play.  On the other side of the ball it is abject failure.  Speight doesn't inspire his team mates, has no touch, can't read defenses or change up the play, and telegraphs the ball like no one in college ball today.  The O-line is equally shaky and has trouble with opening holes, sustaining blocks, and pass protection.  The RB's are ok, but the days of an A-Train, Hart, etc. have yet to reappear.

Overall, this is a team without leadership, grit, and enthusiasm.  Watching the players walk off of the field they looked like a bunch of guys walking off the job site at quitting time.  While there are reasons to be optimistic, if the last three games are any indicator of this team's capabilities then it's going to be a long and tough season for Wolverine fans.  Without sudden improvements I don't see how they reach 8-4.  Season 3 of Harbaugh and I'm less assured of this squad than I was either of the last two years.


September 16th, 2017 at 6:21 PM ^

Speight is right to be concerned with third-and-long and in the red zone.  His lline can't keep the other team out, and we (and the other team) see him start to lock onto a receiver under those conditions.

Playcalling got Michigan into a lot of third-and-long situations, and that's when Speight shows his weaknesses.  He tends to be fine when he can use play-action or misdirection.  When he has to throw is when his mechanics get wonky and his reads get short.


September 16th, 2017 at 11:03 PM ^

I think Speight has more confidence than talent. His players seem to be 100% behind him. I'm sure they would fully support whoever Harbaugh picks to start, but from everything I read Speight is a leader of this team. Speight has all the off field intangibles you want in a QB but on the field has yet to become a dude.

Beat Rutgerland

September 16th, 2017 at 5:04 PM ^

I think 8 wins is the floor, and with the number of guys we lost 8 wins would not be the apocalypse. Right now it looks like it is going to be a rebuilding year, we all got our hopes up after Florida, but Florida just might not be that good.

Let's not panic and get out the pitchforks if Harbaugh needs a single year to rebuild as the very good talent he's been recruiting is coming online.


September 16th, 2017 at 9:17 PM ^

It's also the youngest of Harbaugh's 3 seasons so far. They will grow and improve over the season and make us proud. They are unlikely to win all their games, but the unrealistic expectations are on us: we were calling 9-3 or even 8-4 until preseason rankings came out, and suddenly expected a very green unit to challenge for the playoffs.
That alone says a lot, that we even believe that this team can do that, with as young as they are. But they are yoooooouuuung. There's going to be a lot of growing up this season and we have to expect and support that.
So far, this really young team has beaten a ranked SEC team on the road (which just got a ranked win of their own), and continues to find ways to fight for the W.
I guess what I'm saying is... Throw expectations aside and enjoy the ride. This team is young but talented and improving week to week.


September 16th, 2017 at 10:03 PM ^

You're complaining about your "points being taken away" and suggesting it's because you've predicted 8-4.

But that's not why you're getting negged. You're getting negged because you're asserting as fact things that you do not have knowledge of or are flatly incorrect about.


Speight doesn't inspire his team mates, has no touch, can't read defenses or change up the play, and telegraphs the ball like no one in college ball today.

This is just plain wrong. You have no idea what goes on in the locker room (though teammates firing back at critics might be a clue you could follow) so your remark about his inspiration of teammates has zero merit. He is clearly good at reading defenses, and basically always makes the right read. And there are already a couple of pretty memorable examples of him making great changes and/or adjustments while under center, so your assertion about "changing up the play" is just plain false. And he has also demonstrably shown an ability to go to his second and third reads, so your "telegraphing" remark is also false.

His execution of the reads and the plays is of course a major issue. But you're making assertions that contravene the facts on the field, undermining your argument entirely.

Overall, this is a team without leadership, grit, and enthusiasm. Watching the players walk off of the field they looked like a bunch of guys walking off the job site at quitting time.

This is typical "feelingsball" talk-show radio material that has no real rational basis. You have no knowledge with which to make these allegations; you are just drawing conclusions based upon your "feelings" because the team hasn't performed up to your standards. You're acting like there is something "telling" about how you saw the players walk off the field. Frankly, there are few things that could matter less in analyzing the game.

Look, I think there are issues here too. The team needs to score TDs. And your post elsewhere citing last year's blowouts was on the whole useful, I think. Air Force and Cincy are teams we should be beating by 35. But you're shunning thoughtful analysis for stuff that has no bearing on the game, and complaining when people don't agree. It's unfortunate.

While there are reasons to be optimistic, if the last three games are any indicator of this team's capabilities then it's going to be a long and tough season for Wolverine fans. Without sudden improvements I don't see how they reach 8-4. Season 3 of Harbaugh and I'm less assured of this squad than I was either of the last two years.

Pretty easy to see how they reach 8-4: They win four of their last nine games. Might seem like a stretch to you but I think they can patch that together.