Michigan's home opener was supposed to look a lot like last year's Rutgers game. Instead, it more closely resembled last week's Florida game. While that was perfectly fine against a talented UF squad, it was far less so against an overmatched Cincinnati team that barely squeaked by Austin Peay last week.
The game began as expected. Ty Isaac churned out yards with ease, setting up a 43-yard Wilton Speight touchdown bomb to a wide open Kekoa Crawford on the opening drive. The defense held up its end, booting Cincinnati off the field in three plays. While the Wolverines went three-and-out on their ensuing drive, Tyree Kinnel got them back on track, picking off an overthrow from UC's Hayden Moore and diving into the end zone for a 28-yard pick-six.
Then things started going sideways. A short punt by the Bearcats bounced off Nate Johnson's leg, giving Cincinnati a first down on the Michigan 38-yard line. After a penalty kept the drive alive, Mike Boone squeezed his way in from a yard out for the first touchdown scored against the M defense this season. The next Wolverine drive stalled in the red zone, and Quinn Nordin's 28-yard field goal opened one of the uglier quarters Michigan has played under Jim Harbaugh.
Seemingly nothing could go right on offense in the second quarter. Speight fumbled a jet sweep handoff to Crawford to kill a promising drive. Tarik Black ran what, on review, turned out to be an 11-yard route on third-and-12 to end the next one. Speight winged a couple passes high, evoking bad memories of last week's second quarter.
Michigan didn't get a first-half point after Nordin's field goal with 14:03 left. The defense didn't give up any, either, but only after an interminable final drive by Cincinnati resulted in a 51-yard field goal sailing wide right. As the team ran into the tunnel, the fans were audibly displeased with the 17-7 halftime lead.
The grumbling continued into the third quarter as Cincinnati took the kickoff and marched 85 yards in ten plays to cut the lead to three points. Michigan's next two drives went nowhere. What had been an annoyingly close game was becoming a potential nightmare.
Thankfully, Michigan woke up. With 3:01 left in the third quarter, Speight hit Grant Perry in stride on a crossing route, and Perry jetted through the Bearcats secondary and dove in for a 33-yard touchdown. Cincinnati could only threaten to score after that. Michigan's offense, meanwhile, piggybacked off some excellent running by Isaac to drive for a short Quinn Nordin field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
Luke Fickell handled the rest. On fourth-and-two from the Cincinnati 33, down two scores with seven minutes remaining, he called for the punt team. One yakety snap later, Michigan had a safety and the ball back, and the potential nightmare was over. The next UC drive ended after one play when Lavert Hill cut off a Moore pass, reversed field, and slipped inside the pylon for M's second defensive touchdown of the afternoon.
By pure box score standards, this game turned out well. Michigan outgained Cincinnati 414-200, dominated the ground game, and kept Moore under constant pressure. Speight, for all the complaining, completed 17-of-29 passes for 221 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks. Isaac seemingly cemented himself as the lead back with a 20-carry, 137-yard performance.
Still, it's difficult to shake the feeling of the middle two quarters, which were indisputably ugly. The offense has some issues to work out, especially in the red zone, where they haven't scored a touchdown since the wrongfully negated Crawford catch to open the Florida game. Next week, Air Force presents another overmatched opponent, but one that's tricky to prepare for because of their unusual schemes on both sides of the ball. If Michigan doesn't bounce back with a more authoratative win, the good feeling from the Florida game won't carry over to Big Ten play.