Fresh from their pounding of the SEC’s Florida Gators last Saturday, the Wolverines gathered at Michigan Stadium Saturday to host the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. The Wolverines and Bearcats had never before met, but both have been playing football for a long, long time. The Wolverines started in 1879 and the Bearcats in 1885.
ABOUT THE BEARCATS: The Bearcats of the American Athletic Conference walloped Austin Peay 26 to 14 Saturday before last, under Head Coach Luke Fickell.
Coach Fickell coached OSU in their loss at Michigan Stadium in 2011 against Brady’s bunch so he was familiar with the Wolverine’s home environs. They have visited the other five largest Big Ten Stadiums in the past, so a crowd larger than the 40,000 plus they host at home in Nippert Stadium, wasn’t shocking. They are a young and athletic group.
Fickell was a defensive coach at OSU, under Tressel, and then Meyer, but last year jumped to Cincinnati, where he the Bearcats to a 7-7 record last year.
A Cincinnati paper reported numerous problems with their winning effort against Austin Peay. They reported the passing game was suspect, the defense allowed too many big plays considering the opponent was Austin Peay, and that the once solid kicking game was shaky. The paper also said they might be saving something for Michigan. Their top running back Mike Boone had 100-yards and a TD on nineteen carries a week before last. Against the Wolverines he was 5 for 28-yards.
Still Cincy had a good effort against the Wolverines, never leading, but pushing the Wolverines more than anyone thought possible prior to the game. I guess that was the surprise.
The Bearcats had 200-yards total. K. Lewis was 4 for 29-yards and a TD. The Bearcats had 13 first downs to the Wolverine’s 16. They totaled 68-yards rushing, and had a combined rushing and passing total of 200-yards. Not a bad defensive job at all by the Wolverines. The Wolverines put up a total of 414-yards.
For what it’s worth, Cincy probably left M Stadium as the proud owners of a moral victory. I know that in my section of the press box, more than one was disappointed in the Wolverine results. The spark that fueled the Florida victory was missing at times, as in the third quarter, when they needed offensive production that was not consistently obtained.
Bearcat Quarterback Hadyn Moore had a good game against Austin Peay last week, tossing 17 completions for 151-yards, but the Cincy defense allowed Austin Peay 224-yards rushing. The Bearcats did not fare that well this week against the Wolverine defense. Moore took a serious beating.
Later in the game, Rashan Gary was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty, which was reviewed for targeting. The targeting was not called, but the unsportsmanlike call stood. It seemed to me to be a bogus call, and must have seemed that way to Rashan too. On the next play, he flattened that QB with a legal hit. It was a memorable play.
Sixty eight yards of penalties hurt the cause. Right tackle Nolan Ulizio was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a third quarter three yards to go. Obviously, that stuff kills drives, and if it happens again can cause him to be tossed. I am sure Coach will drive the lesson home.
Against the Wolverines, the Bearcat’s prospered from major Michigan errors. Two fumbles and a punt bounced off a Wolverine back were recovered by Cincy to help set the stage for more of a struggle than anticipated.
Pre-game odds showed a point spread of 34.5 points. Consider what a win over the Wolverines would have done for Luke’s career, team, etc. Although it is painful, just recall Appalachian State of eleven years ago to recall the horror of such a loss. The Wolverines did not let that happen. While we might not like the Wolverine’s style in this game as much as in the Florida game preceding, the young team got a another hat full of experience.
THE STATE OF THE WOLVERINES TWO GAMES INTO THE SEASON: The whole football world now knows that the young Wolverines passed through their first challenge of the year with the magnificent result of whipping Florida at a neutral site.
The defense was superbly adaptable, switching defenses as the Gators switched quarterbacks, and more. They allowed the Gator offense 3 points. M’s own offensive errors allowed the other fourteen of the total seventeen. They even met Harbaugh’s defensive standard. Coach praised his defense for being “fast”, not faster (which is a comparison, and he doesn’t like comparisons), just fast.
No question of it. The defense then looked like a well-oiled machine. They were fast, effective, well positioned, and playing hard all the time. Those maize uniforms were all over the football. By now you have read all the plaudits, but that victory over Florida remains a remarkable performance all around. The defense accomplished more than the offense, but the offense was outstanding none the less. Special teams were very special as Nordin set Michigan field goal records.
Dr. Blitz, aka Down Brown, formulated a great defensive plan, and schooled his young charges to perfection in their inaugural.
Now that is past. The Wolverines needed to improve each week regardless of an opponent that was considered by many as a pushover
This game against Cincy did not have the same feel or follow the same script. There were three fumbles before the half, and two miscues were lost by half time. Even though it was 17-7 at the half there was a sense of unease.
Fortunately, the defense was again on target. Tyree Kinnel had 9 tackles to go with his pick six. The perpetually active Devin Bush had 7. Kaleke Hudson had six tackles. The DL had some great moments, providing a vital three and out when it counted, and sacks galore. Lavert Hill had a pick six, his first.
On offense the receivers and running backs continued to shine. Ty Isaac rushed for over 100-yards for the second straight game, and Slot Receiver Grant Perry led the receiver corps as he collared a vital TD late in the game. Kekoa Crawford had 83-yards and a TD on four catches.
THE WOLVERINES GOT OFF TO A GREAT START: They were off and running, looking unbeatable, until the first miscue was lost.
They started with an 80-yard drive culminated in six. Ty Isaac and Kekoa Crawford carried much of the load in that drive. Kekoa Crawford caught a 14-yarder, and then a 43-yard TD on a Wilton Speight pass. The offense looked great.
Next came M’s Tyree Kinnel with a snatch of a Cincy pass, which he returned 26-yards for six. It was his first interception. The offense and defense looked great.
It was 14 zilch, good guys, until a bounced punt hit the ground, and then hit a Michigan Special Teams player in the back. At the later press conference, Coach Harbaugh said the player receiving the punt was not deciding whether or not to let it go or catch it in a timely fashion, which contributed to the problem. He also said that while blocking, the blocker needs to keep track of the receiver, as difficult as that is. It was, he said, a matter of experience. A couple of punts later, Grant Perry assumed those duties flawlessly for the balance of the game. Cincy took it in from the M 38, ran it in for the score from the 1, and it was 14-7. Donovan People-Jones was showing great promise as a returner. Lesson learned, I am sure he will get another shot at the spot.
As the second quarter began the Wolverines were on the move again. Perry caught an 18-yarder. Donovan People-Jones ripped off a 44-yard run. M’s Quinn Nordin nailed a 28-yard FG, and it was 17-7. Some thought that the expected rout was still in the offing as the half ended, in spite of the fact that the Wolverines had not been as sharp as expected during the first half on offense and special teams.
The Wolverines had a rough third quarter offensively and defensively. They lost two of 3 fumbles.
Cincy came out storming offensively, as Cincy QB Hayden Moore sliced the Wolverines on a 10-play, 85-yard drive that culminated in a 10-yard TD pass. It was now a very unsettling 17 to 14.
An offensive stalemate then occurred for both teams for several series. That was finally resolved by a late third quarter Wolverine drive as M’s TE Gentry nabbed a 42-yard pass. This run by the QB converted to TE was a great a catch and run. It was as needed as timely. A short pass to rising TE Sean McKeon, and a Karan Higdon run, preceded a 33-yard TD snag by Grant Perry. At 24 to 14, all that was left for the Wolverines was to put the icing on the cake.
In the fourth quarter, the Wolverines set their final path to victory on a Quinn Nordin field goal of 24-yards via two big plays. Ty Isaac broke away for rip up the sideline, and Kekoa Crawford caught a 4th and 8 toss for a first down, to enable the subsequent Nordin score. 27-14. Harbaugh later indicated that they were out of field goal range so why not?
The defense forced a punt with a great stand deep in Bearcat territory. An errant snap sailed through the end zone for a safety (two points). Did they do this on purpose rather than give the ball back to the Wolverines? Maybe so, but probably not. It was now 29-14.
Lavert Hill ended the scoring by stepping in front of a Bearcat pass and returning it 24-yards for the scoring capper. Final: M-36, C-14.
THIS ONE LEFT SOME SPEIGHT CONCERN FESTERING: Wilton Speight had a very decent overall performance. He was 17 of 29 for 221-yards. He threw for a couple of TDs, and mostly evaded the pass rush effectively. He did not throw an interception.
Yet he again turned the game around in the first half, the wrong way. This game, it was careless ball handling, not interceptions, but still not to be expected of an experience quarterback.
Coach Harbaugh said that he was one handing a missed hand off, Wilton said he was getting his feet tangled when rushed. Maybe it’s some of both.
Wilton is a good representative of the University of Michigan, and at times a very good quarterback. He has not earned all the nasty vitriol tossed his way. John Nevarre was an example of a victim of undeserved criticism overplayed.
Yet Wilton has earned some concern, and owns it. His inconsistency has been consistent the last few games reaching back into last season. High throws, pick sixes, an now fumbles are fast becoming a trademark. It is time he worked out the kinks.
A WIN BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL AS SWEET: The Bearcats got a moral victory, but the Wolverines got the real thing, even if they did not earn all the style points for this one that fans and odds makers expected. Also good was the fact that some players got their first experience on the field of play.
A unique battle is coming up against the Air Force Academy. It will be a battle in predicted good weather. All the service teams give it all they got, and they usually afford a spectacle. It will be a battle. Have fun.
The pat answer of course is “football experience”. These Wolverines are lacking in football experience offensively, defensively, and on special teams. Among other things, M has to replace at least three of the starters on the offensive line that often graded out as pedestrian.
The anxiously awaited 2016 Wolverine Football season finally arrived Saturday on a beautiful afternoon, as it has on so many Saturday afternoons. There was a two jet flyover, the usual spectacle of band, cheerleaders, dancers, and luminaries such as Honorary Captain Michael Jordan, and former Michigan greats. The stands brimmed with over 110,000 fans.
But this year it was different. It was too early for the smell of burning autumn leaves, but after the game started there was the faint odor of 17 burning redshirts as 17 freshman committed themselves to using their first year of eligibility. What! Unheard of!
This year expanded fan expectations and a ton of hype roared down the tunnel along with the Wolverines. The Wolverines started the season projected as seventh nationally in the AP poll, but second to Ohio State in the Big Ten East race.
The demolition of the Rainbow Warriors Saturday will not diminish expectations, but maintain and encourage them. Even after careful consideration of the Rainbow Warriors many football shortcomings this year, this was an outstanding opening performance by the Wolverines, by both the youngsters and the old guard. The defense as a unit had ten TFLs, four sacks, two pick sixes, and a forced fumble. Hawaii was 1 for 11 on third downs. LBs Mike McCray, Jabrill Peppers and Ben Gedeon combined for 24 tackles.