Remember that class at school you took pass/fail? If you got a C-, you still passed, and your GPA looked better than if you took the grade — the result is prettier than the effort. That’s how the No. 7 Michigan football team (2-0) has been playing so far.
A lot went wrong in Michigan’s 36-14 win over Cincinnati. There were whiffed punts, fumbles and special teams gaffes. Each Wolverine error allowed an inferior Bearcat team to remain within striking distance.
This week’s outcome was starkly similar to the season opener versus Florida: Michigan looked great early, then a stretch of awful series gave the opponent an unnecessary foothold, but in the end, the Wolverines dominated. The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s victory.
For the first time, Michigan fans witnessed sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary’s potential. The former-No. 1 recruit in the nation terrorized Cincinnati quarterback Hayden Moore and the rest of the Bearcats’ offense on a series of downs in the fourth quarter. He avoided ejection after a targeting call was downgraded to roughing the passer. Gary had just three tackles and a quarterback hurry, but in this particular fourth quarter stretch, he looked better than ever.
More defensive standouts included sophomore Devin Bush Jr. — again — who had seven tackles, a sack and a pass breakup, along with junior safety Tyree Kinnel who led the defense with nine tackles, a sack and a pick-six. The defense also capped off the game with a second pick-six from sophomore cornerback Lavert Hill.
As a whole, the defense held Cincinnati to just 68 rushing yards. Forty-six of those yards came on one play in the Bearcats’ second-half scoring drive.
Michigan’s offense was led by fifth-year senior running back Ty Isaac (133 yards, 20 rushes) and junior receiver Grant Perry (66 yards, one touchdown). Isaac established himself in the starting role, taking the job from sophomore Chris Evans.
Perry’s touchdown gave Michigan a much-needed momentum swing, displaying his remarkable acceleration to reach the end zone.
The two other starting receivers, freshman Tarik Black and sophomore Kekoa Crawford, combined for 94 yards and a touchdown (Crawford).
Redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight threw for 221 yards and completed 17 of 29 passes, but a handful of fumbles showed there is still room for improvement on relaying the ball to the running backs. The ball slipped out Speight’s hands twice in the second quarter on attempted handoffs, and one of the fumbles was recovered by Cincinnati.
Lucky for the Wolverines, the Bearcats didn’t capitalize, but it remains to be seen how higher-quality opponents will be able to jump on Michigan’s errors.
Speight also has room to improve on the long ball, as overthrowing receivers has been a common occurrence so far. Speight sailed a third-quarter pass behind freshman Donavon Peoples-Jones, nearly resulting in an interception.
Through two weeks he’s completed just over 50 percent of his passes, and he’s going to need to improve his accuracy going into the Big Ten season.
It was the Wolverines’ special teams errors that kept Cincinnati in the game. Sophomore punter Will Hart had back-to-back 21-yard punts in the second half, sending two kicks out of bounds to give the Bearcats good field position.
On the returning end, Peoples-Jones was pulled as the starting punt returner after a series of questionable decisions while fielding the ball. His unwillingness to call for a fair catch led to one punt that landed on the leg of freshman Benjamin St.-Juste; the Bearcats recovered the stray ball and later scored on the same drive.
Perry replaced Peoples-Jones as the punt returner in the second half, and called a fair catch on each of the three punts he received.
A few offensive standouts have been making big plays, and the defense is looking strong. But, the team’s inexperience is clear as day. Unnecessary turnovers and penalties have stunted the Wolverines’ play through two weeks.
Saturday was ugly, but for Michigan it was a win. The Wolverines are 2-0, and none of their goals are out of the equation just yet.