The good, the bad and the ugly: Air Force

Sunday, September 17, 2017 - 10:50pm

Senior linebacker Mike McCray and the Wolverines' defense excelled against the triple option Saturday.

Senior linebacker Mike McCray and the Wolverines' defense excelled against the triple option Saturday. Buy this photo
Emma Richter/Daily

For an undefeated team, No. 8 Michigan (3-0) hasn’t looked all that convincing.

Another Saturday into the 2017 season and the Wolverines still haven’t presented a clear picture of who they are and what they are capable of this year. After double-digit wins over Florida and Cincinnati that left much to be desired, Michigan fell victim to the same fate against Air Force.

The defense carried the load while the offense struggled to find a groove, but the Wolverines managed to capture yet another victory. The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s 29-13 win.

The good

Michigan’s defense may have faced its toughest task of the year Saturday when the Falcons and their complex triple-option scheme rolled into town, but their performance didn’t show it.

Air Force rushed the ball a whopping 49 times, but gained a measly 168 yards an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Though the Falcons tried to pound the ball down the Wolverines’ throat, Michigan controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish.

Air Force’s pass game fared much worse. The Falcons attempted nine passes. They completed only one.

That one pass resulted in Air Force’s only touchdown of the game. Junior safety Tyree Kinnel was caught off guard at the snap and Air Force receiver Ronald Cleveland got the jump on him. Cleveland caught the ball in motion and sprinted 64 yards across the field. Kinnel couldn’t recover in time to catch him before he reached the end zone.

The Wolverines terrorized Falcon quarterback Arion Worthman all day, sacking him three times and forcing a fumble. With the amount of hard hits he took in the contest, Worthman would have needed to take a long ice bath Saturday night.

The linebacker unit earned top marks, as senior Mike McCray and sophomore Devin Bush Jr. each tallied 11 tackles. The ends weren’t far behind in that race, as redshirt junior Chase Winovich and sophomore Rashan Gary recorded nine and six tackles, respectively.

After a mistake-riddled outing against Cincinnati, the special teams unit also got back on track against Air Force, courtesy of redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin and freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Nordin had a perfect day, nailing all five of his field goals to notch a career high and equal a program record. Peoples-Jones, for his part, provided the highlight of the day with a 79-yard punt return touchdown. It was Michigan’s first trip into the end zone, and it gave the Wolverines the breathing room they desperately needed.

The bad

Though disastrous pick-sixes and fumbles were placed firmly in the rearview mirror, Michigan’s offense didn’t look particularly impressive Saturday.

Coming into the matchup, Air Force’s offense seemed to be of principal concern to the Wolverines. But with the way the game panned out, they should have been warier of the Falcons’ defense.

Redshirt junior quarterback Wilton Speight completed 14 of 23 attempts for 169 yards, but he couldn’t seem to connect on the most important passes. Michigan found its way into the red zone four times, yet not once did the Wolverines come away with a touchdown. After the game, Speight said Air Force disguised its blitzes really well, holding its positioning until he called for the snap, and therefore making it difficult for him to pick up on the scheme.

Even Michigan’s run game, which had proved to be a steady force in its first two games, looked relatively contained by the Falcons’ game plan. Fifth-year senior running back Ty Isaac came closest to scoring, but both times he reached the end zone, the play was called back.

The ugly

The score at halftime was 9-6. For a football game, that’s never a good sign.

While it may have been nice for Nordin and Air Force kicker Luke Strebel to go mano-a-mano in a quasi-kick-off, neither offense will enjoy watching the tape of their first-half performance just as the crowd of 111,387 at Michigan Stadium probably didn’t enjoy watching it in person.

With both teams unable to find the end zone, the most exciting plays of the first half were a 50-yard field goal from Strebel and a 49-yarder from Nordin. But even "exciting" would be generous.