Wolverines lean on kicking game for win over Air Force
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Wilton Speight handed the ball to Ty Isaac, who was stopped for a loss, and No. 7 Michigan had to settle for a field goal. Again.
The Wolverines overcame their offensive struggles, with Donovan Peoples-Jones returning a punt 79 yards for a score and Quinn Nordin tying a school record with five field goals in a 29-13 win over Air Force.
While the Wolverines are still undefeated, they have a lot of work to do on offense. In the red zone, their struggles have played out for all to see and Speight didn’t hide his feelings in one, raw moment Saturday.
Michigan has had 10 drives inside opponents’ 20, including four against the Falcons, and has scored only one TD with those opportunities.
Speight had an option to call a run or a pass when Isaac was tackled behind the line in the third quarter and reacted to the result by flailing his arms.
“I should probably keep that in,” the quarterback said. “Obviously, the frustration built up. They fooled us. We thought we had the look we wanted and as soon as I went down to focus on the snap, they brought the house.”
Instead of criticizing his team’s lack of production in the red zone, Jim Harbaugh gave credit to Air Force’s coaching.
“They definitely called the better play on some of our red-zone throws and runs,” Harbaugh said.
The Wolverines (3-0) didn’t lead by more than three points until PeoplesJones’ touchdown early in the third quarter, and late scores turned a closely contested game into a relatively lopsided score.
The Falcons (1-1) failed to convert a pass until Arion Worthman threw a short slant to Ronald Cleveland and the receiver turned it into a 64-yard TD with 11:54 left in the quarter that pulled the service academy to within three points. That was their only completion of the game.
“It felt like there were 13 guys out there sometimes,” Worthman said. “They were flying around there for sure.”
Air Force had won seven straight, dating to last season, including a win over No. 20 Boise State.
THE TAKEAWAY: AIR FORCE–The young Falcons should leave the Big House encouraged that they were competitive in a game they were expected to lose by three-plus TDs.
MICHIGAN–The Wolverines are off to an awesome start on defense and special teams, but their woes on offense will catch up to them against better competition.
JUST FOR KICKS: Nordin helped Michigan pull away with field goals in the third and fourth quarters. Mike Gillette (1988), J.D. Carlson (1990) and K.C. Lopata (2008) also kicked five field goals in a game for the Wolverines.
ON OFFENSE: Speight was 14 of 23 for 169 yards, missing some targets and having some passes dropped. Isaac ran for 89 yards on 16 carries for the Wolverines. He was slow to get up after getting tackled on his last carry in the fourth quarter and didn’t return, but replacement Karan Higdon didn’t think it was a serious injury.
“I’m pretty sure he’s good,” said Higdon, who sealed the victory with a 36yard TD run with 1:02 left.
Worthman ran for just 60 yards on 26 carries, directing Air Force’s triple-option offense, which wasn’t very effective when the option was to throw. Worthman was 1 of 7 and his replacement, Nate Romine, threw an interception on two attempts.
“They’re a stout group. Impressive squad,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “Certainly may win a bunch of football games this year. Their size, their athleticism, they’re a pretty complete group.”
UP NEXT: AIR FORCE–Hosts San Diego State on Saturday in their Mountain West opener.
MICHIGAN–Plays at Purdue on Saturday in their Big Ten opener before coming home to play rival Michigan State for the first time at the Big House since the Spartans turned a botched punt into dramatic victory.
Michigan wide receiver Tarik Black can’t quite get to the pass as he’s defended by Air Force Falcons defensive back Marquis Griffin on Saturday.