ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan got its first test, and it came at just the right time.
After a pair of lopsided wins over Hawaii and Central Florida, Colorado put Michigan on its heels in the early moments Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
But Michigan’s response — rallying from a 14-point deficit to win 45-28 — didn’t just buoy them in the short-term. Michigan expects the same competitive level once it opens its Big Ten Conference schedule Saturday against Penn State.
Here are the grades for No. 4 Michigan (3-0) following its comeback win over Colorado:
Offense (3.5 stars)
Early on, Michigan simply couldn’t keep up with the Buffaloes, whether it was pass for pass or step for step. Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight appeared pedestrian in the first quarter, as he was 2-for-9 passing for 16 yards, and the physical toll of Colorado’s defense was obvious on Speight, whose right shoulder and elbow were wrapped after the game. Still, Speight finished 16-for-30 for 229 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan’s run game is starting to establish itself, with 168 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries, but still doesn’t have a No. 1 back. Either one player has to emerge, or Michigan will have to continue to utilize a running-back-by-committee format.
Defense (3 stars)
Colorado torched Michigan’s secondary early, as Buffs quarterback Sefo Liufau threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter. It’s debatable as to whether or not Jourdan Lewis would have been effective had he played; the cornerback sat out his third straight game with a back injury, despite dressing and going through warmups.
Michigan got another solid game from linebacker Ben Gedeon (12 tackles) and from freshman defensive end Rashan Gary (four tackles, two quarterback hurries). Michigan shut down Colorado’s running game, with the Buffs finishing with only 64 yards rushing on 33 carries
Special teams (5 stars)
Actually, make that Jabrill Peppers, 5 stars. The dynamic player got a hand in all three facets of Michigan’s game, but made his biggest impression on special teams. Of his 204 yards, 180 came on kickoff returns and punt returns, including a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown with 11:27 left in the fourth quarter
Special teams also helped set up three touchdowns. Michael Jocz’s blocked punt set up Grant Perry’s first-quarter touchdown; a botched punt by Alex Kinney early in the second set up Jehu Chesson’s touchdown and Peppers’ 13-yard return late in the first half set up Amara Darboh’s touchdown, which gave Michigan a 24-21 lead at halftime.
Kenny Allen’s kicking was Michigan’s only special teams bobble. He went 1-for-3 on field goals, missing a 37-yard attempt in the second and a 44-yard attempt in the fourth.
Coaching (4 stars)
The Buffs found holes in Don Brown’s defense with their up-tempo passing attack, and stifled Speight and his receivers in the first quarter. Michigan, however, made its proper adjustments, and when Steven Montez entered the game in the second half, following Liufau’s ankle injury, the Wolverines sped up the pace of their game and didn’t allow Colorado many opportunities to create offense.
Overall (4 stars)
The Wolverines get four stars for how they responded, not for how they began. The Wolverines simply didn’t fold, when other teams would have. Michigan rallied from a 14-point deficit after the first quarter, and relied on its experience to earn a win that is a valuable gauge of its progress as its Big Ten schedule begins Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC) against the Nittany Lions (2-1).