ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A brave soul on the Cincinnati football team boasted earlier this week that he believed the Bearcats could shock the world.
Many laughed at him, but few took heed. But for a few minutes Saturday, it appeared Cincinnati would shock a few people. Including Michigan.
In the process, Michigan shocked itself in a very un-Michigan, mistake-riddled afternoon.
The 36-14 win against the Bearcats appeared sizable on paper. Yet for a good 17 to 18 minutes in the second and third quarters, Michigan’s offense appeared to wade through quicksand, the result of Cincinnati’s legitimate efforts to shock the world.
Michigan had to hold off a scrappy Cincinnati team that cut its lead to 3 points early in the second quarter. Michigan had to handle a team that wouldn’t allow a 33-point spread or an early 14-0 deficit to dictate its pace of play.
“What surprised me the most?” Michigan wide receiver Kekoa Crawford said. “They were athletic. We knew they were athletic and definitely, their athletic ability showed up. You know you can’t take any opponent for granted, but we started to do that.”
When Cincinnati rallied, it did so at the expense of Michigan’s shortcomings, including a few self-inflicted ones. The Wolverines lost 68 yards on 7 penalties, fumbled 3 times and lost 2, and went 5 for 15 on third-down conversions.
“There was a lot of good, and there was a lot of times where the screen’s going a little fuzzy and we’re not doing our assignments,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team roared to a 14-0 lead 8 minutes into the game. “And then fumbles, those hurt. And the ball handling. We just keep going. Wins are tough to come by and we’re happy to have this one.”
Sugarcoating aside, the glaring mistakes are hard to overlook.
- Cortez Broughton’s recovery of Wilton Speight’s fumble on a handoff intended for Crawford about 6 minutes into the second — the second fumble Cincinnati recovered.
- A holding penalty against Mike McCray on fourth-and-11 that continued Cincinnati’s drive and moved the Bearcats from the Michigan 39 to the 29 late in the first half, and continued their efforts to, well, shock the world. (Fortunately, for Michigan, Josh Pasley’s 51-yard field goal attempt went wide right as the first half expired.)
Some of the mistakes the Wolverines made elicited audible groans from the 111,875 inside of Michigan Stadium — and we haven’t heard those since the days of Brady Hoke (and that was only three years ago)
But the groans were justified. A week after manhandling Florida, Michigan struggled to create much fluidity in its offense, especially in the second quarter. After Quinn Nordin’s field goal gave the Wolverines a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter, every drive of Michigan’s through the remainder of the first half either sputtered or stalled.
“We can move the ball,” Harbaugh said. “We had the feeling coming out of this game that we stopped ourselves, on occasion. That’s a challenge for our team.”
When Cincinnati cut Michigan’s lead to 17-14 less than 4 minutes into the second quarter on Kahlil Lewis’ 10-yard touchdown catch, that’s when Michigan’s players grasped what was on the scoreboard.
“That’s all you need to know,” Crawford said.
But, Crawford added, “once you see that you’re ahead by three, I guess you need to fix that, too. We should have never let it get like that.”
Michigan’s players weren’t visibly angry with their performance. They weren’t disappointed with what some would term a “moral victory” for Cincinnati. Michigan’s players were relieved, if anything, simply to leave Michigan Stadium with a win. Which may not be good enough.
However, many of them took a measured, business-like approach to one of the Wolverines’ uglier wins in the last few years.
“I wouldn’t say anything surprised us,” running back Ty Isaac said. “They came out and did the things we thought they were going to do. They played really physical, and I thought that was a good defense. We’ve just got to clean up our own mistakes. We talk about it all the time, that we’re going to be the ones who beat us. So, we’ve just got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”