Michigan is 2-0 after knocking off Cincinnati, 36-14, at home on Saturday, but the win left a lot to be desired as the Wolverines continue to groom players for the start of Big Ten play in two weeks.
While the 16-point victory against Florida in the season opener wasn’t indicative of how diminant Michigan was in that game, the 22-point margin against Cincinnati doesn’t adequately demonstrate how close this game was deep into the third quarter. The Wolverines had plenty to do with that with penalties, turnovers and various mistakes that the Bearcats took advantage of. Senior quarterback Wilton Speight has yet to find his rhythm, evidenced by several passes thrown high that gave his receivers little or no chance to catch them. Coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t likely to make a quarterback change anytime soon, but Speight has room for improvement.
That’s the case across the board.
The defense backed up its strong performance against Florida by limiting Cincinnati to 200 yards offense on 70 plays. The Bearcats twice scored offensive touchdowns, which is something Florida couldn’t accomplish, and they hit a couple of big plays. That teams can find big plays is the top danger with the man-to-man, aggressive blitzing defense that defensive coordinator Don Brown uses. Cincinnati was close on a couple of others in the second half that would have made the game more interesting than it already was.
Land of 10 has gone back over the game, taken copious notes and brings you this Michigan rewind.
Play of the game
The maize-and-blue residents of the Big House were a grumble-filled lot in the third quarter as the Wolverines nursed a 17-14 lead. Cincinnati had driven 85 yards with the opening possession of the third quarter to score a touchdown and pull within 3 points of the heavily favored hosts. While the defense returned to form on the next two Cincinnati possessions, forcing three-and-outs, the offense sputtered out of the locker room. Two drives had produced 9 plays, 7 yards, 2 punts and more than a small chorus of boos.
Speight began alleviating some of the angst with a 36-yard connection to tight end Zach Gentry that took Michigan into Cincinnati territory. The Wolverines converted a third-and-4 with a 5-yard run by Karan Higdon to the Cincinnati 33, and then went for a home run. Speight’s throw into the end zone for freshman Tarik Black on a post pattern was on the mark but covered well by the Bearcats. Since getting into the end zone via the deep ball didn’t work, Speight went the opposite route.
He found junior Grant Perry running a crossing pattern 5 yards past the line of scrimmage. Speight’s throw was a little high, but not so much that Perry couldn’t handle it. He made the catch, ran away from one defender and then split three others en route to his first touchdown of the season and a 24-14 Michigan lead.
Grant Perry with the breakaway speed, scoring a big TD for Michigan. pic.twitter.com/xgJpJYTYqN
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) September 9, 2017
Player of the game
Junior safety Tyree Kinnel was all over the place, leading Michigan with 9 tackles, coming up with 1 of 4 sacks for the Wolverines and returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown that gave the Wolverines a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. It was Kinnel’s first career interception. Kinnel, who played in a reserve role last season, and Josh Metellus have been on the field for nearly every defensive snap in the first two games of the season.
The extended playing time isn’t adversely affecting Kinnel.
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 9, 2017
Key moment probably unnoticed
Cincinnati junior quarterback Hayden Moore was a little skittish during the game, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given all the different looks Brown gave him. The Michigan pass rush hit him enough that it affected his throws even when it didn’t get to him cleanly or as close as he thought.
That was the case on a second-and-10 play from the Michigan 46 with a little more than 5 minutes left in the third quarter. Cincinnati trailed 17-14 and had taken possession there after a shanked 21-yard punt by Will Hart. Moore threw incomplete on first down to running back Mike Boone. Moore was looking deeper on second down, and he had wide receiver Kahlil Lewis open behind coverage. His pass, however, sailed well over Lewis’ head incomplete.
Defensive end Chase Winovich forced Moore to throw sooner than he should have. Winovich wasn’t in position to sack Moore, but he helped collapse the pocket enough that Moore felt pressured and threw early. It was enough that Lewis didn’t have time to get further into the route and into the path of the ball.
Things we learned
Donovan Peoples-Jones is learning
Donovan Peoples-Jones was replaced as punt returner in the second half by Perry after a couple of miscues in the first half, including not quickly getting up to field a ball and making sure fellow freshman Benjamin St-Juste got out of harm’s way on the play. St-Juste was blocking downfield, unaware how close he was to the ball. It bounced off him, and Cincinnati recovered at the Michigan 38. The turnover led to the Bearcats’ first touchdown.
A similar mishap occurred on the first Cincinnati punt of the game, but Peoples-Jones was able to recover the loose ball. He had another case of loose ball security in the second quarter, prompting Harbaugh to make the switch in the second half.
Wilton Speight’s feet need to move
Speight completed 17 of 29 passes for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns, but his numbers could’ve been better if not for at least 4 passes that were high and uncatchable by receivers. Two of those throws went to Peoples-Jones. The first came on a shallow crossing route that Speight should have been able to easily connect with the freshman. Instead, Speight threw flat-footed and the ball sailed on him. The second overthrow to Peoples-Jones came in the third quarter, on a second-and-3 play. The incompletion helped stall a promising drive.
“What it comes down to is, when there is something going on in my face, when I avoid the pressure and whatnot, I’ve got to keep my base,” Speight said. “Coach Pep [Hamilton] is big on keeping my base, staying loaded. Sometimes when I avoid and I move around in the pocket, I get a little sloppy with my feet. That causes the ball to sail. That’s something I’ve been working on every day and I’ll continue to.”
Start ’em deep
James Foug kicked off seven times for Michigan. Six of those kickoffs went into the end zone for touchbacks and drives starting at the 25-yard line. The one Cincinnati didn’t take a knee on was at the start of third quarter. Foug’s kick was short, carrying only to the 8, where Cincinnati returner Thomas Geddis mishandled the ball. He recovered it at the 15. Oddly enough, the Bearcats drove the 85 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on that possession.
The six drives Cincinnati had after the touchbacks produced 17 total yards on 23 plays.
Rashan Gary is nasty
Poor Hayden Moore on this play. This was ruled a quarterback hurry in the official game book play-by-play.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) September 10, 2017
Ty Isaac is running with purpose
After gaining 114 yards against Florida, senior running back Ty Isaac gained 133 yards on 20 carries against Cincinnati. He got a big chunk of 53 on one play in the fourth quarter and had a 31-yard gain negated by a holding call against wide receiver Nate Schoenle. Michigan opened the game with four straight running plays to Isaac, totaling 23 yards. He converted a third-and-1 with a 13-yard run up the middle behind a lead block by fullback Henry Poggi, a pull block by left guard Ben Bredeson and a well-executed turn block by center Patrick Kugler.
The Wolverines used a lot of two-tight end sets as they attempted to take advantage of a size edge on Cincinnati’s linebackers and safeties. Isaac and his 6-f00t-2, 230-pound frame are well-suited for that kind of game.