The following is the first in a series of fictional game stories predicting the outcome of Michigan’s 2017 football season.
Just What the Doctor (Blitz) Ordered
Defense leads the way for Michigan in season opener
Arlington, Texas – The defenses were supposed to be the story in Saturday’s season opener between traditional powers from the Big Ten and SEC, and they did not disappoint. However, when one of those defenses faces an inexperienced quarterback in a new offense, it would seem to have the advantage.
And that was the difference as Malik Zaire learned why celebrated Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown earned the nickname “Doctor Blitz.” Franks accounted for two touchdowns, but also committed three costly turnovers as No. 13 Florida fell to the 12th-ranked Wolverines, 21-17, in front of a sellout crowd at Jerry World.
Michigan was plus-2 in turnovers, and that proved to be the difference.
“When you have two evenly matched teams like this, and we’re both playing a lot of young guys, whoever makes the fewest mistakes usually wins,” said Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, who improved to 2-0 against Florida Coach Jim McIlwain. “Fortunately for us that was Michigan (today).”
The Wolverines weren’t great offensively, gaining 81 yards fewer than they averaged last season. But they won the field position and time of possession battle, as well as the turnover margin.
“I know you guys think it’s coach-speak when we talk about so much about field position and turnovers, but (Saturday) is why we do it,” McIlwain said. “I’m not sure the better team won, but certainly the more deserving team did. I thought we really played well at times, and have a lot to build on going forward. But this one will sting when we watch the film tomorrow, because we’re going to see we often beat ourselves.”
The two-time defending SEC East champions did finish with more total yardage, including a 57-yard touchdown pass from Zaire to Antonio Callaway to open the scoring in the second quarter. But several of the mistakes McIlwain lamented were aided and abetted by the Wolverines.
Michigan finished with six sacks, including a terrific sack-strip-recovery from Rashan Gary in the fourth quarter to set up the eventual winning touchdown. A 6-yard touchdown pass from Wilton Speight to Zach Gentry with less than 6 minutes left.
“That was a such great play by (Gary),” said Speight, who threw for 178 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. “I told the offense in the huddle immediately afterwards we had to follow that up by winning the game right here.”
In fact, other than the opening drive of the second half – a 72-yarder that occupied about half of the third quarter – the Wolverines’ best offense was big plays from their defense. Their only points of the first half were set up by a Tyree Kinnel interception, which resulted in a Speight touchdown pass to Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
“You win as a team, and you lose as a team, and right now with so many young guys on offense the team needs us to step up on defense,” said Gary, who finished with two-and-a-half sacks, and three quarterback pressures.
The defense was needed to step up one final time for Michigan, as the Gators drove to the red zone in the closing moments of the game. But pressure from Khaleke Hudson forced Franks to throw into double coverage, which Josh Metallus made him pay for with the clinching interception.
“We are a very talented team, but also very young, so we’ve got to learn how to win,” Harbaugh said. “We took a big step today, but it’s just the first step. There’s still a long season to go.”
Michigan’s next step will be the home opener next Saturday against Cincinnati, which defeated Austin Peay in its debut.