The following is the next in a series of fictional game stories predicting the outcome of Michigan’s 2017 football season.
Mauling the Bearcats
Wolverines cruise in their home opener
Ann Arbor, Mich. – The weather was much different Saturday than it was the last time the Wolverines played a game at what’s affectionately known as “the Big House.”
Last November, Michigan closed out the home schedule making snow angels following a victory over Indiana. This time it was cramping, cooling fans, and free hydration stands for the fans, as the 9th-ranked Wolverines overcame near-record heat to topple Cincinnati, 37-17, at Michigan Stadium.
“That’s the hottest weather I’ve ever played in,” said Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who only threw the ball 13 times thanks to an overpowering running game. “We wanted to establish the running game early, and that’s exactly what we did. Our offensive line just dominated.”
Michigan rushed for well over 300 yards, including a career-high 136 from Chris Evans. All four of the Wolverines’ touchdowns came on the ground, and seven different players carried the ball.
“Given the heat we knew we needed to use our depth,” Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t do more in the second half, but I think we lost our focus after that big lead. Young teams will do that, and it’s up to us as coaches to make sure it doesn’t become a reoccurring issue.”
In fact, the Bearcats out-scored Michigan in the second half, 14-9.
“I’m really proud of the way our guys kept battling,” first year Cincinnati Coach Luke Fickell said. “A lot of teams could’ve packed it in at halftime, especially given how hot it was. But we fought to the end and then sort of won the second half, and that’s something we can build on going forward.”
Unfortunately for the Bearcats, Michigan so dominated the first half they were just in too big a hole to dig out of. The Wolverines led, 28-3, at the half while amassing over 200 yards on the ground. Including two long touchdown runs by Evans.
“Every running back on this team could’ve exploited those holes our offensive line was opening in the first half,” Evans said. “I’m just fortunate it was my turn to carry the ball while they were doing it.”
But while the Michigan running game got on track after last week’s slugfest with Florida, the passing game still needs some work. Through two games, Speight is completing just 55% of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Backup Brandon Peters got the first meaningful action of his career during second half mop-up time, and both of the drives he was in for ended in field goals by Quinn Nordin. Nevertheless, Harbaugh is adamant there is no quarterback controversy at Michigan.
“There is always a competition for every spot at all times, Harbaugh said. “I like how Brandon looked out there, but Wilton provides our best chance to win. And we wouldn’t have beaten Florida last week without him.”
For his part, Speight is open that he can play better and will.
“We’ve only played two games, and we’re still getting used to playing with each other.” Speight said. “The timing will get there. Plus, our first game was against one of the best defenses in the SEC, and (Saturday) we ran the ball so well it didn’t make any sense to throw it 30 times.”
The second half lethargy also may have revealed a fast, but young, Michigan defense still has some depth to develop.
“We played a lot of guys down the stretch who had never played meaningful college football before,” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “But as Coach Harbaugh says, the only way to get better at football is by playing football. So we’re going to be looking for opportunities to get those guys experience.”
The Wolverines host Air Force next week. The Falcons, with their vaunted triple option offense, are 1-0 and coming off a bye week.