The working theory with this Michigan football team was that things would get progressively better as the season moved along considering the youth and inexperience. The idea was that as these young athletes got more used to the system and the speed of the game they would quickly switch gears from raw to raucous to really, really good.
That hasn’t exactly happened. One could even argue that Michigan has gotten worse as the competition has gotten easier. Two home games against Cincinnati and Air Force – not exactly stiff competition by anyone’s measuring stick – haven’t exactly been easy blowouts.
Still, no one in that sun-drenched stadium or watching on the Big Ten Network or listening in the car to the two best college football announcers in the land – I love when they say WE when referring to the Maize and Blue – thought the Wolverines would lose on Saturday.
Still, there are concerns. Maybe worries. Definitely issues.
Let’s start in the red zone.
“I thought both teams played really good red-zone defenses today,” said Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh during his post-game press conference. “We had the right calls at the right time … they held the line well. Hats off to both teams for red-zone defense.”
Harbaugh added that Air Force just had a “better call” than they did most of the time down in the red zone.
Harbaugh didn’t sound like a coach upset or even disappointed with a 29-13 win over visiting Air Force on Saturday. But then again, he isn’t going to show his cards to anyone outside the locker room. And they are 3-0 after all so who cares if they won by one point or 50 points.
“I thought they responded really well,” Harbaugh said of his defense, which gave up 168 yards on the ground and just 64 in the air as Air Force went 1 for 9 passing on the afternoon. “With the exception of a few drives I felt we shut them down well. I thought we won all three phases.
“They play a brand of football which I really like which is keep jabbing away and don’t make mistakes and don’t turn the ball over. … They don’t beat themselves. And we were able to make the plays offensively, defensively and special teams was a huge factor in today’s ball game.”
Donovan Peoples-Jones had two punt returns for 104 yards, including a 79-yard return for a touchdown early in the third quarter which pushed the Wolverines’ lead to 16-6.
“Donovan’s punt return was fabulous, our kickoff coverage was excellent all day and right on down the line,” Harbaugh said. “Really proud of the way our special teams played.”
And the kicker made history. Quinn Nordin’s five field goals tied a school record for most in a game.
After Air Force cut the lead to 16-13 with 11:54 left in the third quarter, the Michigan defense stiffened and the offense scored the game’s final 13 points to improve to 3-0.
Harbaugh said two questions marks coming into the season were run blocking and the protection and both have been solid during the first three games.
“The backs have been strong, quarterback has been strong and he’s quarterbacking the seventh-ranked team in the country to a 3-0 record and he’s quarterbacking the winningest program in all of football,” said Harbaugh, putting things in perspective as only he can. “So we keep forging ahead and making improvements and I like where our team is headed.”
Where they are headed is West Lafayette, Ind., to play the Purdue Boilermakers at 4 p.m. on Saturday. After dropping its opener to Louisville, Purdue has won two in a row including Saturday’s 35-3 win over Missouri.
What some might call concerns or worries or issues are just things to work on for Harbaugh and the Michigan football team. The Big Ten schedule starts on Saturday. Time to buckle up.