Even Flow

Breaking down Michigan's 36-14 win over Cincinnati

Mike Mulholland, MLive
So this game was strange.

The final score doesn't necessarily reflect the feeling this game had. Cincinnati was not supposed to be this...challenging. This was supposed to be the semi-effortless cool down from the big Florida win last week. Instead, this had all the markings of a trap game until Michigan finally pulled away in the 4th quarter.

On one hand you had another standout performance by Ty Isaac who has put more distance between himself and Chris Evans and Karan Higdon. You also had good showings by receivers Kekoa Crawford and Grant Perry. The offense moved the ball well on the ground, which is good news for a young offensive line still coming together. Pass protection was solid.

And the defense...oh the defense. They forced 10 Cincinnati punts, 8 three and outs, forced two turnovers...both pick 6's...and tallied 4 sacks with 7 tackles for loss. All in all, a stellar performance.

And then on the other hand...something just didn't feel right. There was no energy in this game. No juice. No mojo. Michigan felt incredibly flat offensively. I can't quite put my finger on it...some of it felt like execution, some of it felt like the playcalling. Momentum was hard to come by for the Wolverines against the upstart Bearcats led by former OSU assistant Luke Fickell. Whatever it was, it kept Michigan from getting into any kind of flow. It didn't start that way though.

Right off the bat, Michigan's opening 7-play, 80 yard touchdown drive felt effortless. Even after the ensuing 3-and-out, when Tyree Kinnel picked off Hayden Moore's pass and returned it 28 yards for the score to make it 14-0 Michigan, things were hitting on all cylinders. Things took a dramatic turn when Donovan Peoples-Jones fumbled James Smith's punt late in the first quarter. Cincinnati was able to quickly turn that gift into 7 points, which instantly gave the Bearcats instant life.

Eventually, Michigan was able to rely on stout defense and just enough offense to stifle any hopes for a shocking victory for Cincinnati. Like I said, the final score doesn't reflect how this game felt...and that's fine. Because a win is a win. And games like this can happen sometimes. Is Michigan better than they showed yesterday? No doubt. This team is young, and despite a big victory in Dallas in week 1, this team is still figuring out how to play together and how to win. Thankfully, they have games like this to work some of those things out.

Wilton Speight is Michigan's quarterback. Plain and simple. Anyone hoping or wishing for O'Korn, Peters or McCaffrey to somehow make the jump over Speight at this point is wasting their time. For each of his misses, he has two or three gems. It's not his decision making that's the problem, it's just simple execution...which can be fixed. He's also figuring out essentially a brand-new receiver and tight end group. Is he ever going to be perfect, of course not, but he doesn't need to be. He just needs to be good enough to compliment an improving running game. If Michigan can stay two-dimensional on offense, with this defense, they'll win plenty of games on their schedule.

This Cincinnati game was never going to tell us everything we want to know about this Michigan team. Even with a larger blowout, what would we really know? That Cincinnati is bad? I think Fickell had his guys pumped up for this game and they caught some lucky breaks. Everything else was just noise.

On to Air Force.

Once again, Ty Isaac had a day. What impressed me the most was his ability to see where the defense was going (usually inside) and bump to the outside for big yards. He's seeing the field as well as ever and he has the speed to get to where the defenders aren't. Not sure how effective Michigan's running game would be at this point with just Evans and/or Higdon. The senior is finally healthy and running with confidence for the first time in his Michigan career.

I could go a number of ways here...Speight's frustrating inaccuracy, special teams (punt return) blunders, turnovers, stalled drives resulting in field goals instead of touchdowns...all of those are equally frustrating in a game like this. I think they were all the result of just a lackadaisical attitude that Michigan came into this game with. With a 14-0 lead, Michigan got sloppy and let a much lesser opponent hang around, which is something we haven't seen much of in the Harbaugh era. No energy at times, no momentum, sloppy play. Just an ugly game.

The senior tallied 133 yards on 20 carries including an impressive 53 yard run. No touchdowns, but he kept drives alive at key times like he did against Florida.

DEFENSE: Tyree Kinnel
Led the team with 8 tackles. Also tallied 1 sack, 1 TFL and a pick-6 in the first quarter.

Hit two field goals from 24 and 28 yards in this game. Looked effortless and perfect on both. Have to mention Kekoa Crawford as a returner...had 4 for 76 yards for a nice 19 yard average.

COACHES: Greg Mattison
The defensive line stood out to me today more than the defense as a whole, even though they all played well. But the defensive line was solid. Moore was never comfortable in the pocket, and Cincinnati's 63 rushing yards are the product of a defensive front that wrecked Cincinnati's offense mostly without the need to blitz.

Also receiving votes: Kekoa Crawford, Grant Perry, Devin Bush, Khaleke Hudson

2017 Game Ball Standings
1. Ty Isaac (2), Quinn Nordin (2)
2. Tyree Kinnel (1), Devin Bush (1), Greg Mattison (1), Don Brown (1)

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