Opening Day at Michigan Stadium was supposed to be different. After last weeks trouncing / thrashing / wake-up call, against Alabama, this weeks contest against Air Force was supposed to be a return to normalcy. Normal being the continued rebuilding, albeit a comfortable win, against a semi-formidable opponent. Instead of a comfortable win, Michigan got all they could handle for four quarters and held on to win 31 -25 against the gritty, well conditioned Falcons.
For Michigan fans – they were thrilled at the return of all-Denard, all-the-time. Quarterback Denard Robinson followed up last weeks disappearing act with a more familiar performance. Rushing for 218 yards on 20 carries, including 2 electrifying scoring runs of 79 and 58 yards; passing for another 208 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Michigan fans were also treated to another surprise. Listed 4th on the depth chart at tight end, Freshman Devin Funchess had a spectacular game catching 4 balls for 106 yards and a TD.
Converted wide receiver/back-up quarterback Devin Gardner rounded out the scoring and continued to provide a safe harbor for Denard Robinson, catching 5 passes for 63 yards, including a 7 yard scoring strike from Robinson late in the third quarter.
But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
Air Force played good, really good.
Midway through the fourth quarter, after a U-M drive stalled deep in Falcon territory, kicker Brendan Gibbons connected on a 31 yard field goal to extend the Michigan lead to 6 points.
And then the defense held on.
Air Forces’ no-huddle/ wishbone/ option formation controlled the games tempo for nearly the duration. Falcon quarterback Connor Dietz was bruised and battered all game long but still managed to rush for 133 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he made it look easy, despite the battering.
The Wolverine defense, however, made some key plays of their own down the stretch on the final two Air Force possessions to seal their first win of the season. Hassling Dietz on their last desperate drives were names we will be hearing more and more the rest of the season. Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, Craig Roh, Jordan Kovacs, and more.
Summing up Michigan’s overall performance will certainly be mixed depending on who you ask. They did seem to suffer from the same problems that has haunted many a past Michigan team: They played down to the level of their opponent; and continued to struggle against a running quarterback.
This team might take a different look at the situation, however. After all – a win is a win. And you can’t go on a winning streak until you get that first w.