Michigan Football picked up a tougher than expected 31-25 victory over Air Force on Saturday at the Big House. What happened that this game ended up being a dogfight down to the final minute?
Air Force ran a staggering 90 plays on offense and picked up 417 yards, 290 of which came on the ground. The Falcons hurt Michigan with their misdirection and inflicted serious damage while executing their option. Air Force QB Connor Dietz rushed for 61 yards and passed for another 120. His sidekick, running back Cody Getz, knifed his way to 133 yards and 3 TDs on the ground. “We put in a completely new defense, and everyone is playing new positions,” Jordan Kovacs explained at the postgame presser. “It was a tough situation. We knew they were going to score some points.” Kovacs and Brady Hoke explained that the Wolverines eventually scrapped their defensive game plan and simplified things.
This was Air Force’s Super Bowl and they played like it.
Michigan’s leading receiver was true freshman tight end Devin Funchess, who hauled in 4 passes for 106 yards and a TD.
Michigan’s leading tacklers were redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan, who notched a career-high 11 tackles, and true freshman linebacker Joe Bolden (10 tackles). True freshman linebacker James “Biggs” Ross III recorded 4 tackles as did sophomore defensive end Frank Clark.
Additionally, true freshmen Ondre Pipkins and Mario Ojemudia logged significant action on the defensive line. True freshman safety Jarrod Wilson was on the field a lot. When asked about playing so many freshmen after the game, Hoke said it was by necessity and design.
Jake Ryan changed his uniform number from 90 to 47 in honor of Michigan Legend Bennie Oosterbaan. In addition to his game-high 11 tackles, Ryan also had 2 pass break ups and 1 TFL. I asked Michigan captain Jordan Kovacs about Ryan after the game (see the video below for his answer).
Denard Robinson is still fast
Denard Robinson ran wild on the Falcons defense. He became the first Michigan player since Tyrone Wheatley (1993 Rose Bowl) to score two touchdowns on runs of 50 yards or more in the same game. Robinson sliced through the Air Force defense for 79 and 58 yard TDs. He totaled 218 yards on 20 carries. Robinson connected on 14 of 25 passes for 208 yards and 1 TD. He was intercepted once, but it was a ball that bounced off Vincent Smith’s hands. The play was almost identical to the one last week on Russell Bellomy’s interception.
True freshman Dennis Norfleet looked impressive again on kick returns. He tallied 77 yards on 3 returns with a long of 36. On his last return he literally snatched the ball out of Drew Dileo’s hands before pin-balling through the Falcons defense. It was a risky move, that could have resulted in disaster. I did notice after the play that special teams coach Dan Ferrigno was talking to Norfleet about the play.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun did not make himself or his players available for postgame interviews. That display of poor sportsmanship surprised me from one of our military academies.
Devin Funchess (6-4, 230) is a star in the making. He has all the tools you would want in a tight end, big, fast, athletic, playmaker who is not afraid to block. Funchess has long arms and made a great play his TD catch (see photo above) to get the ball at it’s highest point.
Devin Gardner hauled in 5 catches for 63 yards and a TD. He made it clear in the postgame presser that his dream is to play quarterback for Michigan.
Junior receiver Jeremy Jackson (6-3, 204) hauled in two passes for 17 yards. Both receptions came on third down plays and resulted in a U-M first down.
In addition to his 4 tackles, Frank Clark had a team-high 2 TFLs and 1 pass break up.
What it all means
Michigan is very young and inexperienced, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The 3 linebackers that they went with down the stretch against Air Force were; freshman James Ross III, freshman Joe Bolden and redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan. They’ve already played 12 true freshmen which means they are recruiting talented players. However, they are learning on the fly right now and there will be some growing pains along the way. ”I expect us to make some huge strides,” Kovacs said. “That’s one of the things Coach Hoke emphasizes – to get better each game. Do I think we played our best ball today? No, not at all. But did we play better than week one? Probably, and that goes to those younger guys playing, and even the older guys – I’m going to make strides each week, and if we all do that I think we’ll be all right.”
Next up on the docket for Michigan is a visit from UMass, followed by a trip to Notre Dame. After that the Wolverines will have a bye week before they begin Big Ten play at Purdue.
Here is some video from Michigan’s, Jake Ryan led, defensive stand to end the game.