Saturday, September 9, 2017

No. 8 Michigan 36, Cincinnati 14: Wolverines show versatility in the home opener

                                                          Photo Credit: Michigan Athletics

ANN ARBOR, Mich.— On a crisp, cool fall afternoon, the No. 8 Michigan Wolverines (2-0) found ways to execute on both sides of the ball as they pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 36-14 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats (1-1) in front of 111,384 fans at Michigan Stadium.

Ty Isaac asserted himself into the Michigan running back rotation with a career-high 133 yards on 20 carries, highlighted by a 53-yard run down the sidelines, which led to a Quinn Nordin 24-yard field goal in the early stages of the fourth quarter.

Between Chris Evans’ 78 yards on 22 carries against Florida and Isaac’s effort on Saturday, Harbaugh relishes the continued growth and workload of Michigan’s backfield, but knows more work must be done in order to see the process fulfilled.

“I thought Ty had a heck of a game with a career-high [in yards] and keeps ascending, so it feels good,” Harbaugh said. “The fullbacks are also doing a nice job and most of our veteran players are playing good. We still have to get experience and be patient. You can’t get experience without playing.”

Quarterback Wilton Speight went 17-of-29 for 221 yards on two touchdown passes and talked about what Isaac brings to the Michigan locker room from a character standpoint.

“[Ty] is an extremely mature guy that has talked to the team after every practice,” Speight said. “Both times, he has delivered really strong messages and that speaks volumes of who he is. He came from USC and battled for a spot in this camp and established himself as one of the leaders and it showed on the field today.”

Free safety Tyree Kinnel’s 28-yard interception return for a touchdown to go up 14-0 highlighted a nine-tackle performance for the junior.

“Anytime we can score on defense is good. Overall, I thought we did pretty good and ran to the ball very fast,” Kinnel said. “There’s a couple of things we have to clean up, but what we do in practice is once we get the ball in our hands, we turn into an offense and get to the nearest sideline and block for our teammates.”

The Wolverines defense held Bearcats running back Mike Boone to 44 yards on the ground, compared to 100 yards against Austin Peay in the season opener on Aug. 31.

Game Recap:

A steady diet of Isaac came early as he took the first four carries for 23 yards to set the tempo for Michigan. Speight changed things up as he connected with Kekoa Crawford with a 14-yard reception on 3rd and 9 and followed up with a 43-yard touchdown reception as the nearest UC defender was approximately five yards away.

After Kinnel’s 28-yard interception for a touchdown, Michigan took a 14-0 lead at the 8:10 into the game as the home crowd ignited.

When Cincinnati’s drive appeared to sputter, a punt turned into a fumble as Benjamin St-Juste’s leg touched the ball and recovered at the Michigan 38. The Bearcats took advantage of the turnover as they used a steady diet of Boone as a running back and a slot receiver, which led to a one-yard touchdown up the middle from the senior to cut the deficit to 14-7.

Michigan responded towards the end of the first quarter as Donovan Peoples-Jones took the reverse and went 44 yards into the Cincinnati redzone. The drive stalled as Speight fumbled on 1st and Goal at the UC 3 for a seven-yard loss and overthrew his targets on second and third down as Michigan settled for a 28-yard field goal from Quinn Nordin.

On its final drive of the first half, Cincinnati executed its longest drive of the game going 53 yards, but Josh Pasley missed a 51-yard field goal as the half ended.

Moore took matters into his own hands in the first drive of the second half as he parlayed a 46-yard run off a quarterback draw into a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kahlil Lewis in the left corner of the endzone.

With the tide on their side and a chance to tie or take the lead, the Bearcats went three and out and the Wolverines defense once more bailed out the offense. Michigan could not execute in its next possession as a three and out occurred with a shanked punt from Will Hart, which gave UC another chance in prime position at the Michigan 46-yard line.

The Bearcats missed a golden opportunity as Moore found a wide-open Lewis, but a was a half step off on the pass for an incompletion and would go three and out. In need of a revival, Michigan delivered as Speight found Zach Gentry on a crossing pattern for a 36-yard reception, which paved the way for a 33-yard touchdown reception to a speedy Grant Perry to give Michigan a cushion at 24-14 with 3:01 left in the third quarter.

Isaac broke a 53-yard run down the sideline in the early stages of the fourth quarter, which led to a 24-yard field goal make from Nordin to put Michigan up 13 with 9:02 left in regulation. The Wolverines added a safety and an interception return for a touchdown from defensive back Lavert Hill to put the icing on the cake on a 22-point win.

Looking Ahead:

Michigan looks to end its non-conference slate at 3-0 as Air Force comes calling at Michigan Stadium for a Noon ET kickoff, while Cincinnati looks to redeem itself in its annual rivalry game at Miami (OH) at 8 p.m. ET.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.