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Posts Tagged ‘Air Force’

The numbers game: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

(Kaitlyn Cole)

Michigan’s offense has struggled at times early in the 2017 season, especially when it comes to red zone touchdowns. But it has been able to move the ball fairly well. The defense has been a pleasant surprise after losing 10 starters to the NFL. Now, a fourth of the way through the season, let’s start taking a look at how the Wolverines stack up in terms of explosive plays on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, Michigan is averaging 9.33 explosive plays (runs of 10 or more yards and passes of 20 or more). Of those 28 explosive plays, 17 have been rushing plays and 11 have been passing plays. Here’s how that compares to the past two seasons through three games:

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First three weeks comparison, 2017 vs past two seasons
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 17 11 28 13.59% 4.75% 13
2016 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
2015 10 8 18 8.57% -0.62% -1

The Wolverines currently rank 78th nationally in most total plays of at least 10 yards, 48th in rushing plays of at least 10 yards and 38th in passing plays of at least 20 yards.

Ty Isaac is leading the way with 10 plays of at least 10 yards, which ranks 17th in the country. He also has five plays of at least 20 yards, which ranks sixth in the nation. Chris Evans is second on the team with four rushes of at least 10 yards. Tarik Black leads the way in the passing game with three receptions of at least 20 yards, averaging 35.7 yards apiece. Isaac’s big runs have averaged 24 yards and that number would be higher if not for two touchdowns called back against Air Force. Among players with at least two big plays, Donovan Peoples-Jones leads the Wolverines with an average of 40.5 yards per (a 44-yard run and a 37-yards reception).

To put Michigan’s current pace in perspective, last year’s team averaged 12 explosive plays per game through the first three games of the season. While this year’s offense has looked stagnant at times, the addition of faster and more athletic players has improved Michigan’s overall potential for big-plays, and it’s still far better than Jim Harbaugh’s first season, which averaged just six explosive plays a game through the first three.

For example, the majority of last season’s carries went to De’Veon Smith, who was more of a bruiser than a home run threat. He led the team with 22 explosive runs in all of 2016. With Isaac and even Chris Evans taking over those carries, there’s far more potential to turn the corner around the edge and pick up first downs on first and second down.

Michigan’s big play leaders through 3 games
Name # Big Runs # Big Rec. Total Average Gain (Yds) Big Play %
Ty Isaac 10 0 10 24.0 21.28%
Chris Evans 4 0 4 15.5 12.12%
Tarik Black 0 3 3 35.7 27.27%
Donovan Peoples-Jones 1 1 2 40.5 66.67%
Zach Gentry 0 2 2 33.0 66.67%
Kekoa Crawford 0 2 2 31.5 40.00%
Grant Perry 0 2 2 30.5 20.00%
Karan Higdon 2 0 2 24.0 8.70%
Nick Eubanks 0 1 1 48.0 50.00%

From the wide receiver position, Michigan replaced veterans with superior athletes such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, Kekoa Crawford, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin. Black is now out for the season, but Peoples-Jones and Crawford have already racked up four explosive plays in limited playing time, and the other two will likely take on larger roles going forward.

Even Eddie McDoom should add to Michigan’s big-play potential. He’s only caught two passes and received two carries through three games, but he’s sure to get more touches with Black out of the offense.

So despite averaging about 2.5 fewer explosive plays per game at this point, I think the offense will become more explosive by the end of the year as the young players grow more comfortable in the offense. Michigan also hasn’t played Rutgers yet, which is an opportunity to rack up dozens of big plays, so the year-to-year stats haven’t exactly evened out yet.

On defense, Michigan is about as good as it gets in terms of shutting down big plays. Among teams that have played three games this season, only Auburn has allowed fewer plays of at least 10 yards. Here’s how the defense stacks up to the past two seasons through the first three games:

Defensive big plays
Michigan defense – 2017 average to date vs past 2 seasons
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 2.67 2.67 5.33 8.84% 4.75% 13
2016 5.00 1.67 6.67 10.26% 6.72% 18
2015 4.33 1.33 5.67 9.19% -0.62% -1

The Wolverines have allowed 16 total explosive plays (eight run and eight pass), and surprisingly, 11 of those have gone for at least 20 yards. Don Brown’s defense has mastered the art of dropping opponents for negative plays, but when the blitzes don’t get to the quarterback, the defense is susceptible to big plays.

Michigan also has an extremely young secondary, made up of three true sophomores and a junior – all of which are first-year starters. While all four are solid playmakers, they’ve also made a few mistakes as a result of their inexperience, so that explains many of the big plays allowed.

Michigan ranked 13th among teams that have played three games in terms of big rushing plays allowed, and only 14 teams have allowed fewer long passing plays. Through the first three games, Michigan’s defense is actually allowing explosive plays at a lower clip than last year’s vaunted defense did — about one and one-third fewer per game. This year’s defense has given up one more long pass per game to date, but has yielded just eight long runs compared to 15 at this point in 2016.

Obviously, it’s no surprise that Michigan’s defense has been more effective than the offense in terms of big plays. That has been reflected in the overall production, as well.

Michigan’s 2017 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 17 12 70.59%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 14 6 42.86%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

The defensive line is critical to shutting down big running plays, as running backs rarely get to the second level without contact. Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary have done a nice job setting the edge and stopping ball carriers from getting outside.

When opponents do rush outside, or on screen plays, Michigan’s athleticism at linebacker stops most plays before 10 yards. Devin Bush has led the charge for the most part, but Khaleke Hudson has also been critical in this regard.

Overall, Michigan hasn’t been outstanding on offense, so it seems about right that it ranks in the lower half of the FBS in total big plays thus far. The defense, however, is among the absolute best in every category, which also matches what our eyes have told us.

This week, Michigan hits the road for its first true road game of the season against an upstart Purdue Boilermakers squad. Here’s how the Wolverines and Boilermakers stack up so far.

Next opponent
Michigan offense vs Purdue defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 17 11 28 13.59% 4.75% 13
PU Def. 13 11 24 12.12% 0.92% 9
Purdue offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
PU Off. 17 13 30 13.04% 0.92% 9
UM Def. 8 8 16 8.84% 4.75% 13

Purdue’s offense has been one of the surprises of college football under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm. Through the first three games of the season it has churned out two more explosive plays than Michigan’s offense has (both passes), although it has done so at a slightly lower rate, having run 24 more plays than the Wolverines. The Boilermakers are averaging 10 explosive plays per game (5.7 runs and 4.3 runs).

Defensively, they’re not quite as good, allowing seven explosive plays per game. They’ve given up 13 explosive runs (4.3 per game), which ranks 67th nationally, and 11 explosive passes (3.67 per game) which ranks 94th. They’ve also given up 33 passes of at least 10 yards, which ranks 103rd nationally. By comparison, Michigan’s defense has given up just 12.

We’ll have another breakdown of the big plays next week after Michigan takes on Purdue in the young team’s first road test.

#7 Michigan 29 – Air Force 13: Special teams save the day while offense sputters in red zone

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

(Dustin Johnson)

Last week, Michigan played ugly but still beat Cincinnati by 22 points, leaving fans wondering if it was simply a letdown after a big season-opening win over Florida or a sign of things to com. This Saturday, Michigan picked up an ugly 29-13 win over Air Force.

Michigan looked like it would take command early on as Ty Isaac took the fourth play of the game 62 yards for a touchdown. But it was called back as his foot touched the sideline at the Air Force 30. Instead, Michigan had to settle for three points as the offense stalled at the 17-yard line and Quinn Nordin kicked a 35-yard field goal.

The opening drive was emblematic of the way the rest of the game would go: the offense moving the ball but sputtering in the red zone and settling for three instead of six.

Final Stats
Michigan  Air Force
Score 29 13
Record 3-0 1-1
Total Yards 359 232
Net Rushing Yards 190 168
Net Passing Yards 169 64
First Downs 17 15
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 7-72 3-29
Punts-Yards 3-111 6-231
Time of Possession 29:35 30:25
Third Down Conversions 5-of-14 3-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 3-27 2-11
Field Goals 5-for-5 2-for-3
PATs 2-for-2 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 1-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 0-of-4 0-of-2
Full Box Score

After forcing an Air Force punt, Michigan gave the ball right back when Chris Evans fumbled and the Falcons recovered at the Michigan 44. Air Force capitalized with a field goal to tie the game at three. That drive was also symbolic of the way the rest of the game would go as Air Force ran 12 plays but advanced just 24 yards.

Michigan settled for another field goal on its first possession of the second quarter, driving 77 yards in eight plays before stalling at the Air Force 8-yard line. Air Force answered with a 50-yard field goal and Michigan closed the half with a 49-yard field goal to take a 9-6 lead.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half and freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones scored the first touchdown of the game, taking the punt 79 yards to the end zone for the longest punt return since Steve Breaston went 83 yards against Indiana in 2006.

But the breathing room wouldn’t last long as Air Force threw its first pass of the game and receiver Ronald Cleveland beat safety Tyree Kinnel for a 64 yard touchdown.

Both offenses went three-and-out on their next possessions before Michigan got on the board once again with another field goal after the offense stalled in the red zone. This time, Nordin converted from 29 yards.

The Michigan defense forced another three-and-out, and two plays later, Isaac reeled off another big touchdown run, but again it was called back, this time for a questionable holding on Kekoa Crawford. Michigan settled for another Nordin field goal, this time from 36 yards out to take a 22-13 lead.

Air Force refused to back down, however, putting together a 16-play drive that used nearly seven minutes of the clock and got to the Michigan 5-yard line. But the Michigan defense held strong, forcing a 29-yard field goal attempt that was missed.

Michigan finally scored its first and only offensive touchdown of the game when Karan Higdon scampered around the left side for a 36-yard touchdown run to reach the final score of 29-13.

Michigan’s offense compiled 359 total yards, 190 on the ground and 169 through the air while the defense held Air Force to its lowest yardage total since 2012 (232 yards).

Wilton Speight completed 14-of-23 passes for 169 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass or an interception. Isaac led Michigan on the ground for the third time in three games, finishing with 89 yards on 5.6 yards per carry. Higdon added 64 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, while Evans got just six carries for 30 yards and the fumble. Tarik Black led Michigan in receiving with five receptions for 55 yards, while Peoples-Jones caught two for 52. Nordin tied a program record with five field goals in the game, joining K.C. Lopata (Nov. 8, 2009), J.D Carlson (Nov. 10, 1990), and Mike Gillette (Nov. 5, 1988) as the only Wolverines to do so.

Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman completed 1-of-7 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 60 yards. Running back Tim McVey managed just 62 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, well below his career average of 8.4 yards per carry.

Michigan hits the road for the first time this season next Saturday at Purdue. The game will kick off at 4pm EST and be televised by FOX.

Game Ball – Offense

Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
For the third week in a row, Ty Isaac could have gotten the game ball, and if his two touchdown runs wouldn’t have been called back he most certainly would have this week. But I’m going with Peoples-Jones because his third-quarter punt return began the second half with a statement, putting Michigan ahead by two scores and ultimately sealing the game. The true freshman has been a major weapon in the punt return game in the early season. He also gained 52 yards on a pair of receptions.

Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)

Game Ball – Defense

Chase Winovich (9 tackles — 3 solo — 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Devin Bush could have gotten the nod here as he was seemingly all over the field, playing a huge role in slowing down the Air Force triple option running game. But I’m going to split hairs and pick Chase Winovich because he recorded a sack and a half on just seven Air Force pass attempts. He also recorded nine tackles and a quarterback hurry.

Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)

#7 Michigan vs Air Force game preview

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Michigan played an ugly, mistake-filled game against Cincinnati last Saturday and still won by 22 points thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns by Tyree Kinnel and Lavert Hill. Now the Wolverines play host to Air Force at noon on Big Ten Network.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – BTN
Air Force Head Coach: Troy Calhoun (11th season)
Coaching Record: 78-53 (all at Air Force)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Thiessen (10th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Russ (4th season)
Last Season: 10-3 (5-3 MWC)
Last Meeting: UM 31 – AFA 25 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan 2-0
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 2-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Air Force First meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (31-25)
Last Air Force win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Air Force schedule to date
Opponent Result
VMI W 62-0

Air Force had the rare Week 2 bye after dismantling the Virginia Military Institute of the Football Championship Subconference (FCS), 62-0, in Week 1. VMI went just 3-8 last season and hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. In fact, you have to go back to 1977 to find the last time the Keydets won more than six games in a season and 1959 to find the last time they won more than seven.  Never have they won 10 games. They went 9-0 in 1920 and 9-1 in 1923 and that’s about it. Needless to say, success isn’t party of the VMI football tradition, and last week, they lost to mighty Catawba College, a Division II liberal arts school of 1,300 students, 27-20.

So it’s hard to glean much off of Air Force’s schedule to date. Sure, they rushed for 457 yards in the opener and racked up 647 total yards, but VMI’s defense also allowed 415 total yards to Catawba. For those keeping track, that’s more than Michigan’s defense allowed to Florida and Cincinnati combined.

Regardless, Air Force features the triple-option offense that military academy teams tend to run, which will most certainly be a challenge for the Wolverines’ defense, and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for just that.

Head coach Troy Calhoun has been very successful in Colorado Springs, with the exception of the 2012 and 2013 seasons when the Falcons went a combined 8-17. Since then, they are 29-12 with a Mountain West Mountain Division title and two bowl wins.

However, last year’s schedule wasn’t exactly a gauntlet. They beat Abilene Christian, Georgia State, Utah State, Navy, Fresno State, Army, Colorado State, San Jose State, Boise State, and South Alabama. The Boise State win was a big one, keeping the 19th-ranked Broncos out of the MWC title game, but the other nine opponents went a combined 43-69 for a winning percentage of just 38.4 percent.

So how good is Air Force? Who knows. But let’s take a look at the matchup.

Air Force offense

(Ray Carlin, USA Today Sports)

Simply looking at this season’s offensive stats is misleading since Air Force has played just one game and it was against the aforementioned VMI squad that can’t even beat a liberal arts school the size of my high school. Last season, Air Force ranked 36th nationally in total offense (452.2 yards per game), 30th in scoring (35.2 points per game), third in rushing (317.4 yards per game), and 123rd in passing (134.8 yards per game).

It’s no secret that running the ball is the Falcons’ forte as they’ve ranked highly in each of the past four seasons (4th in 2015, 6th in 2014, and 12th in 2013, and 2nd in 2012). A year ago, after a three-game scuffle mid-season, quarterback Nate Romine went down with an injury and Arion Worthman came in and led the Falcons to six straight wins to close the season.

Now the full-time starter even though Romine was granted a medical redshirt, Worthman ran an efficient offense in the season opener. He completed 8-of-12 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 33 yards and another score. Romine, meanwhile, went 2-of-2 for 18 yards and carried the ball twice for 32 yards.

The most impressive part of the game was the number of backs that carried the ball. Sixteen different players had at least two carries and the team still averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Granted, the Falcons probably could have pulled someone from the stands and gain positive yards on VMI’s defense, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Senior running back Tim McVey led the way with 98 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He was the team’s second-leading rusher last season with 708 yards and 10 touchdowns and entered this season as Air Force’s career leader in rushing average at an astounding 8.4 yards per carry. And yes, that average went UP in the season opener.

Michigan’s run defense has allowed a total of just 79 rushing yards in two games, holding opponents to an average of less than 1.4 yards per carry.

Fullbacks play a major role in Air Force’s option offense and Calhoun had to replace the top two, who carried the ball a combined 20.5 times per game last season. But junior Parker Wilson led all Falcons with 16.0 yards per carry against VMI, racking up 48 yards and a touchdown on just three carries.

While the rushing offense is the bread and butter, the passing offense does just enough to mix it up — and nothing more. The Falcons threw just 150 passes in all of 2016. By comparison, Michigan threw 370 passes and has already thrown 55 through two games this season. Air Force had just one game last season of 20 or or more pass attempts (24) and eight games of 10 or fewer.

But that doesn’t mean the passing game doesn’t work. In fact, the infrequency of the passing game is precisely why it does work. Air Force averaged 11.68 yards per pass attempt last year and 25.76 yards per completion. Michigan averaged 7.45 yards per attempt and 12.09 per completion. That means the average Air Force pass completion was a quarter of the football field and more than twice that of Michigan.

It wasn’t quite that dramatic in the season opener as Air Force threw 14 passes and completed 10 for an average of 13.6 yards per completion, but that’s still more than Michigan averaged in 2016. Last year’s top receiver is gone, meaning Worthman will have to find a new go-to target. Jalen Robinette’s 35 receptions for 959 yards and six touchdowns were by far more than the next closest receiver — McVey — who had just eight for 193 and two. In fact, Robinette’s production was two receptions and 166 yards more than all other receivers combined. McVey led the way against VMI with three catches for 77 yards. But sophomore Geraud Sanders made the most of his two receptions, taking them both for touchdowns from 57 yards and five yards out. Junior Marcus Bennett is the other starting receiver and caught two passes for 24 yards.

The offensive line lost a pair of all-Mountain West performers, but has four seniors with starting experience and with the running system that the Falcons have offensive line is essentially a plug and play position in Colorado Springs.

Air Force defense

(Mike Kaplan, U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force defense under Steve Russ has been steadily improving since Russ took full reign of the unit after spending 2012 and 2013 as co-defensive coordinator. In 2013, the defense ranked 114th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense. In Russ’ first season as the lone defensive coordinator, the Falcons improved to 60th in total defense. In 2015 they were 32nd and last season they maintained that performance at 33rd. However, Air Force ranked 49th in scoring defense last season (26.2 points per game). They ranked 10th against the run (114.2 yards per game) and 94th against the pass (250.7 yards per game).

The bad news for Russ this season is that, like Michigan, he had to replace 10 of 11 starters on the defense. And it wasn’t just starters, it was depth as well as 32 seniors departed. Six of the top seven linemen and four of the top five linebackers are gone.

The lone returning starters is senior middle linebacker Grant Ross, who ranked third on the team with 67 tackles and also had 2.5 sacks last season. He has 16 starts under his belt and he recorded three tackles and 1.5 for loss in the opener. Senior Jack Flor is the other middle linebacker and led the team with eight tackles in the opener. He averaged 7.3 tackles per game in three starts a year ago. Senior Ja’Mel Sanders and senior Matt Evans started at the outside linebacker spots but recorded a combined three tackles.

Junior Kyle Floyd is a first-year starter at free safety and nearly matched his career tackles (four) in the season opener (three), while fellow junior Garrett Kauppila played in his first career game against VMI, recording three tackles. Senior Marquis Griffin and junior Robert Bullard are the starting corners. Griffin started two games last season and recorded five tackles, one for loss, and a pass breakup against VMI. Bullard made his first career start and recorded one tackle.

The defensive line is made up of junior nose guard Cody Gessler, senior three-tech Cody Moorhead, and senior weakside end Santo Coppola. The latter is the most experienced returner along the line with seven career starts. He leads all returning linemen with two sacks in 2016 and recored another one against VMI. Moorhead has played in 21 career games entering this season but recorded just two total tackles. He made one in the opener. The VMI game was the career debut for Gessler and he collected one tackle.

Air Force special teams

Senior kicker Luke Strebel ranked ninth nationally with 1.69 field goals per game a year ago. He made 22-of-25 and all 51 point after attempts, setting a Mountain West record with 22 straight field goals made after missing his first three of the season. He didn’t get a chance to kick a field goal against VMI. Sophomore punter Charlie Scott booted two punts for an average of 41.5 yards in his debut.

Junior receiver Ronald Cleveland is back to handle punt returns after averaging 10.7 yards per return in 2016. He had two returns for a total of nine yards to start the season.

Air Force run game vs Michigan rush defense
Air Force Michigan

This may be the only game this season that Michigan’s run defense doesn’t hold the advantage. Michigan’s defense held both Florida and Cincinnati under 100 yards rushing, but Air Force hasn’t been held below 100 rushing yards in at least the past two seasons. Last season, their low was 149 yards on just 3.8 yards per carry in a 35-26 loss to Wyoming, a team that finished 92nd nationally against the run. Navy was the only other team to hold the Falcons below 200 yards (173) and Army was the only team to do it in 2015 (196). No matter how good Michigan’s run defense is, it will take a major feat to stop the Air Force rushing attack, which leads to…

Air Force pass game vs Michigan pass defense
Air Force Michigan 

Michigan’s pass defense has the edge here, and I certainly don’t expect Air Force to put up many passing yards, but there are two reasons I have this closer than it should be. First of all, Cincinnati exposed a little bit of a weak spot in the Michigan defense last week with some screens that picked up a decent chunk of yardage. Teams will play on the aggressiveness of Don Brown’s defense until he can fix it. Secondly, although Air Force doesn’t pass often, it makes the most of its pass attempts. I’m slightly worried by Michigan’s young secondary getting too lulled to sleep by the run and then giving up big plays through the air.

Air Force rush defense vs Michigan running game
Air Force Michigan 

Michigan gets a slight edge here based on how well Ty Isaac has been running the ball, but it remains to be seen whether or not the offensive line can pave the way for a consistent running game. Chris Evans has yet to find much running room and Air Force’s defense is geared around selling out to stop the run. The Falcons held eight opponents below 100 yards rushing last season, though they did surrender 373 rushing yards to New Mexico.

Air Force pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Air Force Michigan 

While Air Force sells out to stop the run it makes their pass defense very vulnerable if opposing quarterbacks have enough time to throw. They ranked 94th in passing yards allowed and 83rd in pass efficiency defense last season, allowing nine opponents to throw for 200-plus yards and six to top 300. Wilton Speight has been erratic through the first two games of the season but I have to believe he’ll settle down and regain the accuracy that he displayed in the first half of last season prior to his injury at Iowa. As long as the line can keep him clean, Michigan should have the clear edge here.

Air Force special teams vs Michigan special teams
Air Force Michigan

There’s not much separating the two teams in the special teams matchup. Air Force has the more experienced kicker who has made 22 straight field goals, while Michigan has a big-legged kicker who doesn’t have much experience. He nailed two from 50-plus in the opener against Florida, but also missed two field goals in the same game. Neither team has an experienced punter. Air Force ranked 9th and 19th nationally last season in kick and punt returns while Michigan has new returners.

Air Force Michigan 

It’s not quite the Jim Harbaugh-Luke Fickell disparity, but I would still give Harbaugh the edge over Calhoun, though the man in Colorado Springs has put together an impressive run. He has carried on the success of his predecessor, Fisher DeBerry, with very few hiccups. It’s not easy to sustain success at a service academy, but he has done so, and that warrants respect. It seems Calhoun is rumored for coaching jobs every offseason but he has chosen to remain at his alma mater where he could be a legend someday.

Atmosphere and Intangibles
Air Force Michigan 

Air Force won’t be intimidated by the Big House, but — assuming the boo birds don’t come out again — Michigan has the clear home field advantage. It’s also a noon game on the East Coast, which means it’s 10am body time for the Falcons. They might not be affected by that as much as other teams, but it has to count for something.

Edge Average: Michigan 6.4 – Air Force 3.6
Score Prediction: Michigan 33 – Air Force 17
Four bold predictions:

Two good:
• Ty Isaac is held in check but Chris Evans has a breakout game, using his speed to beat the aggressive Air Force rush defense and breaks a long touchdown run
• Wilton Speight hits a few deep balls, doesn’t make any major mistakes, and holds off the boo birds for another week
Two bad: 
• Michigan’s run defense holds Air Force to its lowest rushing output in the past three seasons but the Falcons still break 100 yards
• Air Force scores two passing touchdowns on an overly aggressive Michigan defense

Tailgate Tuesday: Brisket burnt ends

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly contribution from our resident pitmaster, Joe Pichey from GoBlueBBQ. Joe has limited time this season, so we will be tag-teaming the weekly recipes. These tailgate recipes will be posted each Tuesday throughout the football season and will feature a variety of appetizers, main courses, and sides to help you be the king of your next tailgate. Gentry’s BBQ, a Orlando, Fla. based BBQ and catering company, sponsors this season’s feature by providing their killer rubs and sauces for use in the recipes. Buy them here. In addition, Fogo Charcoal provides charcoal to use in each recipe. Buy it here.

Previous: Gator kabobs; Steak tacos nortenos with bacon fat flour tortillas
Recipe Archive

I had to travel to Ohio this past weekend to celebrate the life of my grandfather, who passed away last week at age 88, so I didn’t have time to cook anything. Because of that, this week’s Tailgate Tuesday will be a cook from last Fourth of July, so it doesn’t include any product from this season’s sponsor, Gentry’s BBQ.


• 12-14 pound packer brisket
• Your favorite beef rub
• Spray bottle
• Vinegar or apple juice
• Your favorite BBQ sauce


First, you need to trim your brisket. Make sure to use a sharp knife and make sure your brisket is cold so it’s easier to cut. On a brisket, there is a point and a flat and it’s pretty easy to determine which is which. Trim off most of the fat around the brisket except from the fat cap. With the fat cap, you’ll want to trim it to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, but it’s important for both flavor and moistness, so don’t trim it all off.

Once your brisket is trimmed to your liking, apply your beef rub. This can be as simple as salt and pepper or a beef rub that has more chiles, cumin, garlic, etc in it. Fire up your smoker to 275 and make sure there’s a water pan in there. Once it’s up to temperature, throw the brisket in. I prefer to cook fat side up to let the fat drip down into the meat. Others prefer fat side down to act as a shield from the heat. To each his own and it can also depend on the way the heat is dispersed in your smoker.

Grab a cold beer and relax for at least three or four hours before even thinking about opening up your smoker. No need to release heat during this stage. After three or four hours you can get out your spray bottle and spritz the brisket with cider vinegar or apple juice. You can do this every 20-30 minutes to keep it moist and also to check the color of the meat.

From about four hours to six hours in you should be in what is called the stall, where the internal meat temperature won’t rise much and you might be tempted to crank up the heat. Just be patient. Watch for the bark on the outside of the brisket to start getting nice and crispy and turn a deep mahogany to almost black color (as seen below) before you wrap it.

At this point, take some butcher paper and wrap your brisket like a present nice and tight. Put it back in the smoker to finish. Since it’s wrapped, it’s not going to absorb any more smoke, so you could put it into the oven at this time to finish if you want. Cook until the brisket reaches a soft and pliable feel. It should be around 200-210 degrees internal, but I prefer to judge the doneness by the feel. Using gloves, pick it up and kind of jiggle it around. If it feels loose and pliable it’s probably done. If not, put it back in. You could unwrap it a bit to get a better look and feel or stick a probe in.

Once it’s done, it’s very important to give it a rest in a cooler until the internal temperatures are back down to 140-145 degrees. This allows some of the juice to be reabsorbed back into the meat as opposed to all leaking out if you slide in right away. It could be an hour or two of rest and that’s just fine as long as you don’t have hungry people becoming hangry because of the wait.

When it’s time to slice, just remember that you shouldn’t slice with the grain. Always slice against the grain. You’ll want to determine where the point and the flat meet because they will have different grains. Slice the flat and serve it as brisket, but this recipe is for burnt ends so you’ll be using the point for these. Cut into cubes and you can remove any chunks of fat that may still be there.

Once you have your point cut into cubes, mix it with your favorite BBQ sauce in a foil pan and throw that back into your smoker. You’ll want to smoke it for another couple hours until it gets back up to about 200 degrees and is nice and sticky. At this point, it’s ready to serve immediately.

Visit Gentry’s to purchase their great rubs and sauces. You can follow them on Twitter at @gentrysbbq and you can also follow our resident pitmaster Joe at @mmmgoblubbq.

First Look: Air Force

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Michigan followed up its big win over Florida with lackluster showing against Cincinnati in the home opener on Saturday. The offense struggled to move the ball consistently, but the defense lived up to its billing, holding the Bearcats to just 200 total yards and scoring two touchdowns of its own.

Now, the Wolverines close out the non-conference portion of the schedule against an Air Force team that went 10-3 last season. Let’s take a look at how the team’s compare.

Air Force & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
62.0 1st 34.5 51st PPG 0.0 1st 15.5 31st
473 408 Rush Yds 55 79
473.0 1st 204.0 46th Rush/Gm 55.0 10th 39.5 3rd
7.1 4.7 Rush Avg 2.0 1.4
190 439 Pass Yds 40 313
190.0 98th 219.5 75th Pass/Gm 40.0 1st 156.5 34th
663 847 Total Off. 95 392
663.0 1st 423.5 63rd Total Off./Gm 95.0 1st 196.0 9th
N/A N/A 19.0 85th KR Avg 17.2 32nd 15.6 18th
4.5 81st 6.6 65th PR Avg -2.0 1st 2.0 41st
35:21 17th 32:20 35th Avg TOP 24:39 27:40
70% 2nd 33% 96th 3rd Down% 21% 15th 25% 24th
2-16 70th 6-30 104th Sacks-Yds 1-16 92nd 10-58 3rd
9 7 TDs 0 4
0-0 (–%) 6-8 (75%) FG-ATT 0-0 (–%) 1-3 (33%)
7-7 (100%) 1st 5-6 (83%) 74th Red Zone 0-0 (–%) 1st 2-2 (100%) 94th
7-7 (100%) 1-6 (17%)  RZ TD 0-0 (–%) 2-2 (100%)

Air Force had a Week 2 bye week after opening with a 62-0 win over VMI. The Falcons rushed for 457 yards on 6.8 yards per carry and totaled 647 yards. Their defense held VMI to just 95 total yards. It was a thorough domination, but VMI isn’t exactly a quality opponent. They went 3-8 last season and had the 96th-ranked total defense in FCS a year ago.

Even so, the armed forces teams always present a unique challenge with their spread option offenses that are different than what most other teams run. When Michigan hosted Air Force in 2012 it took a heroic effort from Denard Robinson to overcome 417 yards allowed.

In Air Force’s win over VMI, the Falcons had 16 different players with at least two carries. Their 437 rushing yards would rank 27th nationally through two weeks even though Air Force did that in just one game. Their rushing yards per game average is first by more than 50 yards over fellow armed force, Army. It was so good that even though they rank 98th in passing offense, they’re still first nationally in total offense. They’re also first in red zone scores with seven touchdowns in seven trips.

Defensively, they’re also first in several categories including scoring, pass defense, total defense, punt return defense, and red zone defense. They held VMI to just 95 total yards, a 21 percent third-down conversion, and no visits to the red zone. Air Force controlled the ball for so long that VMI ran just 47 plays.

Michigan will have its hands full with Air Force’s running game despite the fact that the Wolverine defense ranks third nationally against the run. But Don Brown will have Michigan’s defense ready. The question is, will the offense be able to move the ball and limit mistakes?

MMQ has more questions than answers through two weeks

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Two weeks are gone and the Michigan football team is right where it should be at 1-1. No one expected this team to beat Alabama and everyone expected them to beat Air Force. So 1-1 is not a surprise. But does anyone else feel like I do – that we don’t really know much about this team? I think there are some major question marks surrounding this team right now. For example, the running game. Does Michigan have one other than Denard Robinson?

Devin Funchess became the first Michigan tight end with a 100-yard game since 1997 (photo by Getty Images)

How about a passing game? Yes, Denard threw the ball better in Week 2 against Air Force, as he was able to complete some passes to his tight ends and receivers using quick hitting passes and play action. But can Denard continue to do that against a defense that actually puts pressure on him and one that isn’t returning only three starters from last season?

And how about the defense? Do we really know anything about the team yet after being totally overmatched against Alabama and then having to lineup against the triple option of Air Force?

The running game, or lack thereof, concerns me the most. I’m not worried about the Alabama game so much. Every team that plays them this year is going to struggle to run against that defensive front seven. I would have liked to see Al Borges call more zone-read plays for Denard out of the shotgun, and some play-action passes off of that, since that is where he is the most dangerous, but I understand. It was Alabama.

What I saw in Week 2 against Air Force has me worried though. Everyone thought that the return of Fitzgerald Toussaint would mean that Michigan’s running game would be back to looking like it did last season. That was not the case. He didn’t do anything. In the few times when Michigan lined up in the I-Formation (or some other pro-style set) and ran the ball, the result was a carry for only a few yards at a time. In fact, it seemed that this was even a concern for Borges, as he rarely called these standard running plays. Michigan did have success running the ball with Denard out of the shotgun, but against an Air Force defensive front that was extremely undersized as compared to the rest of the teams which Michigan will see this year, I expected Toussaint and the other running backs to be more effective. And I’m not blaming this all on the running backs either. On anything except the zone-read, I didn’t see a whole lot of holes open for the backs to run through. Next week against UMass won’t tell us anything either, as they are barely out of Division 1-AA (FCS) and have lost to UConn and Indiana by a combined score of 82-6.

Fitz Toussaint rushed for just seven yards on eight carries (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

Less concerning to me is the Michigan passing game. Denard didn’t have a spectacular game against Alabama, but most quarterbacks don’t. In reality, I think he did the best he probably could while under a lot of pressure and while the receivers were extremely well-covered and forced into poor routes. Week 2 showed us what I’ve said since last season is the best way to utilize Denard’s arm: a short, quick passing game out of the shotgun, using play-action to keep the defenders honest, and throwing to tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. This also allowed Denard to hit some deeper passes once the secondary started to cheat up on the short routes. Borges also got Denard out of the pocket some, allowing him to create with his feet if the receiver wasn’t open. All of this coming against an Air Force defense not known for holding opponents to low scores. What will happen when the Michigan offense needs to pass against the defenses of the Big Ten, which won’t be as good as Alabama, but will certainly be better than Air Force? Will Borges abandon the passing game which has worked over the past two years as it did in Week 2, or will he try throwing from the pocket as is his preference?

The Michigan defense hasn’t really shown anything to anyone yet either. They were gashed by an Alabama offense featuring one of the best offensive lines in the country and a stable of running backs that were extremely talented. Quarterback A.J. McCarron didn’t have much trouble throwing either. In Week 2, they had to defend the Air Force triple option attack. Not an easy task when you never see that offense and when you only have one week to prepare for it.

But there are some bright spots. Jordan Kovacs continues to be the leader and play-maker, and the linebacker corps seems to be doing okay for being so young. The defensive line showed more promise in Week 2 as well, especially Frank Clark, whose name was called often as he made some good plays including a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage.

The concern for me is the secondary and their pass coverage ability. I don’t think we know much about this yet, as Courtney Avery was picked on when he replaced the injured Blake Countess against Alabama. Air Force moved the ball through the air to some degree, although their play-action off the triple option created some headaches for a defense that was not used to seeing it and was more focused on containing the option run. But even against Air Force, Avery and Raymon Taylor split time for much of the game after Avery’s struggles in Week 1. And for being the #1 defensive back on the team, J.T. Floyd has yet to show that he can consistently cover the best receivers on the better teams in the Big Ten.

Raymon Taylor split time with Courtney Avery (AP photo)

So at this point, do we really know anything about how good the secondary will be after the loss of Countess? Alabama passed wherever they wanted and Air Force wasn’t much of a test. So what will happen when they go up against some of the better offenses in the Big Ten? I guess we have to wait to see, but the good thing is that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has another two weeks of practice to get the secondary ready before they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.

So this is where Michigan is at. The coaches have another game to get the team ready for Notre Dame and the Big Ten. That’s another week to get the offensive line to gel and start opening up some holes for the running backs. And another week to prepare the defense for weekly play in the conference. So while there are still a lot of questions surrounding the Wolverines after two weeks, they have a couple of weeks to smooth things out before what will likely be a challenging game at Notre Dame at night. Brady Hoke and the coaching staff have done a good job of making this team better since their arrival in Ann Arbor. No one on the team can relax. I like their chances of getting things up and running as they should be.

#19 Michigan 31 – Air Force 25: Michigan survives Air Force attack

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Air Force was a trap game even before last week’s blowout loss to Alabama. The triple-option is not something many teams run and it is incredibly tough to defend, especially with only one week to prepare. The Falcons gave Michigan all they could handle and more but in the end came up just short of the upset.

Air Force looked very formidable up front on defense despite employing a 3-4 base look. On offense their up-tempo pace and multiple formations and movement confused Michigan to no end. However, most of the effective plays were those that went to the outside of the defense rather than up the middle.

#19 Michigan 31 – Air Force 25
Final Stats
31 Final Score 25
1-1 Record 1-1
422 Total Yards 417
214 Net Rushing Yards 290
208 Net Passing Yards 127
19 First Downs 26
1 Turnovers 0
5-45 Penalties – Yards 5-35
3-114 Punts – Yards 2-107
24:38 Time of Possession 35:22
5-for-11 Third Down Conversions 12-for-21
0-for-0 Fourth Down Conversions 2-for-5
0-0 Sacks By – Yards 0-0
1-for-1 Field Goals 1-for-2
4-for-4 PATs 2-for-2
2-for-2 Red Zone Scores – Chances 4-for-6

AF got the ball to start the game and used its unique offense to move the ball down the field with relative ease. The Falcons were stopped just inside the 30-yard line on third down by Jake Ryan and forced to attempt a field goal, which was missed wide left.

It didn’t take Michigan long to get on the scoreboard as Denard took the second play from scrimmage and bolted 79 yards for the touchdown. Fitzgerald Toussaint was neither effective, nor showcased in the game, but Denard more than made up for it with 218 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 20 attempts. The offense was reminiscent of the 2010 version of Rich Rodriguez’s read option.

Denard was also effective through the air, throwing for 208 yards and another two touchdowns. He did throw a pick, but overall he showed good poise in the pocket and mostly made the correct reads.

On defense, Michigan had trouble staying with its assignments and Air Force exploited it to the tune of 290 yards rushing. Running back Cody Getz had a three touchdown week, but Michigan held his rushing total to “only” 130 yards. The AF line looked dominant at the point of attack, despite being much smaller than Michigan’s defensive line, but I don’t know how much stock we should put in that. The triple-option is an unusual offense and hard to defend, so I would attribute the struggles to that rather than Michigan getting pushed around.

Air Force did dominate time of possession, 35:22 to Michigan’s 24:38. They controlled the ball by running it 71 times and it took its toll on the defense as the game wore on. But Michigan kept in the lead with its big plays – Denard’s 79-yard run in the first quarter and a 58-yard scamper to start the second half (on which he lost one of his untied shoes).

The Falcons kept the game fairly close throughout and threatened to take the lead late in the game, but Michigan stood tall and got some big stops to help seal the victory. Jibreel Black made one in the backfield on AF’s second to last possession and then Jake Ryan came up huge as he batted down the ball on AF’s final play on 4th-and-16.

On a “the future looks bright” note, true freshman Devin Funchess made quite a debut as he hauled in four catches for a team high 106 yards and one score. Funchess has great size and hopefully this is something we see more of as the year progresses. Michigan needs some more help at receiver and Funchess, along with Devin Gardner look like they could provide some. Speaking of, Devin Gardner also had a great showing as he grabbed a team high five receptions for 63 yards and a TD. But as per usual, it was Denard’s feet that helped win the game for Michigan.

The box score won’t tell the whole story and AF is a good team with a style that is unmatched. I didn’t expect the game to be so close, but in the end the Maize and Blue prevailed and that’s all that matters.

Three Stars:

1. Denard Robinson
Passing: 14-25 208 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Rushing: 20 rushes for 218 yards, 2 touchdowns
Why? Denard accounted for 426 of Michigan’s 422 total yards. Yep, you read that right. He accounted for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense on Saturday and became the first FBS quarterback to record three 200-yard passing and 200-yard rushing games in a career. His touchdown runs of 79 yards and 56 yards electrified a Michigan running game that didn’t have much else. His lone interception went through the hands of Vincent Smith.

2. Devin Funchess
Receiving: 4 receptions for 108 yards, 1 touchdown
Why?  The freshman tight end made a big splash in his first home game. He became the first Michigan tight end to record a 100-yard game since Jerame Tuman against Colorado in 1997. His size and athleticism make him a very tough matchup from the tight end position.

3. Jake Ryan
Defense: 11 tackles (7 solo, 4 assists), 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass breakups
Why? Ryan became the first Michigan football player in 83 years to wear number 47 when he received the Bennie Oosterbaan “Legends” jersey. He led the team in tackles and pass breakups, the most important of which ended Air Force’s comeback attempt in the final minutes.

Top Photos:

Bennie Oosterbaan's jersey ceremony before the game (photo by

Jake Ryan tackles Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

A B2 Stealth bomber flies over Michigan Stadium before the game (photo by

Devin Funchess makes an acrobatic over the shoulder catch (AP photo)

Check back Monday morning as Chris breaks down how Air Force was so successul against Michigan’s defense and what it means going forward.

M&GB Pick’em: Air Force Staff Predictions

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Last week was a tough game for all of Michigan nation. Four of the six of us picked Alabama to win, but only Josh thought it would be as bad as it was. His prediction of 38-16 was so close that I had to question whether he was a Michigan fan or an Alabama fan in disguise. But he assures me he bleeds blue so we’ll let it slide this time. Matt and Katie were both a bit too confident in Michigan and the rest of us underestimated Alabama. But that game is over and now we’re on to the Air Force Falcons. Let’s take a look at our picks for this week:

Justin: See yesterday’s game preview or Friend vs. Foe segment for a more in depth breakdown, but essentially, I think Air Force will have some success running the ball early on and will put some points on the board in the first quarter. Greg Mattison will get things figured out and slow them down in the second half. Michigan’s offense won’t have any trouble moving the ball and will pick on the Falcons’ small corners with a passing game that we’ll wish we had seen last week. Fitz Toussaint will solidify the run game, but it will be Denard’s arm that has the big game. He’ll pass Tom Brady in career passing yards and maybe Jim Harbaugh as well. He’ll also pass Brian Griese in career completions and probably Steve Smith in career touchdown passes.

Michigan 46 – Air Force 24


Justin: Michigan 46 – Air Force 24
Chris: Michigan 34 – Air Force 16
Josh: Michigan 45 – Air Force 17
Matt: Michigan 35 – Air Force 20
Sam: Michigan 41 – Air Force 23
Katie: Michigan 38 – Air Force

Average: Michigan 40 – Air Force 18

Chris: This week, the Wolverines take on my alma mater, the Air Force Falcons.  It will be great to get back to Ann Arbor for my first trip back to The Big House in a few years, as myself and nine other friends and family will be attending the game.  It’s a tough situation for me, since my favorite team is playing the school I attended, but it’s just going to be too hard to root against the team that I have followed since I was a kid.  I’ll be wearing Maize and Blue on Saturday!  Anyway, on to my prediction for Week 2.

This year’s Air Force squad is like a lot of the teams that play there in that they have very few returning starters from the previous year’s squad.  In fact, they only have six (three offense, three defense).  In addition, most of the players on the AF team are undersized compared to most Division 1-A (FBS) schools.  However, Michigan fans would be wise to not underestimate the heart with which these guys will play.  And they will do so for the ENTIRE four quarters of the game, winning or losing.  Because of this lack of size, AF runs the triple option offense, which can be a nightmare for opposing teams to prepare for and can expose undisciplined defensive play.  Ever since Head Coach Troy Calhoun arrived at AF in 2007, they have run a more spread-out version, but the basis is still the old triple option.

In this game, I see a couple potential pitfalls for Michigan.  First, as we all know, the Wolverines are coming off an emotional loss in a big game on Labor Day weekend.  Sometimes this can lead to a hangover of sorts if the players and coaches are not fully focused on their next matchup.  Along with that, they are facing a team that runs an offense which they rarely see, meaning that they will have only spent this week getting ready and preparing.  Now, I do believe that the Michigan players will be ready to play on Saturday, however I see them starting out slowly on offense.  Defensively, it’s going to take a quarter or two for them to get used to what they’re seeing in the triple option.  The scout team will not be able to run the AF offense like the AF players can, no matter how talented the scout team is.  Once this time passes, I believe that the talent, size, and athleticsm of the Michigan players will take over.  I like the first quarter to be close, with Michigan having a small lead at halftime.  They will make adjustments and control the second half by running the ball with Fitz and Denard, and Michigan will win.

Michigan 34 – Air Force 16

Josh: I’m not gonna lie; Air Force’s ground game scares me a bit. The passing game, however, does not. Which is good because I am not a big fan of Courtney Avery, and J.T. Floyd has never been one to make me feel good about his coverage ability. Honestly, I really don’t know what to think of Michigan coming into this game. We got flat out dominated by ‘Bama last week, but that doesn’t mean this team is soft or no good, does it? I tend to think not, but we should have a better idea about this team’s heart (I am sure Hoke will have these kids fired up and prepared) and ability after this weekend.

Michigan's defense will have to stay disciplined against the unique Air Force offense (photo by Michael Kaplan, U.S. Air Force)

Air Force put up almost 500 yards rushing on Idaho State (FCS), and while I don’t take much stock in a team crushing a lesser opponent like that, you do have to respect a team that has led FBS with 317 rushing yards a game since the beginning of 2010. However, they also gave up 365 yards through the air (on 41-52 passing!) and 21 points, to an FCS team. Denard may not be a great pocket passer but he is good enough to torch a secondary like this one, and he should enjoy some confidence boosting numbers come Saturday afternoon.

AF comes into Ann Arbor as extreme underdogs (21.5 points) but Michigan could be ripe for the picking after last week’s devastating loss (says all the experts). I just don’t see it. Much like last week where Michigan was beaten by superior athletes, so too will Air Force be beaten this week by Michigan’s athletic prowess. Fitz Toussaint’s return to the line-up should help get the read-option game going and if you ask me it seems like Fitz has something to prove. He said he let down his team with his DUI and I expect him to come out and run extra hard.

The triple-option is very tough to defend against and it might take Michigan a quarter or two to get in the groove defensively, but at the end of the day I think the Big House will be singing Hail to the Victors all night long.

Michigan 45 – Air Force 17

Matt: First thing’s first. Wow, last Saturday night was bad. Although I think we all expected a loss, I’m not sure if we were ready to see that. But that game is over. Yes, we are 0-1 now, but that part is over. Now onto a pair of games that should be pretty winnable before Notre Dame.

Saturday at 3:30 Michigan kicks off it’s home opener against Air Force. If you look at it quickly, you probably think AF doesn’t have a chance. But there is more to Air Force than that. They actually aren’t a bad team.

If you compare stats from Week 1, Air Force looks like the more dominant team. However, they played against the Idaho State Bengals. Michigan played against the now #1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Of course the stats are going to be a little different.

Head coach Troy Calhoun has a 42-24 record in five seasons at Air Force (photo by Michael Kaplan, U.S. Air Force)

AF beat Idaho State 49-21. They passed the ball for 142 yards, and rushed for a whopping 484 yards (an 8.3 yard per carry average). Michigan however, lost 41-14. They passed the ball for an even 200 yards and one touchdown. They rushed for only 69 yards. A drastic difference from last year when Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined for over 2,000 rushing yards in the season.

Air Force runs the triple option. It’s a complicated offense and difficult to defend. But Michigan’s players and Brady Hoke understand that. They know that it’s a difficult offense to defend, so we all know they are preparing for it.

The Big House will be full, 109,901 plus in attendance, to root on their Wolverines. Fitzgerald Toussaint may be coming back from his suspension, and Denard is going to be able to not only rush, but pass a little bit better against the Falcons defense. Their defense isn’t the same as Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. Not even close.

A lot of people are worried that coming out of the embarrassing loss to Alabama, that Michigan may let it affect the way they play this game, and they may end up losing. Kind of like when they lost their 2007 opener to Appalachian State, and then lost the next week to Oregon. Brady Hoke even addressed this, in a what I thought was an important statement:

“The important thing is that we can’t let Alabama beat us twice,” Hoke said. “This is a week where we will learn about our team’s leadership and our motivation. There are only 11 more guaranteed opportunities for University of Michigan football games, so we have to learn from what happened in Dallas and start focusing on Air Force this weekend.”

Hoke is a good coach. I see him coaching the Wolverines for a very long time. Will he be the next Bo Schembechler or the next Lloyd Carr? I don’t know. He’s only one year in. But I do know that he will have the guys ready. I guarantee you that we see a big difference between last Saturday and this Saturday. I see Michigan coming out on fire, using last week’s defeat as fuel to the fire. Will they crush Air Force? That I’m not certain about. However, I do believe that Michigan will come out victorious and hear that sweet, sweet fight song at the end of the game.

Hail to the victors valiant, hail to the conquering heroes. Hail hail to Michigan. The leaders and best!

I didn’t pick against them last week, and won’t this week either!

Michigan 35 – Air Force 20

Sam: At this point, I would say it is safe to forget about last week altogether. Good? Good.

Michigan’s home opener takes place tomorrow against a run-happy Air Force team that is by all means noticeably smaller than whoever the Men they played last week. Alabama’s Jesse Williams could probably bench press the Falcons’ two lines at once, and that is the only thing the Wolverines should need to know in preparing to take out their fury on future American military men.

Columbus, Ohio native Connor Dietz looks to make his hometown proud with a win over Michigan (photo by Mike Kaplan, U.S. Air Force)

Let’s start by taking a look at what went wrong in last weekend’s 41-14 throttling. Er…check that. Let’s start by looking at how Michigan’s defense matches up against Air Force’s trademark base-triple option offense, beginning with the line play. The Falcons’ biggest offensive lineman is 260 pounds, some 60 pounds lighter than Alabama’s left tackle. Breathe. While Michigan would normally be licking their chops, anticipating non-stop quarterback pressure playing against such a pint-sized line, the triple option will present a slightly different challenge.

Obviously it is almost always good for a defensive line to get penetration against the run, which Air Force will be doing about 80 percent of the time, so what’s good is good. The difference, however, is all in the discipline. While Greg Mattison was praised last season for bringing an array of blitzes early and often, he would be wise to hold back and contain against Air Force.

Craig Roh and Jibreel Black need to play smart on the outsides, making sure to stick with their assignment when the quarterback-tailback option pops to the outside. The inside of the line will be expected to hold strong in stopping the fullback dash that will also be deployed often as the first read. If the linemen can do these jobs, Michigan should be able to at least hold Air Force to human-like rushing numbers after the Falcons ran for 484 yards and seven touchdowns on 58 carries last week against Idaho State.

The linebackers will be integral in shedding second-level blocks and in getting to the correct sideline, and the secondary will need to be disciplined in both protecting against runs that get past the line and linebackers and in sticking with the rare wideout(s) so as not to get burned by the play action that quarterback Connor Dietz will use when he does pass the ball. I predict that coach Troy Calhoun will call on Dietz a couple times early in the game to use that play action and look to exploit the matchup against Michigan’s new starting corner, Courtney Avery. While Avery has a year under his belt and is no stranger to game play, the Falcons will certainly want to test the man taking over for the injured Blake Countess. As long as Avery stays with the route, he shouldn’t have much trouble keeping up with Air Force’s athletes on the outside. Kenny Demens or Jordan Kovacs will lead the team in tackles and an early turnover or two could provide a huge boost for the the Wolverines, helping them run away before halftime.

On the other side of the ball, the story isn’t much different. The Falcons’ biggest defensive lineman is 6’4″, 275-pound sophomore Nick Fitzgerald. If you see Michigan’s line caving to the 3-4 on pass plays and getting pushed back on run plays, do yourself a favor and leave early. If, on the other hand, Michigan is getting all the push and Denard has enough time to tie his shoelaces in the pocket, tap your fingers together in knowing glee.

The return of Fitz Toussaint should not be understated, as I expect him to run for more than 100 yards right out of the gate to go along with two touchdowns. Those of you, actually all of us, who were complaining that Denard was not running enough last week should also rest easy on Friday night knowing that our quarterback will definitely run more than the 10 times he did on Saturday, and that’s a guarantee. He should also break the 100-yard mark to go along with two passing touchdowns, one to Jeremy Gallon and one to Drew Dileo, both of whom should be able to exploit the middle of the Air Force defense and use their speed to get plenty of YAC. I think we will see one ugly turnover, but that’s it.

And finally, for special teams, pray that Air Force’s kicker (not going to lie, I have no idea who he is or how big his leg is) does not have enough in the boot to send us to the 25-yard line every kickoff, because who doesn’t want to see more Dennis Norfleet(of foot)? I would love to see him break at least one past midfield. If Will Hagerup and Matt Wile replicate their success last week Michigan should have no problem dominating the field position battle.

As for predictions, I think Air Force will be able to keep it within two touchdowns through the first half, but Michigan will score twice in the third quarter and leave their enemy in the dust.

Michigan 41 – Air Force 23

Katie: It looks like Air Force will give the Wolverines time to recoup from that godawful loss.  Coach Troy Calhoun and his Falcons have only eight returning starters, two of which are the kicker and punter (not that those aren’t strategically important positions, but it means that there are only three starters coming back on both sides of the ball).  That being said, the offense loses its starting quarterback, running back, three receivers, and four O-linemen.  Those are all big holes to fill, and with four defensive linemen, three linebackers, and three in the defensive backfield gone also, Michigan should be able to score with relative ease, and tie up the offense of the rebuilding Falcons.  If their running back steps up I think they should be able to put up some numbers, but look for the absences in the line to limit the number of rushing plays that saw the Falcons ranking third last year in rushing per game at 314 yards.

As for Michigan I think the Wolverines will be able to snap back from the degrading loss in Dallas.  They know that if a team dwells on a loss that a single demoralizing loss can erupt into multiple fractures and weaknesses until the season is all but lost.  Since AF doesn’t have many returners in the defensive backfield I think that Denard shouldn’t have too much trouble, even if he makes those long, back-foot throws that cost him against seasoned defenses.

As for the defense, they were left on the field for far too long last week, and never because of the quick scoring prowess of the offense. Saturday should see to the return of a more composed looking defense that wants to shake off the embarrassment of last week with as few yards allowed as possible.

Hopefully this will go well enough to have Russell Bellomy test out his arm in front of one-hundred-plus thousand fans, and find that our receivers are more than capable of making catches that hit them in the hands.

Michigan 38 – Air Force 10

#19 Michigan vs. Air Force game preview

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Prior to last Saturday, the last time Michigan was blown out in its season opener was 25 years ago. It was Bo Schembechler’s first loss in a home opener and it came following an 11-2 season. Michigan was ranked 9th and the 26-7 loss was considered an upset as Notre Dame was ranked 16th. While it wasn’t quite the domination that the Alabama loss was, and while Notre Dame was nowhere near the level of Alabama, the loss dropped Michigan to 19th in the rankings. Sound familiar?

The following week, with their tail between their legs, Michigan took on a Washington State team that it was supposed to beat. Instead of a letdown, Bo’s team bounced back with a 44-18 throttling of the Cougars that propelled them on to another successful season – a season that ended, ironically, with a win over Alabama in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

When Michigan takes the field on Saturday it will be looking for a similar rebound, this time at the expense of another west coast team, the Air Force Falcons. Air Force has ranked in the top eight nationally in rushing offense every year since 2000, and has ranked in the top three eight times during that period, including each of the last three years. The Falcons opened the season last Saturday with a 49-21 win over Idaho State on the strength of, you guessed it, the running game. They racked up 484 yards on the ground, 218 by senior Cody Getz alone.

The reason for the ground success is the unique flexbone offense, which allows head coach Troy Calhoun to plug in replacements each season and not miss a beat. This season, only three offensive starters returned, but as they showed last weekend, that doesn’t matter. So does that mean Air Force will run all over Michigan? Let’s take a look at how the teams match up.

When Air Force has the ball

Cody Getz is the latest back to thrive in the Air Force offense (photo by Michael Ciaglo)

The main reason for success in the running game is that the Falcons have chosen an offense that virtually no one else runs and have perfected it for over a decade. The offensive line schemes and the option runs are very hard to prepare for when your defense doesn’t face another team like that all season. That’s why they can run their offense week-in and week-out without major changes to the game plan.

The Falcons are going to line up and run at, through, and around Michigan until Greg Mattison’s defense proves it can stop them. And then they’ll do it some more. AF threw the ball just 11 times last Saturday and averaged 16 passes per game last season. When they do pass, it’s usually pretty accurate since the run game creates openings for the passing game. The Falcons finished 15th nationally in passing efficiency in 2011.

Michigan’s defense struggled mightily against the run of Alabama, but that was a power run game behind an imposing and talented offensive line – the best in the country. This week, Michigan’s defensive line won’t be overmatched, but each and every player on defense will have to be technically sound. Expect the Falcons to have success running the ball early on before the defense adjusts – think Northwestern of last season.

When Michigan has the ball

Look for Michigan to create mismatches outside against the undersized Chris Miller (photo by Raymond McCoy, U.S. Air Force)

Air Force runs a lot and puts up a good number of points, but has never really featured a defense that can match it. Last season, the Falcons surrendered 28 points per game and last week they gave up 21 to an Idaho State team that went just 2-9 in FCS play last season.

Part of the reason Air Force gives up a lot of points is a result of its quick strike offense, which doesn’t usually possess the ball for long time consuming drives. The Falcons were 66th nationally in time of possession last season at 29:34. By comparison, Michigan ranked 30th, possessing the ball 31:15 per game and national champion Alabama was 12th at 32:48. Of course, time of possession doesn’t tell the whole story, but as we all saw during the Rich Rodriguez tenure, the longer your defense is on the field, the more tired it will be and the greater the chance of the opponent scoring.

Michigan gets Fitzgerald Toussaint back from suspension and he will instantly upgrade a running game that suffered in Week 1. He will be relied upon to sustain an effective ground game, allowing Michigan to control the ball. But I don’t expect a huge game on the ground. I think a big passing day is in order.

Air Force gave up 365 passing yards last week to Idaho State. Only five teams in the country allowed more. Of the starters in the secondary, only two had started a game prior to this season. The most experienced is senior strong safety Brian Lindsay who started 11 games over the past two seasons. The corners are 5’8″, 185 (Chris Miller) and 6’0″, 180 (Steffon Batts), so the 6’4″, 203-pound Devin Gardner will present quite a mismatch and could have a breakout game.

The front seven is the team’s strength, led by senior outside linebacker Alex Means who recorded a team high 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks a year ago. Last week, the Falcons recorded a pair of sacks and six tackles for loss. But after the stifling defense Michigan faced last week, the defense they go up against this week shouldn’t be of any concern.

The other third of the game

Rushing Attempts: 2 – Denard will pass Rob Lytle for 8th in career rushing attempts
Rushing Yards: 62 – Denard will pass Lytle for 7th in career rushing yards.
Rushing Touchdowns: 3 – Denard will tie Chris Perry for 4th in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will tie Lytle for 6th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Passing Attempts: 15 – Denard will pass Jim Harbaugh for 7th in career passing attempts.
Pass Completions: 7 – Denard will pass Brian Griese for 7th in career completions.
Passing yards: 221 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 6th in career passing yards. He could also pass Harbaugh for 5th with 319 passing yards.
Passing Touchdowns: 2 – Denard will pass Steve Smith for 5th in career passing touchdowns.

Michigan did have one small glimpse of hope last week and that was freshman kick returner Dennis Norfleet. The small speedster showed more burst than Michigan has been used to in recent years and averaged just over 22 yards per return. Last season, Michigan’s returnmen averaged just 18.4 yards per return, so Norfleet should provide an upgrade with home run potential. However, on eight kickoffs last week, Air Force got six touchbacks, so that could negate Norfleet’s impact.

In the kicking game, Air Force senior kicker Parker Herrington missed his only attempt last week, a 43-yarder. However, he was named first-team All-Mountain West a year ago, connecting on 15-of-18 attempts with a career long of 45 yards. The Falcons punted just two times last week, but junior punter David Baska averaged 42.5 yards per. Last season, he averaged 40.8 yards per punt, which was middle of the pack nationally.


It will take a little while for the Michigan defense to adjust to what Air Force’s running game is doing, but I have no doubt Greg Mattison will be able to eventually slow it down enough to keep the Falcons out of the end zone. They’ll probably score two or three times in the first half and keep it close before Michigan pulls away. I just don’t see the Air Force defense being much of an obstacle for Michigan’s offense. Al Borges will be looking to get the gears spinning after being shut down last week, so Michigan will put up one of its best offensive games since Hoke took over. Denard will throw for three touchdowns and around 300 yards.

Michigan 46 – Air Force 24

Friend vs. Foe: Air Force edition

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

For this week’s installment of Friend vs. Foe, we are pleased to have Frank Schwab of the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Air Force blog provide his perspective. Remember, this isn’t a game prediction. It is an attempt to describe why or how each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Air Force
by Frank

I don’t think Air Force is pulling off this upset on Saturday. But I felt the same way before the Falcons played at Oklahoma in 2010 and at Boise State in 2011, and both times the Falcons were right there in the second half with a shot at the win. They were in those games for the same reason they have a puncher’s chance on Saturday: Their scheme on offense drives first-time opponents crazy.

People think of the Falcons as a triple-option team, but they’ve become a zone-blocking team that uses the triple option as a change of pace. Most of what they do looks more like the Shanahan-era Denver Broncos (Troy Calhoun was an assistant for those teams for a few years) than the DeBerry-era Air Force Falcons. They cut block constantly, which linemen hate. They line up in a million formations and are adept at misdirection.

Because Air Force has smart kids, the coaches feel they can make the gameplan much more complicated than is typical for a college team. Michigan hasn’t faced this type of offense before and won’t face one like it again, and with its focus wrapped up in Alabama all offseason, I doubt most of the players were really worried too much to learn Air Force’s scheme. It’s not something that can be mastered between Monday and Friday on game week.

Brady Hoke having experience against Air Force helps, because he understands the multiplicity of what Air Force does and at least has some idea what to do against it, but the players will be surprised early in the game that they aren’t shutting down the Air Force players who are noticeably smaller and slower than they are. That’s what happened at Oklahoma, which gave up 351 yards rushing (the most in the Bob Stoops era), escaped with a three-point win and said afterwards they wouldn’t even bother to watch the game film because it contained nothing that would be constructive for any future game.

Again, I don’t think Air Force wins. This is a very inexperienced Falcons team that had just four players who started last year’s Military Bowl start again on opening day this season. The defense is probably not yet ready to contain Michigan’s offense. And they’re simply no match physically for such a good Michigan team. But, first-time opponents have struggled with Air Force before, and that’s the Falcons’ hope for an upset on Saturday.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

What a way to open the season with two polar opposites. First, Michigan goes up against a pro-style, smash mouth power running team with an offensive line the same size as the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Now this week, virtually the exact opposite type of running game comes to town – one that runs a zone blocking spread triple-option scheme.

Air Force ran for 484 yards last week in a 49-21 win over Idaho State despite more newcomers than a freshman orientation. The running game employed by head coach Troy Calhoun, like Fisher DeBerry before him, is such that a traditional power like Michigan never has to prepare for. It would be silly to put too much offseason emphasis on defending Air Force’s run game since it’s just one game out of 12, yet it’s a game that Michigan needs to win.

The saving grace defensively is that Brady Hoke went up against Air Force twice during his tenure at San Diego State and he went 1-1. Michigan’s defense is sure to struggle, at least for the first half, but Hoke’s experience preparing for the Falcons will keep them from getting run all over.

The key to the game will be getting the offense going. The Air Force defense surrendered 28 points per game last season and Michigan shouldn’t have any trouble moving the ball and putting points on the board. They’ll likely employ the same game plan that Alabama did – stop the run and make Denard beat them with his arm – but they don’t have the talent to do it anywhere near as effectively. Michigan will win by controlling the ball and scoring almost at will.

The return of Fitzgerald Toussaint will instantly improve Michigan’s running game and make it much harder for the defense to stack the box or take away Denard’s running ability. But the passing game that was just a bit off last weekend will thrive this Saturday. Air Force surrendered 365 passing yards to Idaho State last week. The corners won’t be anywhere near as talented as Alabama’s and the pass rush won’t be as oppressive. Michigan will win the game with ball control and Denard’s arm.