EditorsNote: Update 1: write-thru
Isaac leads No. 8 Michigan past Cincinnati
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There was way more tension inside Michigan Stadium in the third quarter than many expected on Saturday.
Ultimately, though, No. 8 Michigan’s home opener against Cincinnati resulted in the expected outcome.
Senior running back Ty Isaac rushed for a career-high 133 yards on 20 carries and the defense provided two touchdowns via interception returns in Michigan’s 36-14 win over the Bearcats.
However, the victory had a much different feel for Michigan than last week’s season-opening win over Florida in Arlington, Texas.
The Wolverines were lauded all week for how they dominated the Gators despite having 10 new starters on defense and freshman starters at key positions on offense, but odds are good the praise won’t be so high this week.
Michigan (2-0) struggled on offense at times and saw Cincinnati (1-1) make plays against the same defense that was so good against Florida.
“The theme is you have to get experience,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said.
“You get experience playing. This was guys’ first time playing in the Big House. This was the first time going through a week of school. You have to be patient and coach them up. There’s a long road ahead but you can’t get experience without playing. That’s kind of the theme.”
Michigan took a 14-0 lead with 6:50 left in the first quarter following a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior cornerback Tyree Kinnel, but Cincinnati hung around and cut Michigan’s lead to 17-14 with 11:15 left in the third quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Hayden Moore to junior wideout Kahlil Lewis.
“The game plan and the things we had to do was to get this into the fourth quarter,” Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell said. “We couldn’t have the lopsided time of possession like it was last week. You look up there and it was balanced the entire way. We were right where we had a plan to be.”
Cincinnati indeed had Michigan right where it wanted the Wolverines, but Michigan tried its best to preach calmness even as there were nervous murmurs in the stands.
“We just tried to stay together as a group and play for each other,” Kinnel said. “We could only control what we could control. We just came out and got going and tried to fight our way through it.”
Finally, Michigan managed to restore order late in the third quarter.
Taking over from their 20, the Wolverines put together a seven-play, 80-yard drive and took a 24-14 lead on a 33-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Wilton Speight to junior wideout Grant Perry with 3:01 left in the third quarter.
Following a 24-yard field goal by freshman kicker Quinn Nordin that gave Michigan a 27-14 lead with 9:02 left in the game, a bad snap on a Cincinnati punt was batted out of the end zone for a safety to put Michigan ahead 29-14 with 6:53 remaining.
Michigan then went ahead 36-14 with 4:21 left on its second defensive touchdown of the game, this time a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Lavert Hill.
Speight finished 17 of 29 passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns to lead Michigan’s passing attack.
He also threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wideout Kekoa Crawford on the first drive of the game.
Moore was erratic all game for the Bearcats, completing 15 of 40 passes for 132 yards, a touchdown and those two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
Still, Fickell chose to focus on a long-term approach instead of an opportunity lost with how close the game was in the third quarter.
“As a newer program, that’s what we are trying to establish,” Fickell said.
“It’s not to make this a one-game season. We never talked about it as a shock to the world. It’s about a process to us and finding a way to be a fighting group and to scratch and claw. There are a lot of positives we can get out of this today.”
NOTES: This was the first ever meeting between Cincinnati and Michigan. ... With the win, Michigan improved to 115-18-3 all-time in home openers. The last time the Wolverines lost their home opener came in 2008, when they lost to Utah (25-23). ... After opening the season at home with a 26-14 win over Austin Peay, Cincinnati began a three-game road swing. The Bearcats will visit Miami (Ohio) next Saturday and Navy on Sept. 23. ... Both teams weren’t shy about throwing newcomers into the fire during their season openers. Michigan had 15 players make their career debuts in a win over Florida, while Cincinnati had 18 players take the field for the first time in its win over Austin Peay. ... Michigan has one more nonconference game on its schedule before opening up Big Ten play, that being a home tilt with Air Force next Saturday. ... First-year Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell entered the game familiar with Michigan Stadium and the Michigan program in general. Fickell spent the last 18 seasons as an assistant and interim head coach at Michigan’s archrival, Ohio State. ... Attendance for the game was 111,384.