Wolverines sluggish but get past UNLV

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan running back Ty Isaac outruns the Runnin' Rebels defense on this 76-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Ann Arbor – The outcome was never in doubt, but Michigan remains a team that has plenty of improvement to make on offense, particularly cutting down on turnovers and zeroing in on deep-pass timing with receivers.

Michigan, a 34-point favorite heading into the game against winless UNLV, improved to 2-1 with a somewhat sluggish 28-7 victory on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

The Wolverines didn’t do much to gain style points against a defense that was giving up an average 535 yards a game through the first two weeks. Michigan gained 377 yards of total offense, including 254 yards rushing. The Michigan defense had two interceptions.

“They did what we asked them to do (and) that was take care of business,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Started fast, that was a key for us. We wanted to improve in that area, and we got our hands on the ball defensively. Our secondary players were breaking up the football, intercepting the football.

“It felt like we improved today as a team.”

What the Wolverines did against an overmatched team was play a lot of different players on offense. Five running backs got carries – Ty Isaac finished with eight carries for 114 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown – two fullbacks had carries with Sione Houma getting his first career touchdown, and receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson also had carries. Chesson scored on a 36-yard run.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 28, UNLV 7

Drake Johnson, coming off a torn knee ligament in the final game last season, had his busiest game since returning to the field with five carries for 28 yards. Fullback Joe Kerridge, a captain, had two carries for eight yards and three receptions for 24 but left the game late in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain.

Eight different players caught passes, and Darboh led the group with four for 34.

UNLV, with an undersized offensive line, a quarterback who missed most of the previous game with an injury, and the offense and defense hovering at the bottom of most statistical categories nationally, did not score until late in the game.

Michigan, meanwhile, did not pile on the points, as had been expected going against a Rebels defense ranked 114th nationally in scoring, having allowed an average 37.5 points entering this game.

And that brings us to graduate transfer quarterback Jake Rudock, who has now equaled his total from last season at Iowa of five interceptions. He also has a fumble.

Rudock was 14-of-22 for 123 yards, and perhaps most glaring were the missed attempts.

He missed tight end Jake Butt in the end zone in the first quarter, but followed that with a 5-yard touchdown pass to De'Veon Smith. In the second quarter he threw over Drake Harris’ left shoulder and Harris caught the pass out of bounds, and early in the second half he threw incomplete to a wide-open Johnson, who had plenty of room to run.

Harbaugh deflected questions about Rudock’s shortcomings in the game. Harbaugh twice mentioned the wind making it difficult to complete some throws.

“His job is to win football games,” Harbaugh said. It wasn’t an ideal day to throw. It was a swirling wind quite a bit the whole day. I thought he did a good job, managed the game well. For the most part the offense was moving darned near every time we got the ball.”

He was asked about the lack of big-gain plays in the passing game. Harbaugh made clear he doesn’t study statistics for the answers.

“We’ll just keep striving to get better in every area,” Harbaugh said. “There’s areas of improvements for our football team.”

While Harbaugh said the offense moved the ball well, the Wolverines were held scoreless in the third quarter and gained 71 yards in the fourth quarter. In the second half, Michigan punted three times after drives that accumulated 37 total yards. They also gave up the ball on downs twice and scored on one drive.

What Harbaugh liked was the activity among the defensive backs.

Channing Stribling ended the Rebels’ opening drive with an interception of Blake Decker, giving Michigan the ball at the UNLV 32-yard line, setting up a touchdown drive. Jeremy Clark also had an interception. Jourdan Lewis, who returned after sitting out the second half of last week because of a concussion, had four pass breakups.

“You create turnovers, the whole stadium goes crazy, the coaches go crazy,” Stribling said. “It’s a great feeling when you make a play and you look up and the whole team and the stadium is going crazy.”

Turnovers are still an issue for the Wolverines. They were minus-3 entering the game and were plus-1 against UNLV.