Michigan: Five things we learned

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Here are some of the key takeaways from the Wolverines’ victory to open the season:

■ 1. Give Ty Isaac the ball: Isaac is a big back, 6-foot-3, 228 pounds, and he ran like a big back in the season opener, rushing for 114 yards on 11 carries. On third-and-13 in Michigan’s opening drive, he went 36 yards on his first carry of the game. Subtracting that big run from his total, Isaac averaged an impressive 7.8 yards. In preseason camp Isaac downplayed comments he made in the spring about knowing this is his last season at Michigan and feeling an urgency to make it happen now. Another sign of growth from Isaac, at one point in the second half, he picked himself up after a play, looked like he was a little wobbly and instead of waving to the sideline to come off the field which he would have done in the past, he stayed in. Isaac had an 18-yard run in the opening scoring drive of the second half, converted on another third and 13 with a 14-yard run and later ran for 22. Chris Evans finished with 78 yards and 22 carries, double Isaac’s rushes, but Isaac proved the big gainer.

■ 2. Work in progress: The offensive numbers were balanced, nearly even, 215 rushing yards, 218 passing yards, but there is an imbalance on the line, which was not unexpected considering the new starters on the right side. Nolan Ulizio came on in preseason camp to win the job at right tackle and Michael Onwenu started at right guard, although Jon Runyan Jr. also played some at that spot. Patrick Kugler made his first start at center, and Mason Cole and Ben Bredeson anchored the left side. It’s going to take some time to get the pass blocking on that right side clicking – that’s not unusual for a young lineman -- but overall the line showed it could be physical facing a good Florida defensive line.

■ 3. Butt…Butt: Yes, the Jake Butt Era is over at Michigan, and there isn’t another Jake Butt out there. Yet. The tight ends were absent in the first half, with the four throws shared among the receivers. In the second half, tight ends Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks were big targets. McKeon had three catches for 25 yards and Eubanks had 61 on 2 receptions, including a 48-yard catch on a second and long. “I can tell you goose bumps went up my spine, jumped out of my skin,” Eubanks said of the catch. “I’ve actually been repping that catch in my head, like you got to make this catch when that ball’s up in the air. Coach always preaches to us when the ball is in the air, it’s ours. So, I took advantage of that shot they gave me and helped go on from there.”

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■ 4. Turning it over: Defensive coaches are always putting their players through ball-stripping drills, so they had to be pleased with how the players forced Florida into five fumbles, include three recovered by the Wolverines. True freshman Ambry Thomas stripped the ball and recovered a fumble on kickoff coverage, safety Josh Metellus forced a fumble in the third quarter recovered by Lawrence Marshall, and Chase Winovich forced a fumble in the end zone recovered by Noah Furbush for the touchdown. Aggressive defenses force turnovers, and this might be a sign of things to come.

■ 5. Quinn Nordin is stylish: But first, we learned the redshirt freshman kicker has major field-goal range. He made four-of-six attempts in the opener, including makes from 55 and 50 yards, to become the first Michigan kicker to hit two from 50 yards or more in a game. Later in the game, he missed two, including a 52-yarder. He admitted to a bit of fatigue and “lack of concentration” on his later misses, so that’s obviously something that must be corrected. And then, there’s the haircut paying homage to everyone’s favorite pitcher from “Major League” — Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. “He’s a closer and I just want to do my best when they call my name.” The consistency will come, but the leg is there.