Stout defense leads No. 7 Michigan vs. Air Force (Sep 16, 2017)

BY AP • September 14, 2017

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Inexperience isn't an issue for the University of Michigan defense this season.

No one questioned the Wolverines' talent, but after Michigan lost all but one defensive starter, there figured to be some growing pains. Instead, the unit is simply inflicting pain on the opposition.

The No. 7 Wolverines have scored three defensive touchdowns, one more than they have given up, while defeating Florida and Cincinnati.

A 36-14 home win over the Bearcats last Saturday was keyed by their opportunistic defense.

"There was a lot of good," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We dodged a couple of bullets and scored two touchdowns on defense. We're doing well there."

They will try to continue their defensive dominance against Air Force on Saturday at Michigan Stadium. The Falcons (1-0) carry a seven-game winning streak into The Big House, but coach Troy Calhoun knows that extending it will be a monumental task.

"Nobody's played better defense than they have in the nation thus far," Calhoun said.

Michigan (2-0) has plenty of offensive playmakers as well. Senior Ty Isaac has emerged as the No. 1 running back, exceeding the 100-yard mark in both games while averaging 8.0 yards a carry.

Isaac, who began his career at USC, piled up 133 yards on 20 carries against Cincinnati. He gained just 417 yards on 74 carries last season.

"He's progressed," Harbaugh said. "He's capitalized on opportunities. He's always been a good football player, and now he's better. He's taken his opportunities, taken the bit, and he's run with it. I thought he executed very well and (made) some spectacular plays."

Senior quarterback Wilton Speight has been far from spectacular, but he showed some improvement last week after throwing two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by the Gators. Speight completed 17 of 29 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns against the Bearcats.

Though Speight had to fight for the starting spot in camp after starting last season, Harbaugh insists the Virginia native is not on a short leash.

"Wilton's the starting quarterback, and we're forging on," he said.

Calhoun feels it is just a matter of time before the Michigan offense erupts. He hopes it is not against his squad.

"They are a great football team," Calhoun said. "You look at them offensively, they're going to have games where they score 50 points, just with their size. And they're extremely electric across the board, especially when you look at their backs and receivers and then having a veteran quarterback, too."

The Falcons know how to put up big points, as they never scored fewer than 27 last season, when they finished 10-3 and beat South Alabama in the Arizona Bowl. They have exceeded the 40-point mark four times during their winning streak.

Air Force clobbered VMI 62-0 in this season's opener, then had last weekend off, giving the Falcons an extra week to prepare for the Wolverines.

"I don't think ever in the history of the Air Force Academy have we ever played an opponent that had this many four- and five-star recruits," Calhoun said.

Quarterback Arion Worthman passed for two touchdowns and scored another with his feet in the opener. The Falcons piled up 457 rushing yards and seven touchdowns against the overmatched Keydets, led by senior Tim McVey's 10-carry, 98-yard performance.

Last season, McVey averaged 8.5 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns.

"Air Force has been very successful," Harbaugh said. "They go back and forth from conventional to option."

The teams don't have much of a history. They have only met twice, most recently in 2012 when Michigan eked out a 31-25 victory.

Air Force has won six straight games against non-conference opponents but hasn't faced a ranked team since 2015, when it lost to No. 4 Michigan State 35-21. The Falcons have lost their last three games against Big Ten opponents, with their last victory coming in 2003, when they downed Northwestern 22-21.

Air Force's last win against a ranked team came in 2014, a 27-24 squeaker against No. 21 Colorado State.

This game completes the Wolverines' nonconference schedule. Michigan heads to Purdue on Sept. 23. Air Force begins its Mountain West schedule on Sept. 23 with a home game against San Diego State.

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