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Harbaugh History: Win No. 23 vs. Air Force (2017)

It was another unconvincing win by the Wolverines early in the year.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Michigan
Sep 16, 2017; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (9) runs the ball in the second half against the Air Force Falcons at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Harbaugh has completed five seasons in charge of the Michigan Wolverines with consistent but not exciting results. He has amassed a .723 winning percentage with each year ending between eight and 10 wins. Though the maize and blue faithful may be hoping for something more, this is not the time to dwell on the negatives!

With plenty of time to kill during the offseason, join us as we review each of Harbaugh’s 47 wins as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. While the losses do exist — and are often more memorable than the victories, unfortunately — they are not very fun to relive so I am skipping them because this is supposed to be a happy exercise!

Setting the stage: 2-0 (0-0 B1G)

After one impressive win and one pedestrian win to open the season, it was unclear who this Michigan team was going to be. A matchup against Air Force would not be the perfect barometer, as service academy games are always a different type of contest (and often not worth the headache). The No. 7 Wolverines did come out ahead 29-13 but looked rough doing so, only furthering some of the grumblings that were beginning to fester within the fanbase.

Three takeaways

1. Sloppiness was a theme against Cincinnati and that increased against Air Force. Service academy games are notorious for a small number of possessions, but unfortunately Michigan kept turning its opportunities into field goals. Quinn Nordin was more than up for the challenge, going 5-for-5 on the day, but poor third down efficiency and a lost fumble kept the Wolverine offense out of the end zone until garbage time.

2. Thankfully, the defense was able to shoulder the burden. The Falcons came in with their usual strategy of hammering the run game, but the Wolverines were up to the task. Outside of a fluky 64-yard touchdown pass — Air Force’s only completion of the day — the defense stymied the opposition, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry and racking up nine tackles for loss against an offense that is built to run the ball.

3. Meanwhile, three Michigan running backs all averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry. Ty Isaac continued his great start to the season with 89 more yards before leaving with an injury. Chris Evans looked sharp but was responsible for the lone Wolverine turnover, and as a result saw far fewer touches than his peers. The only player to score an offensive touchdown on the afternoon was Karan Higdon, who burst through with a 36-yard score late in the fourth quarter.

Standout performer

It was a lackluster game that brought about some frustration from the fans, but Donovan Peoples-Jones was at least able to create one highlight. The freshman took his first punt return to the house, switching the field on a 79-yard return and giving the Wolverines a 10-point lead that proved to be pretty important. He also added a couple catches for 52 yards in the air, putting his athleticism on display.