Editor’s note: Check out A&E Editor Amber Ainsworth’s photo gallery from the game by clicking here.
By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
Michigan has a problem, but it’s a good one to have.
The Wolverines boast a loaded backfield, with four running backs — Ty Isaac, De’Veon Smith, Drake Johnson and Derrick Green — capable of starting at Division-I programs.
Last week, Smith powered them to a win.
It was Isaac’s turn this week.
The redshirt sophomore running back rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on eight carries to lift Michigan to a 28-7 win over University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Saturday.
“I think that’s a nice part of us having such a deep running back room,” Isaac said. “If one guy’s not going, someone else in the room is going to be able to go.”
Most of Isaac’s yards came on one play — a 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The rush put the Wolverines (2-1) up 21-0 and, for their sake, featured his heralded vision and cutting ability.
Because if not for Isaac’s abilities, the play could have gone for a loss rather than a monstrous score.
“We didn’t block it right, it was not blocked the way we drew it up. I thought it was going to be a tackle for loss,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Ty did a real great job somehow, he swerved, he made a tackle miss, bounced off another, and was off to the races. It was the darndest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Isaac’s performance against UNLV (0-3) was a long time coming. He played well as a true freshman at USC, but transferred to Ann Arbor in June 2014 and had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Isaac’s able to play now, and posted a breakout game Saturday. He scored his first touchdown in a Michigan uniform. After his turbulent journey, Isaac’s pleased to be able to contribute to the on-field product.
“I’ve been here for a year without playing, doing a lot of practice squad stuff,” he said. “I know that stuff helps the team, but it feels a lot better when you can put it on the scoreboard and help your team win.”
Michigan battered UNLV with a strong running game. Ten players combined for 254 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock failed to wow against the Rebels, completing 14-of-22 passes for 123 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The pick is Rudock’s fifth of the season and occurred on his 78th attempt, according to the Big Ten Network; he threw five interceptions last year on 345 attempts.
Harbaugh noted that he wasn’t concerned with Rudock’s statistics. If numbers are out of the question, how does the coach evaluate his quarterback?
“(You look at) everything that you’re asking him to do,” Harbaugh said, “which is handle the ball on every single play and move the offense, throwing, his management in the run game, his ball handling, taking care of the football; those are the most important things.
Michigan’s defense kept UNLV quiet for most of the game. Junior Channing Stribling and redshirt junior Jeremy Clark each recorded an interception, and senior Joe Bolden totaled a team-high six tackles.
But the Rebels were able to spoil the Wolverines’ coveted shutout early in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Blane Decker connected with receiver Devonte Boyd for a 53-yard gain to set up a 6-yard touchdown by the duo two plays later.
Michigan hosts Brigham Young University Sept. 26. The Cougars are 2-0 on the season, boasting last-second defeats over Nebraska and Boise State.
- Senior fullback Sione Houma scored his first career touchdown Saturday on a 1-yard run. But he nearly reached the end zone on a pass from Rudock. It was ruled a 5-yard reception touchdown but was overturned after review.
- Junior running back Derrick Green, a former 5-star talent in Michigan’s 2013 recruiting class, didn’t record a carry until there was 5:40 remaining in the game. Three running backs (Smith, Isaac and Johnson), two fullbacks (Houma and Joe Kerridge) and even two receivers (Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh) had rushing attempts before Green.
- Isaac’s 76-yard touchdown run turned out to be significant for Michigan. But he out-gained UNLV’s entire first-half rushing output by three yards on the play.
- Aussie punter Blake O’Neill continues to wow. He averaged 38.6 yards on five punts against the Rebels, pinning them inside the 20-yard line all but once. His only miscue was a 17-yard punt that flew out-of-bounds. Nonetheless, Harbaugh has been impressed with O’Neill. “He’s got the ability to really pinpoint some of those punts,” Harbaugh said. “He didn’t have good grasp of the wind that went out of bounds, a 15-yard punt. Do they have wind in Australia?”