As expected, the home portion of the Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverine Football coaching stint began Saturday in Michigan Stadium on a successful note after a noon kickoff.
Those pesky rodents from Minnesota bested QB Harbaugh and his Wolverines in this stadium in 1986 as Ricky Foggie ran wild, in Harbaugh’s last appearance there as a player. He does not dwell on past Wolverine accomplishments, nor does he strive to be the media “star” he has become, and he would not describe past sensations upon entering the stadium through the tunnel. He did show some Bo in discussing a call with an official.
While it was predicted the Wolverines would prevail last Saturday by only 14 points, they exceeded expectations. And then some.
Jake Rudock, replaced as last year’s Hawkeye starter, left there, and has been galvanized into a Wolverine. He earned the starting spot for last Saturday’s game and for this Oregon State game. Shane Morris did not play in the OS game, and when asked about this in the press conference, Coach Harbaugh reminded that Shane was number two. If Shane does not play he might extend his eligibility a year by red shirting. Wilton Speight, the number three, did make a cameo appearance.
Jake had a solid game despite two errors, a fumble and an interception. The fumble, caused by a 17-yard sack by a hard charging OS defender coming free, could have been a problem with the Beavers already up by 7 early. LB Joe Bolden snatched the ball out of the air, at the M 19, and advanced it 18-yards the M 37. The fumble was courtesy of a Taco Chalton hit. This was a turning point in the game. The interception was a quick little lob to Jake Butt that was critiqued post game by Coach Harbaugh as a lack of a widened view on Jake’s part. Nevertheless, he steered the Wolverines to 35 points as he was 18 of 26, and threw for 180-yards, but no TDs.
Before the game, two areas that are interdependent continued to worry. They were the offensive line and the running game. Until last Saturday’s game, the Wolverines best running back (Smith) had averaged only 2.8 yards a carry and they managed only 76-yards total against Utah. The Wolverines produced 244 rushing yards against the Beavers. This is a significant improvement. Better, but not yet at a championship level. As Jim Harbaugh indicates, there is still lots of work to do. Big OG Ben Braden had his best outing as a Wolverine, and the OL as a unit played better.
No other M back has run as hard as Smith or otherwise impressed this season. Smith had the best game of his career against the Beavers.
Coach Harbaugh said, “The offensive line, they commented over on the sideline, you could over-hear them: ‘Hey, hey, De’Veon’s running hard!’ He was running through contact, and it inspired them. A great play by the running back inspires the offensive line to sustain and strain longer on blocks.”
De’Veon had 126 net yards on 23-carries, and three rushing TDs, and in my book was the offensive player of the game.
It was rumored that RB Drake Johnson might play, and he did for one play.
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED AGAINST THE BEAVERS SATURDAY:
The football steamroller that M became in this game got off to a slow and disturbing start. The Beavers received the opening kick-off and executed a 7-play, 79-yard drive for six. M’s defense looked clueless. Rushing and passing chewed up chunks of yardage. The score came on an OS QB Seth Collins’ 21-yard TD pass in only his second game. Minutes into the game OS led 7 zip.
There were probably a number of reasons for this defensive lapse. In interviews after the game, a couple of players mentioned home opening jitters. One said that the rush of all that adrenalin might have been a contributing factor for the Blue defense. Said it can make a player forget what he has been taught. Further the ingenuity of Gary Andersen probably contributed. He is a good coach. Once our defensive coaches saw what they were offering, the defense dug in and did not allow the Beavers further scoring.
The first four offensive series of the Wolverines yielded only a forty yard Kenny Allen field goal, and it was M-3, OS 7, but from there on M scored TDs.
The first quarter was scary for both Michigan’s offense and defense. They managed no first downs, while OSU had 3, and 87-yards rushing to M’s 10. Passing was a little closer, but still unsatisfactory as OS managed 49-yards to M’s 38, but the Wolverines went to work on both sides of the ball.
There came a notable Jim Harbaugh meltdown, as Michigan was called for roughing the kicker. The OS punter got a high snap, bobbled it, corralled it, and headed outside the no tackle box, booting it on the run as Jeremy Clark collided to collar him. It was a regrettable 15-yard loss, causing Coach Harbaugh to backhand his notes, graphically demonstrate the kickers position, and he showed a reasonably accurate Bo Schembechler in making the ref aware of his steaming concerns. To me it shows how much Harbaugh cares. It was tough to understand where that penalty came from.
The Wolverine drive continued, with the most notable play a 4th and 5 pass to Smith that provided 20-yards to the OS 8 and a critical 1st down.
Having earlier had the benefit of an OS face mask penalty to Peppers, the Wolverines second quarter production showed results with a 12-play 69-yard scoring drive.
More D. Smith running and two catches by Jake Butt helped, as had an OS penalty earlier, which nullified the effect of an offensive pass interference call on Jehu Chesson. An OS illegal participation penalty moved the ball to the OS 1. Smith bulled it in. M-10, OS-7.
The second quarter closed on a stunning note. With 1:29 left a penalty had nullified a beautiful OS kick which went out at the three yard line, but after the penalty the ball was now at the Michigan 44.
A snap sailed over the Oregon punter, and rolled to their 3-yard line where a Duck covered it. Michigan’s ball, as the Wolverines tasted the good fortune of a gift, and possibly a more certain road to victory. Coach Harbaugh said after the game that this was not caused by the Wolverines in any way, but was just luck.
The fact that Smith pounded in for six, from one-yard out, was not luck, but skill and effort. Both he and Kerridge tried to score, and were stopped short. Then Smith bulled it in, converting the lucky break, and their own hard work, into six. M-17, OS-7.
The Wolverines received to begin the second half. Jake Butt caught a 10-yarder. Smith continued to pound, ripping a 20-yard slash. Rudock hit AJ Williams for 22. Then an incomplete pass and a false start, and Kenny Allen was called upon to hit a 29-yard FG. M-20, OS-7.
The defense and Chris Wormley tuned up the Beavers, and the third quarter ended with the Blue in possession and knocking at the goal. The Beaver defense was wearing down and Smith was running with great determination, with admirable determination, with the best effort of his career, He churned short gains into longer ones, often dragging the pile. He had also snagged a critical fourth down aerial earlier. TE Ian Bunting in this drive, caught one for 21-yards. Smith grabbed the three yard TD. Derrick Green had also contributed a 6-yard run in this 5-play, 39-yard scoring drive.
Derrick Green, Ty Isaac, and Sione Houma were featured in the Wolverine’s last scoring drive of the day, which Green ran in from two out, for a final of 35 to 7.
After what started out as an ugly duckling game turned into a swan, the Wolverines got to sing a raucous Victors as victors.
Long searching for an identity, the Wolverines seem to be forming an aura of toughness, mental and physical, on both sides of the ball.