The Cougars of BYU came into Michigan Stadium sporting a 2-1 record. They had tweaked Nebraska’s Huskers in Omaha to start the season, wrenching victory from what seemed certain defeat via QB Tanner Magnum’s Hail Mary with a second on the clock in a 33 to 28 to win a stunner.
The Nebraska game’s BYU starter , Taysom Hill was knocked out of the game. A one-time Harbaugh recruit, the well regarded starting QB was lost for the season in the first game of the season, after having kept the Cougars in the game the Nebraska game. Magnum had secured the victory with the Hail Mary.
Magnum started the next game at home in Provo against Boise State and produced another wild winning fling. This Hail Mary, this time, time secured a 33-28 victory for the Cougars.
Next came UCLA in the Rose Bowl, where the Cougars lost 23-24, when another last ditch Magnum fling was gathered in by the number nine Bruins.
Tanner Magnum had just returned from a two year Mormon mission. A little bit older than others who do not have this hiatus from football, he was very highly recruited before his mission, and had had a stunning season before meeting the Wolverines, leading the Cougars to a 22 ranking, which some felt understated their accomplishments.
Magnum is at his most dangerous when he breaks contain and fires away, and this encompasses an area of concern for the Wolverines. It was worrisome as the Wolverines sometimes have struggled with contain, and a QB with wheels. Could they contain, and produce a significant pass rush? That question is answered affirmatively.
Mangum throws to three tall receivers, and a couple of shorter versions, and they are all good. They were capable of running the football and could produce long drives, as well as big plays for instant gratification. But they couldn’t against M’s rising defense.
They also came in with a tough, error manufacturing, defense. They had garnered 7 interceptions this season, before Saturday’s game. They had been disruptive and facilitated opponent errors. They brought in very good LBs, too, but many thought M held up talent wise for most position groups, and they proved it Saturday without dispute.
Pregame, this game was arguably against the best team that the Wolverines had confronted this season. It gave us a whiff of where the Michigan football team stands now, and could possibly have provided a few glimpses of future possibilities this season.
After the game, Michigan’s opening opponent, Utah, had gained in stature by whipping Oregon, 62 to 20, but this game provided Michigan’s best performance of the season so far, and still was a good test.
The Wolverines simply played their best team game of the season. The defense was outstanding. The offense was very productive. Some defensive statistics are interesting. Don’t yawn and shut down your computer, because in this instance, they are revealing.
BYU engineered just 8 first downs rushing, and 2 passing. They had an average rush of just 2.3-yards. They gained net 95-yards rushing after losing 44. They had net 55-yards passing, and totaled 105 offensive yards passing. They finally achieved 100-yards late in the fourth quarter. Their total offensive gain 105 yards. They had a paltry 4 of 15 third down conversions.
The Cougars did not come into the game reeking of offensive incompetence. The Wolverine defense shut off their electricity in its best defensive performance of the season. They hammered them physically.
Michigan’s cadre of somewhat interchangeable parts in the defensive back-field did a terrific job on BYU’s good, tall receivers, who seemed to have just medium speed. The versatile Jabril Parker lined up at many different spots. The Wolverines gave up no long pass plays, no home runs. DB Channing Stribling led the defense with 5 solo tackles, although just missed an interception he could have collared. The secondary as a unit was outstanding.
Nose tackle Ryan Glasgow was second with three solos. Willie Henry was active and effective.
They were impressive as a unit.
The offense similarly prospered. There was legitimate worry among fans that QB Jake Ruddock was missing open Wolverine receivers, while too often throwing to the opposition. In this game he threw no interceptions though it was close a couple of times, and he hit downfield receiver Jake Butt with a pass for 41-yards. He ran for 33 net yards, and 2 TDs. His long run was for 17-yards. Jake went 14 of 25 for 194 yards. All most all was jake with Jake on this afternoon.
Two spectacular offensive plays stand out. A catch by Amara Darboh for 21-yards to facilitate M’s first TD was a falling backward, one handed grab remarkable enough to be ensconced in my memory as among the best one handed grabs I’ve seen. According to on field photog Del Callihan, there was an audible gasp from the stunned crowd.
Post game Harbaugh was carefully quick to indicate that it was maybe not the best catch ever as a lot of great catches have been made in Michigan Stadium. True enough, but it was still outstanding, as Coach acknowledged. In his post game interview Amara was a happy man, rightfully enjoying the moment. He had snagged 4 passes for 57-yards, and a TD, as well as having made a most spectacular football play, and having recently become a naturalized citizen of the USA. It doesn’t get better than that.
The other spectacular play was a great run by De’Veon Smith who bulled into the scrum, ducked, and barely avoided running into one of his offensive lineman, as he burst out of the scrum headed downfield. What a surprise when he came into view on the other side of the pile. He shook off a tackler near the goal, and when grabbed he spun out of grasp and scored.
This 60-yard haul was, like the Darboh catch, unique and breathtaking. M has found some play makers.
The Wolverines lost the toss to open the game and BYU chose to receive. A choppy first series by the Wolverines went nowhere with a 3 and out. Three errant Magnum throws doomed a 17-yard BYU drive.
At around the 11 minute mark of the first quarter, the Wolverine offense got serious. Smith rushed for 35-yards on 2 attempts (4 and 31- yards respectively), Drake Johnson got 5, a 19-yard pass to TE Kahlid Hill was caught, and a drive was rolling. BYU was burned with a false start, and ultimately Jake Rudock ran it in from 3. M-7, BYU-0. The Wolverines had all the points they needed for the win.
Next came a 4-yard pass to Amara Darboh which completed a backbreaking 90-yard M scoring drive. The drive had advanced on a run by Ruddock, some running by Smith, a short catch by Chesson, and it was helped by a BYU off side penalty. M-14, BYU-0.
The defense held , and De’Veon Smith pulled some magic out of his bag of tricks in the form of his tough and spectacular 60-yard TD run to complete a two play 68-yard drive for six. M-21, BYU-0.
The Cougars inadvertently aided the Wolverines again by incurring a roughing the passer penalty, and M was on its way again. Smith had 11-yards on two totes. The key play was a catch by TE Ian Bunting for ten yards to the BYU 22. Smith had a couple of short runs, before Jake Rudock ran 17-yards for 6.
Unexpected as it was welcome, this offensive outburst was not what many fans expected. This big lead was a total surprise to me. M-28, BYU-0.
Again the Wolverine defense choked off Magnum’s offense with a three and out. The M offense again rumbled. Starting at their 31, Smith ran for short yardage, Chesson caught one for 12, Rudock ran for 4, Drake Johnson ran for 9. Darboh caught a key18-yard pass, but Rudock missed a pass to Jake Butt. The result was a Kenny Allen field goal for 40-yards and the final score of 31 to zip.
The offense had rolled up 317 yards of total offense to 62 for the Cougars, and 15 first downs to 4. The inability of the Cougars to score says it all for the defense.
For all intents and purposes the game was over for the Cougars after the first half, but it took some tough M defense in the second half to prove it, and the tough defense was there.
In the second half, Derrick Green bulled for some fourth and short first downs, and Ty Isaac got some carries. Even though Coach Harbaugh removed the offensive pedal from the metal, the offense had a long drive.
This game was a very necessary win for this group of Wolverines as they ended their non B1G season. It showed them that all the hard work and dedication every day is paying dividends. It also paints a picture of a united and knowledgeable coaching staff whose messages and schemes are getting across. In that picture is a team that needs to improve each week. They accomplished that very well this week.
Bigger challenges lie ahead. They trip to Evanston next, but not to be tripped up. This Big Ten opener is again their next version of their biggest game of the year so far. The Wildcats are not Mildcats anymore. They sport a prolific offense and a decent defense, and are well coached.
We will find out if the Wolverines can withstand the adversity of an at night away game. Winning away has been foreclosed for some time. Its time to break the habit.
Correction: Oops!!! I should have been thinking and writing Maryland (away), not Northwestern (home, a week from next Saturday). Terrapins, not Wildcats, etc. I guess I am ready for the home.
My most humble apologies.
In today’s Monday media conference, Coach Harbaugh indicated that Maryland has awesome return teams, and could break a long one again this season. Our coverage has to be super good. The away from home win barrier has to be breached.