As Michigan rides into Michigan State week with three consecutive shutouts, there are some similarities to 1973. Most people remember 1973 for an unfortunate and controversial tie against Ohio State, but few remember how truly dominant that ’73 Michigan team really was. Similar to this year, Michigan shut out three consecutive opponents in 1973, the last one being Michigan State in East Lansing. And that’s just the first similarity.
The 1973 team also featured an opportunistic special teams unit, which was active that day against Michigan State. While safety/corner/nickel Jabrill Peppers provides some occasional lightning as a kickoff and punt returner on the current team, safety Dave Brown did the same for the ’73 Wolverines, and he got things started in the first quarter that year when he took a punt return back 52 yards for a touchdown. Michigan also featured a tight end who was a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Paul Seal was too fast, quick and shifty for linebackers to cover, and too tall and rangy for defensive backs to deal with. Seal caught a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dennis Franklin in the fourth quarter that effectively ended any hope the Spartans might have had of making a dramatic comeback. By the time fullback Ed Shuttlesworth punched the ball across the goal line, the pounding was complete as Michigan routed the Spartans, 31-0, their third shutout in as many weeks, with the others coming against Navy (14-0) and Oregon (24-0). Yes, you read that correctly. In 1973, the Oregon Ducks actually made an October road trip to Ann Arbor, something that PAC-12 and SEC teams seldom do these days.
The defense on that ’73 was another thing that was similar to the current Michigan team. In addition to the three shutouts, Michigan allowed opponents to score in double digits on only three occasions that season, in the legendary 10-10 season-ending tie against Ohio State, against Stanford in a 47-10 Michigan win, and against Indiana in a 49-13 Michigan win. Looking back, it doesn’t seem possible that a Bo Schembechler defense would ever give a Lee Corso team 13 points, even as a Christmas present!
The special teams unit was also similar to the current team. Gil Chapman was a speedy return man who would slice through opponents on kickoffs and punt returns, and placekicker Mike Lantry had started out as a walk-on who had played another sport (track & field), just as current kicker Kenny Allen started out as a walk-on with a background in soccer. And just like Allen, Lantry had a rocket launcher for a leg.
Michigan never lost a game in that 1973 season. Could Michigan complete the rest of its current season in similar fashion? It’s certainly worth thinking about.