Clawing Back

In the most remarkable comeback in its football history, Michigan’s Wolverines stared down defeat and clawed back to victory, barely escaping from the Metrodome with a 38-35 victory over the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers were under estimated because of their soft schedule, but Michigan was the underdog in the game. Michigan trailed 28 to 7 at the start of the fourth quarter, scoring 31 points to win on a Garrett Rivas field goal with less than a minute left. Unbelievable!

In so doing the Wolverines maintained their self respect, the Little Brown Jug, and perhaps more importantly, they preserved a chance to compete for the Big Ten title for at least one more game, as a happy Lloyd Carr indicated in a post game interview.

Outplayed by a good Minnesota offense for most of three quarters, Michigan’s offense roared back to win. Late in the game the defense got a couple of critical stops.

This was a tale of two halves. Michigan was lousy offensively and defensively in the first half. They were flat. They were scoreless, and it looked as if they were clueless. The enigma that is John Navarre did not pass accurately sometimes, mainly in the first half, which helped stall drives, and all that observed probably thought that here we go again to another “away game” defeat. Michigan was down 14 at the half and things could not have looked worse for the Blue. The Gopher ground game looked unstoppable only because it was.

In the third quarter, Michigan finally scored a TD on a John Navarre pass to Steve Breaston, who in turn tossed it back to John Navarre. Navarre then galloped into the end zone to break the ice. He was accompanied downfield by at least four 300 pounders who cleared a path all the way to the end zone. John didn’t outrun the big fellows, and scored from 36 yards out.

John Navarre was the Michigan player of the game. Granted that he made some errant tosses when it counted, one resulting in an interception, and threw into coverage. He played over these mistakes by making some athletic plays, and he engineered some long fourth quarter drives that were simply outstanding. He ran for an occasional first down, and sneaked for more, and caught a pass for a touch down. He finally won one in a hostile environment against a ranked team, having failed six prior times. He was 33 of 47 for 353 yards, one TD and one interception.

Chris Perry also played with heart, and ran well. His single miscue on the day on Michigan’s last drive came as the result of an outstanding hit. That error was a potential drive killer, and game loser, but an alert Tim Massaquoi recovered to save the drive, and the day. Michigan’s winning field goal was kicked after the recovery. Chris Perry was Michigan’s leading receiver, gathering in 11 for 122 yards and a TD. Additionally, he rushed for 85 yards and scored another TD on the ground.

Braylon Edwards caught a critical 52-yard scoring pass in the fourth, Jason Avant made receptions and fought for yardage, and Steve Breaston contributed by making some receptions and some good punt returns.

The defense gave up lots of yardage. The Gophers had a hefty 495 net yards on the ground and an additional 71 harmful yards in the air. The defense let a very quick and experienced Minnesota QB, Asad Abdul-Kalig, loose on the ground on occasion, but when it was crunch time they stepped up and stopped the Gophers. Jacob Stewart intercepted an A-K pass and returned it 34 yards for a TD, in that critical fourth quarter.

Minnesota scored the only points of the first half with Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney of the Gophers running in from 20 and 8 yards respectively for TDs. Michigan started the third quarter down 14. Then Michigan got on the board with the Navarre to Breaston to Navarre TD. Now Michigan trailed only 14-7 even though Minnesota is clearly playing better than the Wolverines. Laurence Maroney extended the Minnesota lead to 21-7 on a 38-yard run, and I have to reach for the Maalox. Thomas Tapeh then raised the deficit to 28-7 and I am considering turning the game off, and I am definitely bad mouthing the Wolverines. A 28-7 lead to begin the fourth quarter has to be insurmountable. Always before, in all the history of Michigan football, it has been enough to ensure a loss.

Surprisingly, the Wolverines didn’t fold, fought back, and closed the gap. Chris Perry caught a 10 yard-TD pass adjusting the score to 28-14. Then Jacob Stewart ran in his interception to bring it closer at 28-21. Minnesota did not surrender and answered with a nifty 52 yard run up the middle for six to put the Wolverines behind 35-21. A 52-yard John Navarre pass to Braylon Edwards made it 35-28 and a Chris Perry 10 yard run tied it at 35-35. The defense held the Gophers, and a Garrett Rivas field goal made it Michigan 38, Minnesota 35 in the last minute of play.

Spectacular! An awesome finish!

To say that a Michigan victory was unexpected when the fourth quarter began is to dramatically understate the case. Minnesota proved on the field that they are a quality football team, especially offensively. Marion Barber is a great running back this year, and their other backs are good. Asad Abdul-Kelig is quick and played a good game with the qualifier that he sometimes tries to make nothing into something. Fortunately for the Blue, Jacob Stewart returned that kind of mistake for a TD at critical point in the game. A-K made up for this with a with a 52 yard sprint from scrimmage, but he seemed more careful after the interception. The interception was a turning point. While Minnesota’s defense played well for much of the game, they were not up to stuffing the Wolverines for four quarters. Michigan’s special teams did not attract special attention this time. The coverage was adequate and the kicking was good.

Fortunately! Unexpectedly!

This will not stem all the criticism of John Navarre and the coaches, and the quality of their season, but absolute disaster has been averted and expectations preserved.

This victory will go a long way toward providing a base of confidence the team can build on for the rest of the season, and will provide the hope that Michigan can win away from home, in a loud environment. Remember we have those ugly green helmets coming up in East Lansing yet this year.

Next week we will be back in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium and we will be able to resume the normality of a Saturday afternoon game.

Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy most of next Saturday’s game against the Fighting Illini. Friday night only the fourth quarter was enjoyable.

Of course, the Illini will do their best to see that we don’t enjoy it.