Michigan vs Michigan State Football – Looking Back – 1989

The third installment of the Michigan-Michigan State series takes us back to 1989. It was Bo Schembechler’s last season as Michigan head coach, and it began with a loss to Notre Dame and ended with a loss to USC in the Rose Bowl. Sandwiched in between those losses were 10 victories, marked by old school, Schembechler power football. The game against Michigan State was no different, and the 10-7 score is evidence of the hard-nosed, helmet-rattling sort of football that Bo loved.

One of the challenges for the Maize & Blue was that George Perles, who had made his name as the defensive line coach for the great Pittsburgh Steeler teams of the 1970s, coached the 1989 Michigan State team. The game pitted a veteran offensive line guru (Bo) vs. a veteran defensive line guru, in Perles. As you can guess, style points didn’t matter in that sort of game, and it meant that every detail became that much more important. Michigan blocked a field goal, and the Michigan running game finally got rolling when Tony Boles used his shiftiness to loosen up the Spartan defense. Still, the Michigan State defense stiffened after Michigan got a first down at the Spartan 4-yard line. Suddenly, Michigan was facing 4th down and goal to go inside the State 1 yard line. With the Wolverines lined up in a wishbone formation, Leroy Hoard got the ball and burst through a hole on the right side of the offensive line to give Michigan a hard-earned lead. Michigan continued to alternate between Hoard and Boles, and the Wolverines’ offensive line began to push the Spartans back consistently, setting up a 35-yard field goal by J.D. Carlson.

In the fourth quarter, State threatened to put a green tint on the game, but the Michigan defense wasn’t having any of it. Tripp Welborne stopped Blake Ezor at the goal line, as Michigan completed a classic goal line stand. With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Spartan QB Hyland Hickson found Courtney Hawkins just over the goal line, and Michigan’s lead was trimmed to three points. With seconds remaining, the Michigan defense stood tall, as Lance Dottin intercepted a pass by Dan Enos to foil the final Spartan threat.

The win capped a 17-4 lifetime record for Bo against the Spartans. Not bad for a coach who lost his inaugural game in the rivalry.

Thanks to youtube poster WolverineHistorian and ABC Sports for the broadcast clip. As always, I own nothing and this is presented strictly for the enjoyment of our readers.

Michigan-Notre Dame Football – Looking Back – 1989

I didn’t see the 1989 game between the two rivals live. My wife and I were on some weekend for engaged Catholic couples, and there were no television sets at the place, which was probably for the best, since people would have watched the game instead of focusing on their relationships, and since I would have likely been the only Michigan fan there. For that matter, let me add a third reason: watching Rocket Ismail return back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns might have caused a few blood vessels to burst.

Oh yes, Ismail. As individual performances go, his performance in that ’89 game ranks with the greatest individual performances in the history of the series. The shame of it from the Michigan perspective is that the Wolverines had the chance to win that game, but Bo insisted on kicking to Ismail, not once, but twice. Yes, all things considered, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t watch that game.

Still, there were bright spots for Michigan in 1989, such as quarterback Michael Taylor connecting with Chris Calloway on a fade into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, but even then, Michigan missed the point after, and trailed 7-6. Ismail’s first kickoff return gave the Irish some breathing room as the second half opened, but after Taylor left the game with an injury, freshman quarterback Elvis Grbac led the Wolverines on a touchdown drive, completing six of seven passes, including the scoring pass to Derrick Walker. All of sudden, Michigan was right there.

That’s when Bo made the fateful decision to kick off to Ismail again. Again, Grbac led Michigan on another touchdown drive, but Notre Dame recovered the ensuing onsides kick and ran out the clock.

The ’89 game was the last game Bo coached against the Irish. He retired after the season and turned over the reins to long-time assistant Gary Moeller. It was also the last game the rivals would play on the old artificial turf at Michigan Stadium. By the time the Irish returned in 1991, The Big House returned to real grass. Would a slower, real grass surface have helped on a rainy day against Notre Dame in 1989? Maybe. Would it have helped not to kick to Ismail? Absolutely.

Thanks to youtube poster RocketShark, BlueGoldIllustrated and NBC for the footage. As always, I own nothing.