The Indiana Hoosiers slid into Ann Arbor Saturday desperate for another Big Ten win. They played a tough and desperate game.
The Hoosiers were 5-5 on the season, and they were 2-5 in the Big Ten. Far below their expectations when the season started. Now they desperately sought 6 wins to get a Bowl bid.
What a splash they could bring to an otherwise dismal season, if they could only lay a loss on the Wolverines on M’s own turf.
Saturday that was easier said than done, as the Wolverines were reaching for their eighth straight Big Ten win. M needed to remove the last barrier to a shot at the Buckeyes that they had been looking forward to all season, and since they met last year.
THERE WAS MORE AT STAKE FOR THE WOLVERINES THAN FOR THE HOOSIERS THIS YEAR: After 7 Big Ten games, the Wolverines were at the top of the Big Ten heap. Numero Uno. It was hard to get there, and it is harder to stay there.
The overall series with Indiana was in the Wolverines’ favor 59-7. Interesting but not an indicator of victory. Each game, each year is new and original. It is part of why Indiana v Michigan Big Ten college football has drawn significant crowds to stadiums, and to the TV set annually, after Michigan’s 22 prior wins (now 23), and after the game being repeated annually 67 times.
The fact that the Wolverines had defeated Indiana more than anyone else in the conference also made no difference. The Wolverines last loss was a 14-10 setback in Bloomington in 1987, and the last loss at home to the Hoosiers was in 1967. Recently, games with the Hoosiers have been close.
Last year M won, but had to eke out a win in the first overtime. Two years before that it was another overtime win for the Blue. All of the above gave this one, all the characteristics of a “trap” game
In other words, lately Indiana has possessed prolific offenses, and have made it a game. Prior efforts are not predictors. Both offense and defense had to be on track and they were enough to defeat an energized, and tough Indiana effort.
THAT THE WOLVERINES AS A TEAM ARE DOING WELL THIS SEASON was verified by 8 Big Ten wins, their position in National Rankings, and playoff-rankings, and is verified by this victory Saturday.
What verifies it most is being undefeated in the Big Ten, with their last game still facing them, the big one against the Buckeyes of Ohio State to whom they owe so much, and so much would like to repay.
The Wolverines did not do anything today to smudge season accomplishments and future opportunities to this point, while taking a workman like giant step forward.
THE OFFENSE: The offense moved the ball, aggregated 507-yards total, but settled for six field goals. As unlikely as it would have seemed before-hand, the main responsible for thirty Michigan points in this fray was Freshman Kicker Jake Moody, the Kick Off specialist. The usual kicker, Quinn Nordin was ill according to Coach Harbaugh post game.
In a very poised manner, Moody hit six times from 32, 30. 31,33, 23 and 31-yards.
Here is what an appreciative Shea Patterson said in the post-game press conference after the game, “This guy was a sniper. He did a hell of a job…to have a freshman come out and kick like this was amazing. We couldn’t finish some (drives), but him just getting in there and finishing for us as great to see.” Coach Harbaugh afterwards said he was poised, that he never changed expression.
He set a Michigan and other records with this performance.
I am discounting any criticism, and there is some criticism, that these were just shorties or chip shots. His KOs prove he has the leg for the long hits. He, and the snap and holding players, were up to the task of facilitating a victory, and an undefeated shot at the last obstacle to the Big Ten Title game, and the team and fans are grateful.
Shea Patterson threw his first interception in a while, but what a game he had otherwise. He threw a little wide to Gentry in the end zone. That pass could have been caught, but was low and behind. He is still the best QB the Wolverines have had in a couple of whiles.
Saturday he was 16 of 23 for 250-yards. His long pass was for 42-yards. He ran for 68-yards on 9 attempts, and averaged 7.6 per carry.
Karan Higdon was the workhorse on the ground again, hitting for 104-yards on 21 carries. Chris Evan got 44-yards on 10 carries, and Tru Wilson had 42-yards on 6.
The receivers were active with the most notable being Zach Gentry who nabbed 2 for 83-yards, Nick Eubanks had 1 for 41, and a TD, Nico Collins 3 for 32 and Ronnie Bell 1 for 31-yards. Six other receivers caught passes.
Six drives stalled and that is a problem. While they won, they left a lot of points on the field. They found a way to cope, but they will need all possible points them next week, and beyond. Still it is difficult to throw a fit when they accumulated total 507-yards of offense.
The defense faced a hurry-up offense that spreads the field and has usually caused the D some hiccups. The were held to 257-yard rushing, and 195 passing for a total of 385-yards.
Not up to the defense’s statistical standard, but hey, who won?
The top three tacklers were: Devin Bush (8 solo tackles, 3 assists, 11 total, 1 TFL), Tyree Kinnel (6 solo, 3 assists, 9 total, .5 TFL), and Rashan Gary (same as Kinnel, but with 1.5 TFLs and a sack). It was critical Gary was on hand for this tilt. He played and lead well.
As described above, much of the special teams were all Moody.
HOW THEY SCORED: Indiana owned the first quarter with 7 first downs to Michigan’s 3, out gained the Wolverines 104 to 75-yards, and scored a TD to M’s FG.
Indiana won the toss and deferred. It looked like the Wolverines were on their way to 6, but the 61-yard, 10-play drive stalled at the Hoosier 14, and then things got Moody. He hit a 32-yard FG, and it was M-3, I-0. A Wolverine incompletion from a QB hurry had stalled the drive.
Indiana answered with a TD after 6 plays and 82-yards. Runs hurt, including a 13-yard TD run. M-3, I-7.
The Wolverines had a better grip on the second quarter, with 25 first downs to the Hoosier’s 17.
M’s Moody hit two FGs, one from 30-yards and another from 31. The first was the result of an 8 play 47-yard drive, fueled by a 31-yard Ronnie Bell reception. The next Wolverine FG was the result of a 6 play 65-yard drive. Both stalled because of incomplete passes. M-9, I-7.
The Hoosier’s answered with a 41-yard FG. M-9, I-10.
The Wolverines finally got a TD. A 6-play, 65-yard Indiana drive culminated in a 41-yard yard TD pass to TE Nick Eubanks, who was all alone in the end zone. The two point extra point attempt failed. M-15, I-10.
Indiana scored again on a 9 play 75-yard drive. Most of the damage was don e on a 41-yard completion. M-15, I-17.
The Wolverine earned 276-yards to Indiana’s 249 in the 1st half, but were still 2 points down.
The second half KO was to Indiana, but the Wolverines held and captured the ball. Shea hit People-Jones for 16-yards. Collins for 13. Evans rushed for 7, DPJ snagged a 14-yard pass. Karan ran for 5 a first down at the Hoosier 5. An Indiana PI penalty put it at the 2, and Karan hammered it in for a Wolverines’ TD. M-22, I-17.
Jake hit another FG, this time from 33-yards out. M-25, I-17 to close the Third Quarter.
The score was still uncomfortably close to start the Fourth Quarter. The Wolverines won the third quarter, but on a cold day the heat was still on.
At 14.48, Karan ran for 4 to start a drive. Some short runs got 5, but the drive stalled. Jake Moody was called to the rescue and answered with a FG from 23-yards out and it was M-28. I-17. It still wasn’t over.
The Hoosiers immediately answered with a 29- yard FG after a 10 play, 56-yard drive. M-28, I-20.
The Wolverines then started their last scoring drive of the day. A series of short runs before the drive stalled got it to the Indiana 29, and Jake Moody hit another one for 29-yards. With 2:27 left the game was finally bagged with a final score of 31-20.
TAKE AWAY: This was a hard game physically for the Wolverines the week before what is always a tough outing at the home of the Buckeyes. There were multiple injuries. The status of Aubrey Solomon is one question remaining. There were numerous other nicks, and bruises but many of the players so effected came back to the field.
The largest unknown is the status of Chase Winovich who left the field and according to Coach Harbaugh underwent x-rays and a cat scan to diagnose an unidentified injury. Winovich has been an engine of destruction and perhaps the biggest impact player on Michigan’s vaunted defense this season. His loss would be huge as Michigan heads to Columbus and beyond.
Wolverine Berkley Edwards was also grievously and unnecessarily smashed on a special-teams play. It appeared to me that he was hit on the chin with a helmet. That is what an on-field observer said, too. The result was a concussion that was verified in hospital. While he left the field immobilized on a stretcher, and strapped to a cart, and later hospitalized, the after-game commentary was not dire. He could move and speak. The result could have been worse. We’ll stay tuned to this one. Devin Bush lined up late in the game, and went down, but returned and played. He was interviewed after the game and showed no ill effects from a bad cramp.
The targeting hit on Berkley Edwards was as mean and stupid as I have seen all season. If not on purpose, very thoughtless. Coach Harbaugh was concerned about Edward’s injury but not vindictive regarding the perpetrator and LB Devin Bush said it was just football, and that sometimes emotions flare. It a tough game.
It was a hard- earned win on a day that was cold for the temperature, was won by an unlikely special teams performance, and had a perplexing official’s call at the end of the first half. Coach Harbaugh said afterwards that as the official attempted to place the ball near the goal line with seconds remaining. It fell to the ground, and was kicked by a Hoosier. The official said that the kick was not on purpose, but accidental. Harbaugh was amazed that was a judgment call, but no rage, no further comment. From some fan’s standpoint, however, it was “We was robbed”. At the end of the first half that call made a game difference.
That’s not important now.
Finally, it’s the Buckeyes.