Tyree Kinnel's fourth-down interception (finally) ended the game. [Bryan Fuller]
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Indiana put a harrowing scare into Michigan, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion.
A game that initially looked like it'd result in a comfortable Wolverines win got increasingly distressful. Two Quinn Nordin field goals and a 12-yard Karan Higdon touchdown run got Michigan out to an early 13-0 lead. While the Hoosiers netted a field goal shortly before halftime, the game felt fully in M's control; they held a 166-112 edge in total yardage and had a huge advantage on the ground. Sure, you could complain about the 11 penalties and the underwhelming passing attack, but the Hoosiers were having trouble just moving the football downfield.
Whatever was said at halftime, however, should probably never be spoken again.
An ugly Michigan three-and-out, capped by a John O'Korn completion to Jim Harbaugh, gave IU the ball with a chance to cut it to a one-score game. They did just that on a drive in which Mike DeBord and his offense utilized tempo to lock backup defensive linemen Aubrey Solomon and Carlo Kemp on the field in place of the dominant duo of Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary. Hoosiers running back Morgan Ellison rushed for 45 yards on the drive, going virtually untouched on an eight-yard touchdown.
The game slowed to a slog. O'Korn missed a golden opportunity on the ensuing drive when Zach Gentry broke open downfield on a two-man route; O'Korn instead chose to throw at a well-covered Kekoa Crawford, and two plays later Michigan brought on the punt team. That'd become a familar sight for both squads; the next seven drives, four for IU and three for M, went three-and-out.
Higdon, who had a star-making afternoon, finally broke the drought when Michigan went to a ground-only attack. After four rushes gained a pair of first downs, the coaches broke out a slick new counter play to spring Higdon for a 59-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Dare I say Woodson-esque? [Fuller]
With Michigan now holding a 20-10 advantage, it looked like they'd ice the game when Lavert Hill intercepted Peyton Ramsey on a play reminiscent of the great Michigan cornerbacks of my lifetime. Indiana had already burned two of their timeouts on defense. A first down would've effectively put it away, but the offense bogged down, and the game suddenly turned sphincter-tightening when J-Shun Harris nearly housed Robbins's punt. Josh Metellus made a desperation tackle at the 16-yard line, but six plays later Ramsey hit Whop Philyor (a real name, that) for an eight-yard score.
Then things got really wild. With no timeouts left and 3:28 on the clock, Indiana went for an onsides kick, which took a high bounce that eluded Kekoa Crawford and went straight to IU's Simmie Cobbs for an apparent recovery. Cobbs, however, bobbled the ball ever so slightly as he stepped out of bounds, which the officials spotted live and upheld upon review—Michigan ball.
That allowed Higdon to run the clock down to 1:11, but he didn't convert a first down, and IU got the ball back on their 30-yard line after Michigan's school-record-setting 16th penalty added ten yards to a Robbins touchback. Two big pass plays by Ramsey, one to Luke Timian and the other to Cobbs, gave kicker Griffin Oakes a shot to send the game to overtime; his kick snuck just inside the right upright.
When Karan Higdon saw paydirt, he wouldn't be denied. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
But Indiana remains Indiana. Michigan started with the ball in overtime and the Hoosiers initially stymied the first play. Higdon, who finished with 200 yards on 25 carries, eluded a defensive lineman in the backfield and bounced to the backside, gaining the edge and bolting down the sideline for his third touchdown.
"He was phenomenal," said Harbaugh. "I don't know how many yards he got after contact but those were tough yards. It looked like there'd be a tackle for loss, a small gain or no gain and he found a way to get four of five yards out of it."
The Hoosiers quickly worked their way to first-and-goal from the three. Gary surged though the line for a tackle for loss on first down, and after Ramsey missed J-Shun Harris in the end zone, he combined with Noah Furbush to stymie a Ramsey keeper. With the game down to one play, Chase Winovich put Ramsey under immediate pressure, and a desperation heave to Cobbs ended up in the hands of Tyree Kinnel. For the second time in as many trips to Memorial Stadium, the defense won the game with a goal-line stand.
"We were going to have to dig down deep to do it," said Harbaugh. "We responded with two tackles for loss, incompletion and an interception on the quarterback option route. It was a great four plays for us."
It sure wasn't pretty, and for large swaths it sure wasn't fun, but Michigan found a way to hold on and move to 5-1 on the season. Next weekend's trip to Happy Valley looms large, however, and could ugly fast if the Wolverines can't get a whole lot more out of John O'Korn, who managed only 58 yards passing on 20 attempts and had a horrible interception negated by an iffy pass interference call. Harbaugh probably has to stick with O'Korn at this point lest he want to throw a redshirt freshman QB behind a porous offensive line on the road against a top-five team. One way or the other, winning at Penn State is a tall order. For the time being, though, Michigan can at least enjoy the ride home.
"We move on to a big road game next week," said Harbaugh. "But this was a big game for our team. Mistakes were made, but it's something we can really grow from."