In the third quarter of the Michigan football team’s game against Wisconsin, Bo Dever found his friend Jehu Chesson on the Wolverines’ sideline and tried to stay positive. Dever, a former wide receiver on the team who is now a graduate assistant, told Chesson, now a fifth-year senior wideout, that the breakthrough was coming.
“Man, something’s gonna crack,” Dever told Chesson. “We gotta keep pounding. It’ll crack, it’ll crack.”
Up until that point, there wasn’t much evidence to suggest Michigan’s passing game was close to a go-ahead score. On the first series of the second half, redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight threw his second interception of the season. On the next two drives, the Badgers stopped the Wolverines with third-down sacks. And yet there were Dever and Chesson, already sensing paydirt.
“It had to come,” Chesson thought.
Then, midway through the fourth quarter, with No. 4 Michigan still locked in a 7-7 tie with No. 8 Wisconsin, Speight hit Darboh with a 15-yard slant pass on 3rd-and-7, keeping the drive alive at the Badgers’ 46. Passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch called a play Chesson referred to as simply “All Goes.”
The pass was supposed to go to senior tight end Jake Butt, who ran a post over the middle. But Speight saw Darboh on the weak side, matched one-on-one with Wisconsin cornerback Derrick Tindal — who grabbed the interception earlier.
“That’s probably the best scenario that, as a quarterback, I could hear is one-on-one with Amara Darboh,” Speight said. “I got back at the top of my drop and saw that he won on his release. And it was still solid coverage, so I knew I needed to put it in one spot and one spot only, and he made a great play.”
Redshirt junior running back Ty Isaac blocked Wisconsin defensive end Alec James long enough for Darboh to beat Tindal down the sideline by a full stride. Speight’s eyes shifted from Butt to Darboh. Tindal had no help from the safeties.
“You’re just kind of holding your breath there the last split-seconds of the play to see that it doesn’t get deflected,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
Seeing his man wide-open, Speight floated a perfect pass to Darboh, who snatched it away from Tindal and waltzed into the end zone. The Wolverines won by that margin.
That was by far their highlight against a swarming Wisconsin pass defense, but it was enough. Of Michigan’s first 12 drives, two resulted in touchdowns, and the other 10 stalled on passing plays — three sacks, one interception and six incomplete passes. The drive before the touchdown ended when Darboh bobbled a pass and then dropped it after a hit by D’Cota Dixon. The next series was redemption for Darboh, too, Michigan’s leading receiver with 87 yards.
“The kid has ice in his veins, so he’s very clutch,” Chesson said. “He got the game-winning touchdown throw, so we’re very, very, very lucky to have him on our sideline.”
The Badgers sacked Speight on third down on each of the two previous drives — two of their four sacks on the day — and before that came the interception, when Speight threw a low ball over the middle into traffic and Tindal grabbed it.
On several other occasions, Wisconsin’s aggressive defense gave Michigan problems. The Badgers blitzed often out of their 3-4 front, and the back end of their defense swarmed to the ball and limited the effectiveness of the Wolverines’ usual screen and crossing routes.
But in the fourth quarter, Chesson still felt like Michigan was gaining traction against Wisconsin’s cornerbacks. Harbaugh was confident in Speight’s ability to throw deep, and Darboh liked his matchup. The final result validated all of their beliefs.
“I was just very excited when I saw (Darboh), very excited when he caught that touchdown because that meant we went up by six, made the extra point, up by seven, and we’re winning the game,” Chesson said. “So it finally cracked.”