The first turning point in the Michigan football team’s home opener Saturday against Oregon State came after just two minutes and 33 seconds.
After the Beavers rolled down the field for a touchdown in 1:51 on their first drive, Oregon State’s Rommel Mageo sacked Michigan fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock, forced a fumble and recovered it. That gave the Beavers, already ahead 7-0, a first down at the Michigan 24-yard line.
Most of the fans who came to Michigan Stadium arrived optimistic, and it was still early, but it didn’t take long to connect the dots. If the Beavers could score again in the first few minutes, they would be up 14-0 early. If they were up 14-0 early, they could run away with it. And if they ran away with it…
So the Wolverines relied on their defense for a stop. And the defense delivered.
“I think we were ready,” Wilson said. “As soon as they scored on us, I mean, we’re not perfect. They scored, everybody was relaxed and when they got the fumble, we weren’t down on ourselves, like, ‘Man, I gotta go out there again.’ Everybody’s ready to play football and cause turnovers.”
After an incomplete pass on first down, junior defensive end Taco Charlton stripped the ball from Oregon State’s Victor Bolden. The ball fell into the hands of Joe Bolden, who returned it 17 yards, giving the Wolverines plenty of room to settle in from there.
The defense caught a break, but it was the only one they needed all afternoon. They settled in after that turnover, never giving up another point.
“It’s really that simple,” Wilson said. “When you’re playing football, you kind of have adrenaline, you’re ready to play and you go out there and you forget what your actual key assignment is. I think that happened the first drive for a lot of guys. After that, we got those bugs out, and guys just settled in and played good football the rest of the game.”
Added Bolden: “I would say, as a defense, it’s awesome. It gets your blood pumping. It’s what you do. The reason you play defense is to get the ball back. When it comes down to it, when you get the ball back, it totally flips the momentum.”
The Wolverines stopped a third-down quarterback scramble just short on the next series, and a fourth-down screen pass just short on the one after that.
In the second half, they asserted their dominance, allowing zero passing yards and only one first down. Oregon State quarterback Seth Collins, after going 8-for-13 for 79 yards and a touchdown in the first half, was 1-for-3 in the second. The Wolverines eventually forced him out for backup Marcus McMaryion.
“He’s a freshman. I can tell that because if he feels any type of pressure or anything, he’s just going to automatically take off running,” Wilson said. “He’s not really going to go through his reads or anything.”
Michigan took away the running option too, though. After Collins’ 152 rushing yards in the season opener exposed him as a threat to scramble, the Wolverines clamped down on him, sacking him once and limiting him to 28 yards on 11 carries.
“I thought that was the difference between the first quarter — the long drive they made — and some other drives that they had,” Harbaugh said. “We started getting some pressure on the quarterback.”
Though an Oregon State punt-team mistake gave the Wolverines a 10-point halftime lead, the game was still up for grabs. Michigan’s defense served as the dominating force, never allowing the Beavers to close the gap while the offense expanded the lead.
The Wolverines kicked a field goal on the first series of the second half. The defense forced a three-and-out, and when the offense gave the ball back, Oregon State was deep in its own territory. Then the defense forced another three-and-out — culminating in fifth-year senior linebacker Desmond Morgan’s third-down sack — and when the offense gave the ball back, it was 28-7.
Michigan led comfortably for the duration of the fourth quarter in a game when it was on its heels at the very beginning.
“I screwed up,” said senior linebacker Joe Bolden of the first drive. “I’ll be the first to admit I screwed up some big plays on the first drive. A lot of people probably noticed. It happens.”
The mistakes mostly came to an end after the first series. The ensuing three quarters of dominance erased them.