John O’Korn ran up behind De’Veon Smith and lifted him up.
The senior running back had just powered in his second touchdown of the game to put No. 3 Michigan up 20-10 over the Hoosiers. It was a moment of relief for the Wolverines, who had trailed for most of the contest.
O’Korn struggled throughout his first start at Michigan, but one thing always seemed to work: handing off the ball to Smith. So now, after Smith seemed to will the Wolverines to a major lead that they would ultimately maintain, the redshirt junior quarterback raised up the player who put the team on his back.
The running back accrued 158 yards for two touchdowns, saving his longest run for his 39-yard score in the final seconds of the third quarter. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry, and instead of running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley steadily rotating Michigan’s four leading running backs like usual, Smith was given the ball over and over again for good reason.
“Yeah, I mean, (Smith was) grinding out first downs,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “De’Veon, he played with great motivation and some great play by the offensive line. It felt like old-fashioned, slobber-knocker football …
“De’Veon breaking tackles — even the hard runs, the yards after contact, pushing for the first down was critical.”
Though Smith’s heroics were more visible in the second half, he was a major contributor in the first as well. He broke loose for a 25-yard run on 4th-and-2 in the second quarter to set up for the Wolverines’ first score of the game, a 28-yard field goal made by fifth-year senior kicker Kenny Allen.
“You know, it was a very important game for us seniors, and I believe our team wanted to go out with a bang, and that’s what we did,” Smith said. “We weren’t getting it done in the first quarter. We were getting three-and-outs on offense and defense was still sticking in there for us, but we wanted to go out with a bang and that’s what we did.”
Smith credited the offensive line for his success, and that humility is what redshirt junior linebacker Mike McCray thinks makes him so good.
“He works hard, probably more than anybody on the team,” McCray said, “and he has the heart to get the extra yards that he wants to get and what we need.”
On Senior Day, Smith showed some of that heart when he refused to go down, bowling over an Indiana defenseman on that 25-yard run on fourth down. Moments like this are what make fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow call him an “absolute animal.”
“I remember the first time I ever tackled De’Veon was in a scrimmage his freshman year,” Glasgow said. “I think me and Chris had him on a running back draw, and we were sure to take him down, and he kept his legs moving, and we got back to the line of scrimmage and we were like, ‘This kid is a horse.’ This kid just doesn’t stop, he’s relentless, so that’s always awesome to have in a running back.”
After snow angels were made and all of the fun in Michigan’s first snow of the year had been had, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers pulled Smith’s chair out for him in post-game media availability.
Peppers took it a step further and uncapped Smith’s Gatorade for him, too.
It’s safe to say that Smith had earned it.