If you listen closely, you can hear the Wolverine faithful breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Just a week after a bruising loss to now-No. 18 Michigan State pushed the Michigan football team’s College Football Playoff aspirations to the brink of extinction, the 19th-ranked Wolverines almost suffered the fatal blow Saturday in Bloomington. With a 46-yard field goal as time expired, Indiana forced Michigan to win the game in overtime.
Thanks to a 25-yard touchdown rush from junior running back Karan Higdon and a goal-line stand from their defense, the Wolverines finally did — preserving their season in the process.
The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s game:
Though it may be hard to see at first glance, Higdon’s 200-yard, three-touchdown performance wasn’t the only bright spot in Michigan’s 27-20 win.
As last week’s catastrophic five-turnover outing illustrated, the importance of winning the turnover battle can’t be overstated. The Wolverines got back on track against the Hoosiers, posting a pivotal zero in the turnover column while also forcing two interceptions — the latter of which came from junior safety Tyree Kinnel on the final play of the game.
Saturday, every possession mattered.
Last week also taught Michigan that halftime deficits aren’t easy to overcome, as the Spartans led 14-3 at the break and the Wolverines scored just seven points after it. Against Indiana — for the first time since a Sept. 9 matchup against a lowly Cincinnati team — Michigan entered the locker room with a lead larger than three points.
Though the Hoosiers cut into that lead on multiple occasions in the second half, the Wolverines learned the value of a safety cushion.
They also learned how to contain a dual-threat quarterback. After Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke completed 11-of-22 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown and tallied 15 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown, Michigan’s defense wouldn’t let Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey do the same.
The Wolverines harassed Ramsey all game, totaling three sacks for 20 yards and four quarterback hits along with the two picks. While he still threw for 178 yards and a touchdown, he found no success on the ground, carrying the ball 14 times for a total of 14 yards.
While the running game centered on Higdon had its best performance of the season, the same could not be said of fifth-year senior John O’Korn and Michigan’s passing game.
Last week, O’Korn received somewhat of a pass for his three-interception night due to the torrential downpour that engulfed Michigan Stadium. His 10-for-20, 58-yard day against the Hoosiers can’t be excused.
After the game, when asked about the Wolverines’ struggles in the air, O’Korn pivoted, explaining that they stuck to the running game because it was working. Some of his teammates also stated that the ground game was the point of emphasis on offense.
The truth of the matter is that both offensive units can work simultaneously. But Saturday, only one did.
Michigan’s lack of success in the air hurt it toward the end of the game, as the Hoosiers launched their 10-point comeback in the fourth quarter. After Higdon gave his team a 10-point lead with 10 minutes left and then again after sophomore corner Lavert Hill intercepted Ramsey with six minutes to go, the Wolverines should have been able to ice the game.
Instead, Indiana saw the runs coming and managed to stop them, forcing a three-and-out on each series to lead up to their touchdown drive, and later, their last-second field goal.
Sixteen. That is the program-record number of penalties the Wolverines committed against the Hoosiers on Saturday.
Those penalties, which were spread widely across the offense, defense and special teams units, totaled a whopping 141 yards lost. For perspective, that is nearly two and a half times the number of passing yards O’Korn had.
On top of those high figures, the timing of the penalties couldn’t have been much worse for Michigan.
You would need both hands to count the number of penalties that could have proven disastrous, including a pass interference penalty on Indiana’s first overtime possession that moved the Hoosiers to the 12-yard line. It took a stellar goal-line stand from the Wolverines’ defense to prevent Indiana from tying the game.
With so much momentum on the Hoosiers’ side, if the game went to double overtime, Michigan might not have come out on top.