If nothing else, the No. 16 Michigan football team is entertaining. After losing their previous game to Michigan State on a devastating final play, the Wolverines got to experience the other side of the coin Saturday, making a goal-line stand to beat Minnesota, 29-26.
As with any close game, there’s plenty to take away from Michigan’s win. The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday night.
The good news is that Michigan didn’t lose in the final seconds of the game.
Jokes aside, the Wolverines’ performance didn’t look “good” on paper, but the ability to win close games is a critical skill for Michigan to develop. In games decided by 10 points or fewer since 2012, the Wolverines had gone just 8-12, including an 0-2 mark this season.
And while a strong argument could be made that Minnesota blew the game more than Michigan won it, a win is a win nonetheless.
So is bowl eligibility, as Michigan guaranteed itself a postseason game for the 40th time in 45 seasons.
Beyond team success, redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers was as good as he has been in his career at Michigan. Seeing his role on offense expanded considerably, Peppers played more than 90 snaps Saturday night, earning a rushing touchdown, two pass breakups, 100 all-purpose yards and plenty of near-highlight plays.
“Very explosive performance by Jabrill in all three phases,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Very close to kicking out of a shoestring tackle on offense to score a long touchdown — the one he picked up the first down at midfield. He got into the end zone for us on a sweep play. … He’s an explosive, great player.”
As explosive as Peppers was, Saturday’s game — and Michigan’s season — almost blew up in a bad way for the Wolverines. Prior to Saturday, Michigan had been relatively fortunate in the injury department, keeping the offense intact and only losing sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Mone and senior defensive end Mario Ojemudia to severe injuries.
But midway through the third quarter, the wheels began to fall off when fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock left the game with an injury. On ensuing drives, junior running back De’Veon Smith and junior tight end Jake Butt, who led the team in rushing and receiving, respectively before the game, were taken out as well.
Both Butt and Smith returned later, and redshirt freshman Wilton Speight performed honorably in Rudock’s absence, but the drop-off in production was clear. With no timetable set on Rudock’s return yet and plenty of physical games remaining, Michigan will need to find a better solution to the injury bug.
Ugly: The game’s finish will be what fans remember, but the most surprising note from Saturday’s game may well have been the sudden collapse of the Michigan defense. Entering the game first in the nation in points and yards allowed per game, the Wolverines were expected to shut down, if not shut out, the Golden Gophers.
Instead, Minnesota, entering the night as the Big Ten’s lowest-scoring and worst total offense, gashed Michigan for a season-high 461 yards to go with 26 points.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner threw for a career-high 317 passing yards, and the Golden Gophers had four plays of 30 yards of more. The Wolverines had only allowed five such plays in their first seven games this season.
“We’ve got to go back and self-check ourselves and watch this film intently to clean that stuff up,” said senior linebacker Desmond Morgan. “It feels better watching this film with a win than a loss.”
Michigan survived the scare and won, but the ugly truth is that based on its performance and costly mistakes, it probably shouldn’t have.