COLLEGE PARK — Giles Jackson had scored a touchdown before, back in September. But that one didn’t feel right.
Jackson ran the wrong route then, and though he caught the pass anyway — in the fourth quarter of a 52-0 blowout of Rutgers — the score was somewhat meaningless.
On Saturday, Jackson scored his second touchdown of the season in a 38-7 win over Maryland. This time, he did everything right.
He fielded the opening kickoff, darting around defenders, sprinting down the sideline and coasting into the end zone. His teammates egged him on along the sideline, pointing and saying, “He about to take it to the crib,” according to junior wide receiver Nico Collins.
“I saw a little crease on the inside,” Jackson said. “Then, I thought I was getting close, I tried to go back out, then (redshirt junior linebacker Devin Gil) made the huge block and I cut back inside and just started running. As soon as he made that block, (I knew I was gonna score), cause I wasn’t letting the kicker tackle me. I would’ve been sick.”
Michigan has historically struggled on the road, even against lackluster opposition, even when the stadium is half-empty and full of its own fans. There’s only so much you can do to prepare, but after the early-season debacle at Wisconsin, the Wolverines have especially emphasized one thing: starting fast.
And nothing says a team that came ready to play like putting up seven points before a single second ran off the game clock.
“That was a big emphasis coming into this game on the road,” said senior quarterback Shea Patterson. “… Kickoff kinda set the tone for the game.”
Though Michigan went up 14-0 after two offensive drives, it nearly fell victim to its other constant road woe: fading down the stretch and letting the other team back in. The Wolverines went three-and-out on their next two drives as the Terrapins found the red zone each time — and could have made it a close game if not for an interception and a missed field goal.
But just as it seemed the Wolverines were about to have their third consecutive drive without a first down, special teams came through again.
Facing fourth-and-1 from its own 27, Michigan brought out the punt team — but instead of snapping the ball to redshirt junior punter Will Hart, the Wolverines instead gave it to redshirt freshman Michael Barrett, who pushed for the first down, then dragged his tacklers 13 more yards.
On the next play, Patterson completed a 51-yard bomb to Collins to set up first-and-goal, a situation that easily led to another touchdown.
“It was fourth-and-1,” Collins said. “So it was kind of like a, ‘Hopefully they fake it,’ and they did. When we all came back on the field, Shea trusted us and the playcall and took a shot and I came down with it.”
The fake punt was a call Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been perfecting for weeks. A good trick play requires three things: versatile players, the right game situation and an element of surprise.
Barrett, an athletic high school quarterback turned linebacker turned special teams fiend, was the perfect man for the job, and he’d already converted a fake punt this season against Army. Harbaugh wanted to run the play on a fourth-and-short in his own territory — check. And of course, no one expects a fake punt from a team up two scores in the second quarter.
“We thought we could get it,” Harbaugh said. “ … We took advantage of the work that we put in and I thought it was a good time to call it and it helped us win this game. The look and the element of surprise, and the way we practiced it made us confident that we’d execute.”
The play injected a dose of confidence into a team that seemed to be caught snoozing. The Wolverines scored a touchdown three plays later. The Terrapins never threatened again.
Bad road team or not, Michigan was clearly the better team, and it likely would’ve won the game no matter what. But with two early special teams plays, the Wolverines left no doubt who owned Maryland Stadium. Without them, an easy win would’ve looked a lot less dominant.
“We needed that, that fake punt,” said senior linebacker Josh Uche. “We needed that pretty badly. That kinda killed their momentum.”