BLOOMINGTON — Junior running back Karan Higdon sat in the press conference room with a wide smile across his face.
Deep below the stands of Indiana’s Memorial Stadium, Higdon had just finished answering questions, and as he got up to leave, he passed by his coach, Jim Harbaugh.
The two bumped fists.
“Good job,” Harbaugh told him.
It’s easy to see why. In No. 17 Michigan’s 27-20 overtime win, Higdon put the team on his back, running for three touchdowns and 200 yards on 25 carries.
He became the first Michigan player to rush for at least 200 yards since Devin Gardner in 2012, and he became the first running back to do so since Mike Hart in 2007.
Higdon’s final touchdown was the difference maker, as the Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 5-1 overall) recovered from last week’s loss to Michigan State.
On the first play of overtime, the coaches called for Higdon to run up the gut, but once he got the ball, the offensive line was stuffed. He ran into his own teammate, but bounced left for a footrace to the end zone.
He sped past the Hoosiers’ defense and carried the ball 25 yards for a touchdown.
The play mirrored his first touchdown in the second quarter, when he also had to adjust on the fly and skip out wide for the score.
In fact, it was the same play.
“We called that play earlier, and I broke out for a nice little touchdown run,” Higdon said. “So we felt good going back to it. I got the ball, saw the hole was clogged and decided to make something happen. So I bounced it, saw the defense overpursued and it was off to the races.”
Added Harbaugh: “He was phenomenal. I don’t know how many yards he got after contact, but those were tough yards. It looked like there’d be a tackle for loss, a small gain or no gain, and he found a way to get four or five yards out of it.”
Running Higdon up the middle had worked well all game. He averaged eight yards per carry, and the offensive line was blocking for him and the other running backs better than they had all season.
Oddly enough, two of his three touchdowns came on plays where the blocking didn’t pan out.
His longest rush, though — a 59-yard touchdown — arrived in the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines led by just six points, and they were starting a drive from their own 16-yard line. After handing the ball to Higdon three straight times, the coaches subbed him out for one play.
When he came back on to the field, though, they called his number again. This time, all of the blocks arrived, and Higdon found a hole.
He followed his blocker, burst through the gap, and streaked to the end zone.
“We went with the run game a little more today,” Higdon said. “… We had a salty taste in our mouth from last week, and we just stuck to the game plan and trusted it. All of the guys did their job.”
While Michigan’s pass offense struggled against the Hoosiers — totaling just 59 yards all game — the game plan this week had been to run. The passing game had also proven to be a problem against Michigan State, and Higdon’s physical run game was seen as the solution.
“It was going to be more run heavy,” Harbaugh said. “We thought we could move the ball and be successful.
“We wanted to play that kind of a ball game. We ran the isolation, we ran the power, we ran the counters. … It was just part of the plan.”
The plan worked.