BLOOMINGTON — Five minutes in and the game already seemed like a nightmare.
Indiana running back Stevie Scott punched the ball in the end zone and here it was, prophecies of a “trap game” coming true right in front of Michigan’s eyes, the monkey that is the Hoosiers still on its back.
Then, the Wolverines got the ball.
And as soon as Michigan’s offense got going, it didn’t really stop. Senior quarterback Shea Patterson moved the ball all over the field, throwing for five touchdowns as the wide receivers put on a show and the 13th-ranked Wolverines (9-2 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) pulled away in the second half to beat Indiana (7-4, 4-4), 39-14, in a prelude to next week’s matchup with Ohio State.
“We heard this week that their coach was saying that they’re one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten and we took that as disrespect,” said fifth-year senior offensive tackle Jon Runyan. “So we came up here and we showed them how we play football. And we’re happy with the results.”
The game began with a span of 19 frenetic minutes in which the teams scored two touchdowns each, in a reversal of your usual November Big Ten tilt. Michigan’s first drive was as methodical as the Hoosiers’, capped off with a 50-yard pass to freshman Giles Jackson and then, two plays later, Ronnie Bell’s first touchdown of the season.
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey ran the ball in from the one-yard line to begin the second quarter. Junior wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones responded with a highlight-reel catch for a score of his own, then flexed for the crowd.
“Just man coverage, and then he ran a heck of a route and I just got the ball where he could catch it,” Patterson said. “All those guys out there tonight — Nico (Collins), Tarik (Black), Ronnie, Donovan — just give them a chance.”
After that touchdown, Don Brown’s defense seemed to remember what it was. The Wolverines adjusted to Indiana’s pass-first, spread-style offense and forced three consecutive three-and-outs. Meanwhile, Patterson threw 29- and 24-yard passes to Collins, the latter for a touchdown.
Michigan led by just seven at halftime. It seemed the perfect blueprint to another one of those Michigan-Indiana games that’s far too close for far too long, but as the third quarter dawned, the Wolverines began to pull away.
First, it was a Quinn Nordin field goal. Then, Collins found himself open in the middle of the field with only green in front of him for an easy touchdown — and Michigan tacked on a two-point conversion with backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey to increase its lead to 18. After that, a strip sack gave the Wolverines the ball on the Hoosiers’ 19-yard line and Patterson connected with Collins again for the wideout’s third touchdown of the day as his teammates flashed three fingers to celebrate.
“Just momentum changing, that we were able to get the ball out and then Nico capitalized on that,” said senior linebacker Josh Uche. “… It was just a great momentum killer for them.”
Indiana threatened to put together a few drives, getting to Michigan’s 32 before the fumble in the third quarter and driving to the Wolverines’ four at the start of the fourth before a failed fourth-down conversion left the Hoosiers empty-handed.
As the clock wound down, Michigan continued to have its way, relishing — finally — an easy win over a team that seems to always make it difficult. Cheers of “Let’s go blue” and “Beat Ohio” rained down over Memorial Stadium as the Wolverines got their 24th-straight win in the series.
All week, people spoke of this as a trap game, the game before The Game against a deceptively good opponent Michigan couldn’t overlook. And for a few seconds, the ingredients for an upset were there.
But as they settled in, the Wolverines changed the recipe and dominated — just the way they knew they could.
“We knew after those first two touchdowns, when they started slowing down a little bit, we knew the game was ours,” said sophomore defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. “All the momentum stayed with us the rest of the game and you could hear the crowd simmer down for the rest of the game. They know what team is in control.”