After a sloppy, snowy start that saw both Michigan and Indiana punt on their first three drives and the Hoosiers take a 7-3 lead into halftime, the 3rd-ranked Michigan football team was on upset alert for the second consecutive week.
It was a shaky debut for redshirt junior quarterback John O’Korn — who made his first start for the Wolverines in place of the injured Wilton Speight — but luckily for Michigan, it had another star to throw its weight behind.
Senior running back De’Veon Smith broke the game open with a career-high 158 yards and two huge touchdown runs from 34 and 39 yards out in the third quarter, and the Wolverines (7-1 Big Ten, 10-1 overall) pulled away with a 20-10 victory as snow covered the field at Michigan Stadium.
“It’s a great feeling when you win a football game,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “Two opposing wills against each other — you have to beat that other team and also the elements. Our team did both of those things today.”
In the first half, the Wolverines’ offense stalled early and often, as the Hoosiers (3-5, 5-6) had little trouble getting to O’Korn in the pocket. O’Korn had a difficult time shedding tacklers, and he took three tackles for loss, including two sacks, in the half.
Michigan went 0-for-7 on third down in the first frame, only managing a 28-yard field goal from Kenny Allen to get on the board before the Hoosiers answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Camion Patrick before the break.
O’Korn struggled to throw the ball on a cold, windy day, completing just 7 of 16 passes for 59 yards. He finally turned the tide of the game with his feet, though, pulling off a 30-yard scramble on 3rd-and-8 that set up Smith’s go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
“I’m not real pleased with the way I threw the ball, but that’s part of battling the elements,” O’Korn said. “Gotta complete passes when opportunities present themselves. … Luckily, our run game and our O-line had my back today, and it doesn’t matter how we get the win as long as we get the win.”
Indiana had more success in the passing game than the Wolverines, as quarterback Richard Lagow tallied 191 total yards. His 37-yard pass to Nick Westbrook in the third quarter that ended up being the longest completion of the game for either team.
The Wolverines’ defense held the Hoosiers in check, though, tallying 11 tackles for loss — led by senior defensive end Taco Charlton’s 2.5 — and eight pass breakups. As a result, Indiana’s offense managed just a field goal.
Michigan’s special teams made its mark as well. Fifth-year senior kicker/punter Kenny Allen gave the Wolverines a boost in the field-position battle with three punts of more than 50 yards. The coverage unit also came up big, as fifth-year senior tight end Michael Jocz and freshman safety Khaleke Hudson both blocked punts in Hoosier territory.
Now, the focus will shift to next week’s matchup with No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus, with a Big Ten Championship Game berth and potential College Football Playoff appearance on the line for Michigan.
Even with that daunting task on the horizon, Harbaugh is pleased with where his team stands, even despite Saturday’s early struggles and the Wolverines’ quarterback uncertainty.
“Every week is a test, every game that you line up is a test,” Harbaugh said. “There’s gonna be a lot of tests in life. It comes in many forms and fashions. Our team playing a really good Indiana football team — that was a huge test for us today. Coming off a loss — that was a huge test for us.
“Playing in big playoff-type games and responding, coming together as a team gives us a great feeling. I feel good about it.”