BLOOMINGTON — When the last of the 80 passes attempted in the Michigan football team’s game at Indiana hit the ground, the entire travel roster sprinted into the end zone where Delano Hill made the game-clinching play. Jim Harbaugh pumped his fists and ran to greet Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, and the rest of the Wolverines jumped on top of one another, whooping and hollering.
Three of Michigan’s last four games have ended in similar fashion.
First there was the heartbreak of Oct. 17 in Michigan Stadium, when Jalen Watts-Jackson returned Blake O’Neill’s fumble into the end zone and the rest of his Michigan State teammates piled on top of him. Then, two weeks later, there was the goal-line stand at Minnesota, when the Wolverines throttled the Golden Gophers in the game’s final second. Then, it was their turn to sprint onto the field and celebrate. They claimed the Little Brown Jug trophy as their own.
Saturday night’s game was another exercise in dramatic finishes. Michigan’s 48-41 double-overtime conquest was the result of timely plays and a whole lot of spunk from fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock.
Rudock, often maligned at the beginning of the season for turnovers, threw for six touchdowns and 440 yards. He scampered for 64 yards, too, and took hard hit after hard hit. He even threw an interception in the third quarter. It seemed costly at the time, when the Wolverines trailed by two. By the end of the game, it was irrelevant. No other quarterback in program history has thrown six touchdowns in a single game.
“He is unflappable,” Harbaugh said. “He just does not flinch.”
He did not flinch when Michigan trailed by seven points and less than three minutes remained on the scoreboard. Rudock marched the Wolverines right down the field.
He did not flinch when six seconds remained in the game and Michigan had the ball on the Hoosiers’ five-yard line on fourth down. Rudock threw a strike to redshirt junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson, who was sandwiched by defenders.
He did not flinch in the game’s first overtime, when Indiana had already scored a touchdown and the options were either to score a touchdown or kiss his team’s Big Ten championship dreams goodbye. Rudock threw a 21-yard touchdown to Butt on the second play of the possession.
And with a chance to win the game in the second overtime, Rudock threw a 25-yard touchdown to redshirt junior wide receiver Amara Darboh, who was wide open.
Hill’s play on the ensuing possession sealed the game.
It was a game the Wolverines felt they had to win. First, there were the obvious stakes: If Michigan wins its next two games and Ohio State defeats Michigan State next weekend, the Wolverines will face the Buckeyes on Nov. 28 for a berth in the Big Ten Championship.
But then, Darboh said after the game, there were other implications. Before the game, all of Michigan’s players scrawled the hashtag “#ChadTough” on their helmets. The Wolverines decided to dedicate the game to Chad Carr, the grandson of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. The younger Carr, just five years old, is currently in hospice care while he battles an inoperable brain tumor.
“Any time you dedicate a game to someone, you obviously want to win,” Darboh said.
At first, the task did not seem like it would be a difficult one. Indiana (0-6 Big Ten, 4-6 overall), has enjoyed little success in the conference this season. The Wolverines (5-1, 8-2) had everything on the line.
Michigan came out firing. Rudock and Chesson were on the same page from the start. They connected for three first-half touchdown passes, and Michigan jumped out to a 21-9 lead in the middle of the second quarter. Chesson, like Rudock, had a career day. He finished with four receiving touchdowns and 207 yards on 10 receptions.
The effort wasn’t enough to put away the Hoosiers. The Wolverines’ defense, once infallible, struggled mightily at times. Indiana running back Jordan Howard rushed for 238 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. Michigan’s defense appeared worn out by the Hoosiers’ up-tempo offense. Indiana ran play after play within seconds of each other, rarely slowing down, and took its first lead of the game with 7:40 remaining in the third quarter. The Hoosiers did not relinquish it until Allen kicked a field goal with 6:57 left in the game.
Even then, they gained it right back with an eight-play, 69-yard touchdown drive.
The Wolverines’ defense felt the absence of redshirt junior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, who missed the game with a pectoral injury. Harbaugh doesn’t expect him back during the team’s stretch run. Michigan is battered and bruised, but it could not be beaten Saturday.
“It’s suck-it-up time,” Harbaugh said.
His team received the message. It did not let defensive and special team lapses become its undoing. Even the offense was stagnant at times.
But in the end, after Hill made his final play and Rudock finished his day, those hiccups proved to be nothing more.
Rudock, true to form, didn’t emit so much as a grin in his postgame press conference. Without the aid of a stat sheet, it was unclear whether he threw for six touchdown passes or zero. Junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis reacted in a similar fashion. He wasn’t thrilled with how his unit played. His demeanor wasn’t one emblematic of victory.
Harbaugh, however, allowed himself a few grins. He hung around the outskirts of Memorial Stadium 45 minutes after the celebration ended as he waited to board the team bus. He stood just a few yards away from where Hill made the game-ending play.
Children hoarded him for autographs, and Michigan fans screamed his catchphrase, “Who’s got it better than us?”
The answer was almost Indiana.