Karan Higdon and Chris Evans might as well have been competing with each other.
After all, when a team comes nine yards shy of boasting two 200-yard rushers for the first time in program history, that’s usually how it goes.
And such was the story for the Wolverines. They ran the ball. They ran the ball. Then they ran the ball again.
In the end, Michigan’s ground game exploded to the tune of 371 yards — helping the Wolverines claim a 33-10 victory over Minnesota (1-5 Big Ten, 4-5 overall) and maintain possession of the Little Brown Jug.
“We’ve just been really focusing on the run game and knew, again, that we were going to have to run the ball to win,” said senior left tackle Mason Cole. “We have the backs to do it, and we blocked well enough to get them through the line of scrimmage and onto the second level. From there it was all those guys.”
Higdon struck first on the second drive of the game.
The Wolverines’ junior running back got the ball on 2nd-and-10, found the hole that Michigan’s offensive line seems to be opening more with each passing week and charged 77 yards untouched to the end zone — the longest rush by a Wolverine since Denard Robinson ran for a 79-yard touchdown against Air Force in 2012.
One offensive series passed the Wolverines (4-2, 7-2) by. Then Evans followed suit.
On 1st-and-10 from Michigan’s own 40-yard line, the sophomore running back did it all himself — breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage before cutting outside and streaking down the right hash marks for Michigan’s third touchdown of the game.
And so went the game of back and forth.
Higdon punched in a five-yard touchdown with just over three minutes left in the third quarter to cap off a 46-yard drive.
Evans broke another run to the outside and took it 67 yards to the house on the next series to put the Wolverines up, 33-7.
“I looked up at one point and the statistics looked like we were Air Force,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “… I’ve never seen that many plus-50 yard runs in one game, any team I’ve ever coached or been on. That was quite the performance.”
That it was. And it made Brandon Peters’ job easy. In his first collegiate start, the redshirt freshman was asked to throw just 13 times. He completed eight of those attempts for 56 yards, and added a touchdown pass on a throwback screen to sophomore tight end Sean McKeon on Michigan’s opening drive.
As for the Golden Gophers, well, their offensive success ended after their second series.
Minnesota answered the Wolverines’ first touchdown by using 10 plays to go 75 yards — nine of which yielded 59 rushing yards. Rodney Smith provided the exclamation point, rushing 10 yards into the end zone to cap it all off.
From there, though, the wheels fell off — or at least Michigan forced them to.
Minnesota mustered 36 second-half yards, finishing the night with just 164 total while adding a field goal in the final two minutes. Redshirt junior defensive end Chase Winovich and sophomore VIPER Khaleke Hudson’s combined third-quarter effort highlighted the dominant defensive showing.
On 2nd-and-10 from Michigan’s 42-yard line, Hudson got to Minnesota quarterback Demry Croft for a strip sack. Winovich pounced on the loose ball, and Higdon notched his second touchdown of the night on the ensuing possession.
Evans added his second only a drive later, and the Wolverines had put the game well out of reach before the fourth quarter even started.
“A couple times, I’m blocking my guy (for) a couple seconds, waiting for the whistle,” McKeon said. “All of a sudden the crowd starts roaring. I look up, and Chris or Karan is gone.”
So it went for the duo, and so Michigan went. Higdon and Evans got the blocks they needed, then they took care of the rest.