With the clock ticking, the Michigan football team thought it could score one last time before the half against Indiana.
Trailing 17-15, the Wolverines were in the redzone following a 41-yard reception by redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry. With only one timeout, Michigan ran three times. Then junior tight end Sean McKeon caught a pass at the two-yard line, getting tackled in bounds at the two-yard line. Time was vanishing when it didn’t have to.
As halftime approached following McKeon’s reception, Shea Patterson set the offense to spike the ball, stop the clock and kick a field goal. The referee carried the ball to position it, dropped it before he could give it to center Cesar Ruiz and an Indiana player kicked it away to lengthen the referee’s scramble.
Halftime adjustments in the locker room were coming next.
“We just didn’t execute well enough,” said redshirt sophomore tight end Nick Eubanks. “… We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
It’s as simple as that.
Michigan made eight separate trips in the redzone during Saturday’s 31-20 win over the Hoosiers, and scored a touchdown only once — a two-yard run by Karan Higdon, assisted by a pass interference the previous play.
Five of those trips ended with two short-yardage runs, and either an incomplete or short pass before the firstdown marker. On one of those instances, the Wolverines failed to find paydirt after a dropped ball by Gentry. It was a mishmash of monotonous but sustained errors that raise red flags heading into the season finale at Ohio State.
“They did a great job,” Higdon said. “We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to a couple times. We had some dropped balls, miscues and we can’t have that. I’d rather that happen now then next week.”
But Michigan’s struggles came with a silver lining. Through the Wolverines’ failed redzone execution emerged much-needed consistency from the place kicking unit. Freshman kicker Jake Moody took over field goal duties for Quinn Nordin, who Moody said didn’t feel good enough to enter the game.
Moody, who typically handles kickoffs, went 6-for-6 on the day — all within 33 yards — to break a Michigan football record last set by Nordin for most field goals in a game..
From a numbers and momentum standpoint, Moody was the difference maker.
“You talk about 139 years of Michigan football, and set a record six field goals,” Harbaugh said. “Cool customer, good thing for a kicker. … Every single field goal was big today.”
Added Moody: “The guys out there made it easy for me, the snaps and the holds. … I’ve been practicing all season. Quinn’s been a great role model for me. He taught me what to do when you get out there to get your mind right to kick.”
Harbaugh noted that his historic performance wouldn’t guarantee a starting spot for next week. While the perfect day could offer peace of mind, the performance was rooted in the offense’s inability to score touchdowns. Recording 507 yards of offense is usually conducive to more than 31 points.
“Just playing in the Big Ten,” Patterson cited for the offense’s shortcomings. “… Not everything is gonna go your way. I thought they had a pretty good scheme, pretty good defense. We just took what they gave us. I thought our defense put us in a pretty good position.”
The offense was not without its successes. Patterson rifled a 41-yard touchdown to a wide-open Eubanks. And if you’re really reaching, Higdon’s touchdown demonstrated that the red zone woes are fixable.
The Wolverines will have a week to do just that. They repeat the phrase “one game at a time” like a greeting, and a short-term memory is more of a demand than a request with the Buckeyes looming.
But if just for Saturday, the day rightfully belonged to Jake Moody.
“This guy was a sniper,” Patterson said. “He did a hell of a job.”