COLLEGE PARK — As junior punter Tommy Doman squared up to kick the ball away from midfield, there was a distinct possibility that the No. 3 Michigan football team’s previous three-play, negative nine-yard drive could have cost them the contest against Maryland.
With just over four minutes remaining, the Wolverines were poised to hand the ball back to the Terrapins on a day in which its offense was unusually stagnant and its defense was unusually porous. And Maryland, with dual-threat quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa at the helm, was expecting to get at least one more chance to erase a 29-24 deficit.
The Terrapins would get their chance, but by the time they got the ball, their odds were much worse than they had anticipated.
Because with a booming 47-yard punt from Doman and a recovery by graduate cornerback Caden Kolesar inside the one-yard line, Maryland was given no room for errors. And two plays later, having made one and given up their second safety of the day, the Terrapins were forced to kick the ball back to the Wolverines in an even deeper deficit and with the game all but over.
In an uneasy contest for the Wolverines, it turned out to be an afternoon decided by big moments. And on such a day, Michigan’s special teams units had two of the biggest.
“In terms of special teams, I think the entire year we’ve been waiting to make some major plays,” junior linebacker Christian Boivin said postgame. “It’s kind of been the sleeping giant on the team, and I think it’s going to be a huge part going forward.”
Early in the contest, the giant woke up with a jolt.
As Maryland backed up on its own 17-yard line to punt, Boivin raced through a hole in the Terrapins’ defense, sprinted to punter Brenden Segovia and leaped out just in time to get a hand on the ball before he kicked it away. Immediately, as the ball trickled backward and into Maryland’s end zone, the Wolverines raced to dive on it, but before they could, Segovia kicked the ball through the back of the end zone for an automatic safety.
“(Special teams coach Jay Harbaugh) and coach J.B. (Brown) early in the week had identified a position they could put us in running out there,” Boivin said of his punt block. “We didn’t really know who was going to come free, but just the attention to detail and then the execution given that opportunity.”
With Boivin’s block late in the first quarter, the momentum was firmly with the Wolverines. Not only did the resulting safety add two points for Michigan in what would become a tight game, but the ball was then promptly returned to the Wolverines on the 36-yard line via a punt. And with favorable field position, Michigan capitalized with another touchdown to stretch the lead to stretch its lead to 20.
However, two-and-a-half quarters later as Doman lined up to punt, the Wolverines’ celebratory mood was gone as its lead slimmed. But then, as Doman’s kick bounced first on the three yard line, then just before the goal line and then finally rolled backward into the waiting hands of Kolesar — the mood shifted one last time.
Two plays later, the Wolverines’ defense forced Tagovailoa into throwing an intentional grounding in the end zone, and sealed the win with another safety.
“That’s huge. Huge for momentum, huge for field position,” acting head coach Sherrone Moore said postgame. “… For our defense, they just feast off of that.”
Special teams roleplayers like Doman, Kolesar and Boivin didn’t win the game alone, but they made sure that a second half in which the Wolverines’ offense only managed seven points wouldn’t make them lose it.
And with one safety and another one indirectly forced on two massive special teams plays, Michigan’s “sleeping giant” finally arose to make up for some of its offenses deficiencies.