IOWA CITY – How does it go? Third time’s a charm?
After losing two games 23-20, Michigan finally came out on top of a game by the same score.
Saturday’s win over Iowa featured more than just a familiar score. Mike Hart was injured again, but a couple unexpected faces gave Michigan a lift, while a couple old ones also came up with big plays to salvage the win and end Iowa’s 22-game home winning streak.
At the beginning of the season, the Michigan backfield was all about three players – Hart, sophomore Max Martin and freshman Kevin Grady. But in overtime Saturday, there was just one player running for the Wolverines – junior Jerome Jackson. With Michigan on the half-yard line and the game in the balance, the Michigan coaching staff called on the little-used Jackson. He has not seen game action since the Wisconsin loss, but he was ready to go when Michigan needed him most. Despite not playing until the fourth quarter and overtime, the Saginaw native had 44 yards on 11 carries, including the touchdown that ended Iowa’s streak at Kinnick Stadium.
“I’m a strong believer,” Jackson said. “I always knew that my time was going to come. Coach (Lloyd) Carr said in the locker room before the game, ‘Somebody is going to have to step up today.’ I just thank my coaches for giving me the opportunity and just believing in me to put me in the game in a tight situation.”
Jackson didn’t initially come in when Hart injured his ankle early in the first quarter. Freshman Kevin Grady carried the ball the majority of the next three quarters, but it was Jackson who rose to the occasion at the end of the game.
“I think Jerome Jackson really gave us a lift there,” Carr said. “But I think a measure of a team is, if you have some people who are banged up, somebody steps up. And we had that today.”
Jackson had a little help on the game-winning touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Jake Long returned from injury and made the hole for Jackson to notch the winning score. Long – who has not played all season – was given the responsibility of making sure Jackson got in the end zone. But before the play, the offensive line knew it was up to them to make the opening, and that’s just how they wanted it.
“We all knew it was down to us,” right guard Matt Lentz said. “J. Jack was going to get in because of us. They put it on us and we love that.”
Long wasn’t the only old face making a huge impact in the showdown. In overtime on second-and-eight from the Iowa 23-yard line, quarterback Chad Henne rolled to his right on a play action pass. It looked like no was open, but Henne – who finished 14-of-21 for 207 yards and two touchdowns – threw a strike toward senior Jason Avant who was crossing toward the near sideline. The pass was a little behind Avant, but just as he has done all year, he came up with the difficult catch. Playfully called the old man, Avant’s torso-contorting 18-yard catch setup the eventual game winner
“He runs routes very well, and he’s always there,” Henne said of Avant. “If you throw the ball anywhere in his area, he’s going to go up and get it. He’s a great feature to this offense, and that’s why he’s getting all the passes that he is, because he knows how to beat man coverage or zone coverage.”
Jackson and Avant’s late game heroics were made possible by a Michigan defense that tightened up during Iowa’s overtime possession.
A defensive holding penalty on linebacker Prescott Burgess gave the Hawkeyes a first-and-ten at the Michigan 14-yard line. After the Wolverines stuffed running back Albert Young on a first down run and Drew Tate completed a four-yard pass to receiver Clinton Solomon, Iowa had a third-and-six at the 10-yard line. Drew Tate took the snap and looked again for Solomon on a deep out to the right sideline. Cornerback Leon Hall had the tight coverage, and Tate’s throw soared just past the outstretched hands of the diving Solomon. The Hawkeyes had to settle for the field goal and never saw the ball again.
“We preached that all week – as a defense, just finishing,” Hall said. “Finishing the drive and finishing the game. Because a lot of times it will be in our hands. We really wanted to finish this week, which is why we came up with these big stops.”
In the second half, the Wolverines’ defense started to finish drives. After giving up 242 yards and 14 points in the first 30 minutes, Hall and company slowed Iowa’s seemingly unstoppable offense.
Freshman free safety Brandon Harrison began the half with his first career interception. His pick led to a Michigan field goal, cutting the Hawkeyes lead to 14-10. Iowa drove the field when they got the ball back, but the defense once again stiffened, and linebacker David Harris partially blocked Kyle Schlicher’s 41-yard attempt.
“We had to buckle down; we had to step the run, try to contain the pass,” fifth-year senior Pierre Woods said. “They were connecting with that tight end so much, so we had to slow them down.”
With the defense holding Iowa, the Michigan offense finally got going. With 11:10 left in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines took over at the Iowa 12-yard line. Five plays later, on a first-and-10 from the Michigan 48-yard line, Henne threw a quick screen to receiver Steve Breaston. Breaston found a seam on the left sideline and was gone. 52 yards later he was in the endzone, and the Wolverines had their first lead.
“The receivers out there with me did a good job blocking,” Breaston said. “I got past the first line of defense, and I just tried to outrun everybody.”
Michigan held that lead until Iowa’s final drive. With 6:35 left in the final quarter, the Wolverines picked up a first down, but then tried four straight running plays before having to punt on fourth down. Iowa took possession at its own 12-yard line with 2:42 left in the game and drove 78 yards to the Wolverines’ 14. But once again, the Michigan defense solidified and held the Hawkeyes to a field goal, which tied the game at 17 and led to the fateful overtime.
For the first time this season, the Wolverines won consecutive games and also stayed in the Big Ten conference race.
“We needed a win today, because we’ve had some ups and downs,” Carr said. “But I think we did the things we needed to do, but probably more importantly, we had some guys, that really, the team needed them to step up and play an important role.”