Terrance Taylor was worried he might be right.
Last Monday, the senior nose tackle said the Michigan football team’s game against then-No. 9 Wisconsin on Saturday would define its season.
But when the Wolverines trailed 19-0 at halftime, there wasn’t any definition — only questions.
What will a bowl-less winter be like? What was the team doing during its bye week? Will Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense always look this bad against Big Ten teams?/>
Unlike his team on the field, Taylor made a statement. At halftime, he ran through the tunnel, and his frustration boiled over. He started yelling, trying to motivate his teammates. Once the Wolverines reached the locker room, he continued until the coaches arrived.
“There is no G-rated version, so he pretty much just gave it to us, and we knew,” junior wide receiver Greg Mathews said.
Taylor’s impromptu pep talk apparently worked, as Michigan rallied to beat the Badgers, 27-25, in the Wolverines’ largest-ever comeback at Michigan Stadium.
The victory gives students who weren’t around in 2005 for Mario Manningham’s last-second, game-winning touchdown catch against Penn State a signature win at the Big House to treasure.
“ESPN was talking about this is a warmup for the Big Ten for Wisconsin, so we take that personally,” Mathews said. “Michigan is nobody’s doormat, especially in the Big Ten.”
With a renewed swagger in the second half, play after play, Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 2-2 overall) chased the result it wanted — all the way until three players tracked Rodriguez down at midfield after the game and dumped a cooler of water on him.
Michigan scored two touchdowns in less than seven minutes over the late third and early fourth quarters. Freshman tight end Kevin Koger caught a 26-yard pass over the middle and junior running back Brandon Minor streaked 34 yards past a blitzing Wisconsin defense. The touchdowns cut the deficit to 19-14 with 10:27 left and awakened the 109,833 in attendance.
On the kickoff after Minor’s touchdown, fifth-year senior Jason Gingell boomed the ball into the endzone, firing up the defense as it took the field. Fifth-year senior strongside linebacker John Thompson intercepted a pass on the next play after sophomore cornerback Donovan Warren stepped in front of a slant and tipped the ball. Taylor and a host of defensive linemen blocked the way for Thompson, who was followed by celebrating teammates and coaches on the sideline, for the go-ahead touchdown.
“I saw it landed in John’s hands and I said, ‘Aw, shoot, why John?’ ” defensive coordinator Scott Shafer said. “I joked with him after the game, because John’s not the fastest guy on the defense, but the kid’s doing a great job.”
The Wolverines missed the two-point conversion, which kept their led at 20-19 with 10:24 left.
After the defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing Wisconsin possession, Threet scampered 58 yards on Michigan’s first offensive play to the Badger 19. Five plays later, freshman running back Sam McGuffie punched in a three-yard touchdown run to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 27-19 with 5:11 remaining.
Wisconsin (0-1 Big Ten, 3-1 overall) scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left to cut the Wolverines’ lead to two. But a converted two-point try was called back because of an ineligible receiver downfield. The Badgers, now ranked 18th, couldn’t complete a second chance from the seven-yard line, and Michigan recovered the onside kick.
The Wolverines’ 247-yard second-half offensive explosion was a complete reversal from the first half, when the offense had just 21 total yards and one first down. For the half, Michigan averaged negative yardage on first-down plays.
“I would like to tell you there were times that we were close, but we really wasn’t even close at times in the first half,” Rodriguez said. “If there was a hole to crawl into, I am sure a bunch of us, including myself would run and crawl in that hole.”
Tack on five turnovers in the half, a game after the Wolverines turned the ball over six times in a loss at Notre Dame, and Rodriguez was livid.
“The way we played offensively in the first half and with special teams, we should have been down by a lot more, a lot more,” Rodriguez said. “That was as frustrated as I’ve ever been in my coaching career with the offense and special teams.”
Fans were frustrated, too, and many booed as the teams left the field at halftime. But the players, thanks in part to Taylor’s rallying cry, stayed resilient.
“To never quit, that is the thing I am most proud of,” Rodriguez said. “There was a time when it looked like if you were of lesser mind you would have.”