With his team down by four with less than five minutes to play in regulation, Tate Forcier dove for a first down and stood up like nothing was wrong. Seconds later, the freshman quarterback fell to the ground, clenching his hand in pain.
Team trainers attended to Forcier’s shoulder and he made his way off the field. But before he stepped on the sidelines, he met up with his teammate at midfield.
With his good arm, Forcier pulled fellow freshman quarterback Denard Robinson close.
“He smacked him on the head and told him, ‘Let’s go. It’s on your shoulders now,’ ” sophomore Mike Shaw said, describing the moment. “It got me pumped up.”
Robinson responded by running for a first down and extending the drive to the Indiana 26-yard line. Getting the first down may have been Robinson’s job, but winning the game was up to Forcier.
To everyone’s surprise but his own, Forcier came back to lead Michigan four plays later and immediately helped everyone forget about his bruised shoulder.
On third and seven, Forcier found sophomore slot receiver Martavious Odoms in the back of the end zone. With a perfectly placed tight spiral pass, Forcier led No. 23 Michigan to a 36-33 win over Indiana.
“The kid’s got something about him — he knows how to win ball games,” quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said. “I don’t think pressure’s going to affect him. You don’t get much more pressure than being down late in a drive when you have to make a play and on (third down), they give you cover zero. He stepped up and made a play.”
Forcier’s late-game heroics saved Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 4-0 overall) from an early-season conference loss, and his 184 yards on 11-of-21 passing prevented the Hoosiers (0-1, 3-1) from upsetting the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1967.
With his recent accomplishments, it’s easy to forget Forcier is just a freshman and a long way from a finished product. But during the last two games, the San Diego native has shown signs of inexperience, with inevitable flaws becoming obvious.
“I got to get him to calm down his feet in the pocket,” Smith said. “We’re scrambling way too much. We’re not getting our reads in, and I think sometimes we’re looking to run because we’re not getting our eyes downfield, which causes us to get some negative plays. We got to get that corrected.”
Besides improving his decision-making, Smith said Forcier can work on keeping two hands on the ball at all times and trusting the offensive line more, which will give Forcier more of a pocket presence.
Despite his shortcomings, Forcier remains a true leader on the field. His constant claims that he “doesn’t get nervous” seemed like a stretch at first, but his poise and gutsy game-changing plays continue to prove otherwise.
One of those plays meant sacrificing his body early in the fourth quarter. Forcier showcased his vertical aptitude as he leapt over the throng of defenders at the goal line for the touchdown.
“I got a great view,” sophomore wide receiver Darryl Stonum said. “I was blocking my dude. … It was actually a pass play, so I saw Tate scrambling. I was trying to get open, and I just saw him leap over my two defenders into the end zone, and it shocked me, but I’m glad he did it.”
At the beginning of the season, Forcier’s youth seemed like a possible liability. Now, it might be more of an advantage.
“I think a lot of times with young guys, they don’t panic as much,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes an upperclassman will think, ‘Uh oh, what’s going on?’ But the young guys go out and play a little bit. Tate wasn’t sharp all the time, but he made some plays at the end.”