Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez may have surpassed last season’s win total, but it definitely didn’t come without struggle.
A late fourth quarter 26-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Tate Forcier to sophomore slot receiver Martavious Odoms vaulted the No. 23 Michigan football team to a 36-33 over Indiana.
“What are the guys doing to us?” Rodriguez said in his postgame press conference. “It was a tough battle, and we did not play well at times. … We got a nice win, and we got a lot of things to work on.”
Indiana struck early and often. On their first drive, the Hooseirs ran an option pitch left for a 25-yard gain and the early score.
Senior tailback Carlos Brown responded 23 seconds later with a 61-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Brown jumped to catch the pass from Forcier and went basically untouched until he reached the pylon and was caught up by an Indiana defender. Last week against Eastern Michigan, Brown tallied a career-best 187 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown run.
After holding Indiana to 3-and-out, Brown exploded again for a 41-yard scoring run. A solid block from sophomore tight end Kevin Koger opened the floodgates for Brown, who finished the day with 85 rushing yards.
The Hoosiers stung back two drives later with a quick two-play, 67-yard scoring drive. After a 56-yard pass to Tandon Doss, Willis slipped around the left side and quickly found the end zone.
Following Brown’s second scoring run, the Wolverines couldn’t get the offense going and fell short with back-to-back 3-and-outs.
A couple Michigan turnovers gave the Hoosiers optimal field position throughout the second quarter.
“We had a lot of unforced errors too, but we got the win,” Rodriguez said. “I’m proud of the guys. We’ve talked all year that we’re going to have to play every game for 60 minutes. We have to get out and battle, and we did that.”
After Zoltan Mesko’s punt rolled out of bounds at the Indiana 41-yard line, the Hoosiers capitalized with good field position. Indiana quickly excelled past midfield and picked up 52 yards on nine plays. The Wolverines held the Hoosiers to a 24-yard field goal, to give Indiana a 17-14 lead.
On the next drive, Forcier threw the second interception of his career. Scrambling in the pocket, Forcier attempted to throw the ball away, but instead threw a short, high lob, which was picked off by 293-pound defensive tackle Nicolas Slinger.
With great field position, Indiana quickly crept up to the Michigan 3-yard line and capped off the drive with a 20-yard field goal to take the lead, 20-14.
Forcier’s underwhelming first-half performance cleared the way for freshman Denard Robinson under center. Robinson responded quickly and finished going 2-for-3. Though many have deemed Robinson a pure running quarterback, the Deerfield, Fla. native responded with a 3-yard pass to redshirt freshman slot receiver Kelvin Grady and a 36-yard bomb to Koger. Senior tailback Brandon Minor finished the drive with a run up the middle. Minor fell into the end zone for the score and gave the Wolverines the lead at 21-20.
But Robinson’s heroics only carried him so far. Two drives later, Hoosier defensive end Jammie Kirlew forced a fumble. Kirlew returned the fumble for a seven-yard gain, and Indiana finished with a 30-yard field goal to go into the locker room with a 23-21 lead.
Fifth-year senior center David Moosman, filling in for an injured David Molk, attempted to catch a Hoosier defensive lineman off guard by making a quick snap to Forcier. But the play floundered, resulting in a fumble and a 22-yard loss.
From their own 17-yard line, the Hoosiers moved swiftly on the next drive. On a long pass to Tandon Doss, conernerback J.T. Floyd drew a questionable pass interference penalty, giving the Hoosiers a first down at the 50-yard line. Michigan’s defense once again held off a touchdown, but Indiana kicker Nick Freeland’s foot couldn’t miss. Freeland notched another field goal, to give the Hoosiers a 26-21 lead.
Robinson recovered another fumbled snap on the next drive, his 2nd in the game. Forcier immediately reentered the game after the fumble, but couldn’t convert, leaving Michigan with another 3-and-out.
Just as the Wolverines looked like they wouldn’t convert for another first down. Forcier found redshirt sophomore Kelvin Grady deep in the slot for an 18-yard gain. Thanks to some timely carries from Brown and Minor, the Wolverines found themselves 12 yards from a score. Forcier showed his vertical aptitude and sacrificed his body as he leapt over the throng of defenders at the goal line for the score.
Going for the two-point conversion, Forcier held onto the ball and ran up the middle to give Michigan a 29-26 lead with 9:15 to play in the game.
Just as a sigh of relief fell over the Big House, in 18 seconds, that good feeling subsided. Willis broke free for an 85-yard touchdown run. Williams zoomed into the end zone leaving Michigan’s secondary trailing behind, including a falling Donovan Warren. It was the longest Indiana touchdown run by any Hoosier since 1977. It was the longest run against Michigan since 1987, giving Indiana a 33-29.
Forcier gave fans an even bigger scare when he went down, apparently injured with less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter. But the true freshman responded fluidly with his late touchdown pass to Odoms.
“There’s no panic,” Rodriguez said. I think a lot of times with young guys they don’t panic as much. 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. We know we can play a lot better, and we have to next week.