The critics said that, coming off a bye week, Michigan would be flat against Indiana. The doubters said the Wolverines would be peeking ahead, thinking about next week’s showdown with Ohio State. And it looked as if they might be right – for a little more than three minutes.
The Hoosiers made football look easy on their first possession, driving 77 yards on seven plays to go up by seven early on a deep pass to wide receiver Jahkeen Gilmore. But they needed a lot more than that.
By the time Michigan left the field with a 41-14 victory, the majority of Michigan Stadium’s 110,580 fans were long gone, and the majority of the starters were off the field as well. What started as a possibly challenging Big Ten football game – with Indiana needing a win to become bowl eligible – ended in a romp and a showcase of talent for the Wolverines (4-3 Big Ten, 7-3 overall), who now need a win against Ohio State and a Penn State loss to Michigan State next week for a share of the Big Ten title and trip to a BCS game.
“We still need a few balls to bounce our way,” defensive lineman Gabe Watson said. “And hopefully, that will still happen. But it’s nice after starting off slow and being on a roller coaster to win one and lose one and in the final stretch start to win.”
The star of the talent show was wide receiver Steve Breaston, who returned to Rose Bowl form. The redshirt junior put a lot of mileage on his tires Saturday, racking up 201 all-purpose yards. He caught three passes, had a reverse for 30 yards rushing and even threw an incomplete pass. But the majority of his work came in the return game. Breaston returned three punts for a total of 78 yards and brought one kickoff back 47 yards.
That return came directly after Indiana’s first touchdown pass, just three minutes into the game. It set up Michigan and quarterback Chad Henne nicely for a quick strike to tight end Tyler Ecker that evened the score at seven. He played just the first half of the game, but Henne put up some of his most impressive numbers of the year: 17-for-24, 174 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Michigan offense came out throwing – offensive coordinator Terry Malone called just one running play on Michigan’s first, 34-yard drive – and Henne’s offense was never forced to punt.
“Chad’s always in control,” Breaston said after the game. “He played like he’s done the whole year.”
When Henne turned over the reins at halftime, Michigan already had a comfortable 41-7 cushion. From there, the gameplan was just to run the clock. Backup Matt Gutierrez looked capable, completing just over 50 percent of his passes, but he was working with mainly the second string, and his primary job was to protect the lead. In fact, Indiana’s only other touchdown came off a Gutierrez fumble, and Indiana forced three punts while Gutierrez was in the game. But the redshirt junior quarterback did get the opportunity to show off his speed, taking off for an 11-yard scramble at the start of the fourth quarter.
Although Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Mike Hart, who has been nursing a hamstring injury for the last few weeks, was capable of playing in Saturday’s win, the sophomore running back didn’t play any snaps. Instead, freshman Kevin Grady got the start and the majority of the carries. Grady finished with 94 yards on just 14 carries – a whopping 6.7 yards per carry.
On one play in the second quarter, Grady swept to his left where he was hit and appeared to go down for a minimal gain. But 230-pound back kept churning his legs and burst out the other side of the pile. That run was good for 32 yards and one of his two touchdowns on the day.
“That was a great run,” Henne said. “It just shows how, if he plays low, his legs are overpowering.”
It was clear from the opening drive that the Michigan coaching staff had been working on some new ideas during its bye week. The playbook was opened up, and younger players such as star freshman Antonio Bass were a major part of the offense.
By the time the rout was finished, seven different backs had run the ball and 10 different receivers had caught a pass. Bass finished with seven touches for 41 yards.
Right tackle Jake Long played just three series before coming out of the game and apparently getting treatment on the sideline. When asked about why Long didn’t play in the second half, Carr said, “A lot of guys didn’t play in the second half.” But Long left Michigan Stadium in a boot.