To most opposing quarterbacks, cornerback Leon Hall’s No. 29 jersey is like a scarlet letter – to be avoided at all costs.
But Northwestern signal caller C.J. Bacher had no such aversion to the All-America candidate. Facing an intense rush all day, Bacher often threw to Hall’s side.
It wasn’t a good idea.
“I don’t really think (Hall) was getting picked on,” cornerback Brandon Harrison said. “They were just throwing it there. . I don’t know what they were thinking.”
Facing Northwestern’s pass-heavy attack – the Wildcats threw 42 times – Hall had one of the best games of his illustrious career at Michigan.
In the first half, Hall was credited with two pass break-ups and impacted numerous other plays. During one notable sequence late in the second quarter, Hall nearly came up with interceptions on consecutive plays, helping to force a three-and-out.
The usually sure-handed Hall couldn’t come up with a pick early on, and Bacher kept throwing in Hall’s direction. Midway through the third quarter, the quarterback finally paid the price.
On first-and-10, Bacher dropped back and looked left. He threw to the left sideline, and Hall broke, leapt and intercepted his third pass of the season. The pick set up Michigan’s second and final touchdown of the game.
“When we came in at halftime, we were clowning a little bit, saying (Hall) didn’t have any hands,” Harrison said. “And as soon as we get out, he gets a pick.”
Hall finished the game with three tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and two pass break-ups. The message to Michigan’s future opponents came through loud and clear: throw in Hall’s direction at your own risk.
“From a technical standpoint, I don’t think we’ve ever had anybody any better,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “When you’re around the football so much, good things are going to happen.”
J-Jack’s here: Senior running back Jerome Jackson has certainly had his moments as a Michigan player. Last year against Iowa, he scored the game-winning touchdown. The next game, he ran for 105 yards against Northwestern.
But after sustaining an injury in this year’s training camp, the Saginaw native fell to fourth on Michigan’s running back depth chart, behind sophomore Kevin Grady and freshman Brandon Minor. Going into Saturday’s game, Jackson had rushed just five times on the year.
Against Northwestern, Jackson took advantage of his first real opportunity to shine this season. With the Wolverines nursing a 14-point lead, Carr called on Jackson to run the ball and eat up the clock in the fourth quarter.
Jackson didn’t disappoint. He rushed nine times, picked up 59 yards and finished off the game with an electric 33-yard scamper down the right sideline.
“I told Jerome Jackson three or four weeks ago – he was hurt during training camp and he was down getting some snaps in practice – I told him, ‘I know we can count on you. You just have to be ready,’ ” Carr said. “I thought today, he really stepped in with an opportunity and made the most of it.”
Jackson’s chance came at the expense of the other two back-up running backs. With Mike Hart limited due to a back injury, neither Grady nor Minor took advantage of his playing time. The duo ran 12 times for just 32 yards, and each back fumbled.
“I think Jerome ran the best (of the back-up running backs) today,” Hart said. “I think he started getting into his flow, so we kept giving him the ball. I think it’s about getting into a flow, and Jerome got it first, so he got to carry it the most today.”
Pinning ’em deep: With winds in excess of 25 miles-per-hour whipping through Michigan Stadium, conditions were hardly perfect for the kicking game. But Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko didn’t mind.
Mesko’s 35.5-yard punting average didn’t jump off the stat sheet. But the redshirt freshman showed fantastic touch on his pooch punts. He placed four out of his six punts inside the 20-yard line, helping Michigan control the field position game.
“The ball was moving everywhere in warm-ups,” Mesko said. “So I was like, ‘You really got to buckle down today and do your job as much as you can.’ “
Arrington disciplined: Wide receiver Adrian Arrington, who was recently charged with domestic violence, did not start Saturday’s game. He sat out Michigan’s first five plays – all of which were runs – and then caught a 14-yard touchdown pass on his first play of the game.
“I’m not gonna get into it other than it’s a team issue,” Carr said. “When you use poor judgment, there’s a price, and (Arrington is) paying that price.”
Arrington’s pretrial hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1.
Injury update: After nine straight weeks of play with no bye week, the Wolverines sideline is starting to look a bit like an infirmary.
Hart injured his back in the second quarter, after getting hit into a first-down marker on a screen pass. He returned to the game and scored a touchdown in the third quarter.
“I thought maybe at the half that he wouldn’t play again,” Carr said. “But he told me. He came right out as soon as we loosened up and got back on the field. He really wanted to go, and after the turnover (Leon Hall’s interception), we gave him a couple of snaps.”
Offensive lineman Alex Mitchell came out of the game in the second half and was replaced by redshirt freshman Mark Ortmann. Carr indicated that Mitchell would be ready for next week.
True freshman Justin Boren got the start at right guard in fifth-year senior Rueben Riley’s absence. Riley was injured last week against Iowa. He dressed, and could have played, but Carr decided to give Riley an extra week to recover.
Carr said that sophomore wide receiver Mario Manningham was “close” to returning after he ran on Friday.
Tight ends Mike Massey and Tyler Ecker didn’t suit up. Carr indicated that Ecker’s recovery was progressing well. He didn’t comment on Massey’s status.