It was sloppy. It was dominating. It was careless. It was efficient. It was lackadaisical. It was resilient.
The Michigan offense. The Michigan defense.
The two played like polar opposites Saturday. Still, together they were able to pull out an uninspiring 31-17 win over Indiana.
“Emotionally, we were not at a peak,” Lloyd Carr said. “What you have to learn how to do is play when you are not at a peak. We have played two weeks of very emotionally draining football games.”
In all fairness, after coming off a thrashing of Notre Dame, followed by a heartbreaker in Oregon, it would be difficult for anyone to get up for a game against the bottom-feeding Hoosiers (1-4 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) – even if it was the Big Ten opener.
But it wasn’t just Michigan’s lack of energy that was disappointing. It was the offensive mistakes.
The Wolverines committed four turnovers in the first half. On the opening drive of the game, Michigan’s John Navarre threw an interception at the Indiana 3-yard line after Michigan had driven 65 yards down the field. The pick was thrown right after a 41-yard run by Chris Perry and killed the Wolverines’ offensive momentum.
Michigan’s second drive ended with another interception, although this time Navarre’s pass ricocheted off Perry and into the hands of a Indiana safety Luke Stone at the Hoosiers’ 19.
“I threw pretty well today,” Navarre said. “It was hard to get into a rhythm early in the game. I felt like we found that rhythm, though, and when we did, things began to work better.”
Perry also didn’t seem like himself, as he fumbled twice in the game, and had difficulty finding holes early on. Still, he finished the game with 112 rushing yards. The Wolverines were able to escape, though, as Indiana failed to capitalize on these early errors.
At the end of the second quarter, Navarre finally connected with Steve Breaston for a 20-yard touchdown catch to make it 24-0. The only problem was, it had been the Wolverines’ special teams and defense that had accounted for the first 17 points.
After a dreadful performance against Oregon, Michigan’s special teams came out strong. Punt returner Steve Breaston opened the scoring with a 69-yard punt return in the first quarter to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.
“The first rule as a punt returner is to make the first guy miss,” Breaston said. “I felt like the guys up front did a great job keeping their guys off me ,and all I needed to do was finish the play.”
Breaston’s punt return for a touchdown was the first since Charles Woodson’s return against Ohio State in 1997.
The kicking game was also back on track, as freshman Garrett Rivas knocked through a 44-yard field goal in the second quarter. The field goal kicking job has been up in the air, thus far, as Adam Finley and Rivas have both been called upon at times to handle the kicking.
The defense was unwavering, as usual. Even though Indiana won the time of possession battle and ran more offensive plays than the Wolverines, the defense was up to the challenge. It only allowed just 209 total yards of offense and scored a 61-yard touchdown on an interception by Jeremy LeSueur.
“I think we have been much better this year at not giving up the big plays,” Carr said. “Those were the things that really hurt us last year and I think we have done a great job with it so far this year.”
But it was clear that the emotional highs and lows of the past few weeks set the tone for the Wolverines’ play.
“This week was tough to get through,” Navarre said. “But now we have this monkey off our backs and we can concentrate on Iowa next Saturday.”