\MADISON All season, No. 11 Michigan (6-1 Big Ten, 8-2 overall) has found different ways to win games.
Against No. 10 Illinois, the Wolverines outsmarted the opponent, using gimmick plays to lap the Fighting Illini, 45-20.
Against Iowa, Michigan caught an unexpected break when Marquise Walker grabbed a one-handed touchdown pass to push Michigan past the Hawkeyes, 32-26.
Then, against Wisconsin this past Saturday, it was Michigan”s special teams that shined. While the game will be remembered for a late-game turnover, that play would have been inconsequential if not for unbelievable play from all aspects of the special teams.
Michigan blocked two punts returning one for a touchdown which led to 10 points.
What”s more, when the punt rush didn”t get to the ball, it applied enough pressure on Wisconsin punter R.J. Morse that he that he could feel the heat he averaged just 29.8 yards per punt.
While all aspects of Michigan”s special teams were impressive, the biggest play of the game was without a doubt when Michigan kicker Hayden Epstein punted the ball to Wisconsin with 12 seconds left in a tied game.
The Badgers had all 11 players on the line trying to block the punt, and when Epstein got the punt off, Michigan was going to let the ball bounce around and take up as much time as possible. That”s when Wisconsin”s Brett Bell found himself a little too close to the ball.
The ball took a high bounce off of the Astroturf and hit Bell in the leg, creating a fumble.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who didn”t see the play because he was watching to make sure the punt wasn”t blocked.
“On my phones (the assistant coaches) were saying, “We got the ball, we got the ball.” I looked down the field and sure enough, we had the ball.”
The play left Bell distraught. “I hope (my teammates) don”t blame (the loss) on me,” he said. “I”m sorry.”
After Williams recovered the ball, Epstein had to make a game-winning 31-yard kick with just 10 seconds left a task made even more difficult because Epstein was winded from running down the field to celebrate Williams” play.
“I was sprinting down the field to give (Williams) a hug,” Epstein said. “I was pretty winded. It was nice to catch my breath” on the timeout.
Carr opted to kick the field goal right away rather than center the ball first because his team had no timeouts and he didn”t want to create any last-second controversy, which happened three weeks earlier when Michigan State got two plays off in the final 12 seconds.
The final sequence would have never happened had Wisconsin”s freshman place kicker Mark Neuser made a 36-yard field goal from the center hash.
His kick was just right of the goal post, putting the Wolverines in a no-lose situation either they score and win, or don”t score and play overtime.
Ultimately, the Wolverines” offense which totaled just 45-second half yards had to punt, setting up the memorable play.