When the pass left Tate's hands I didn't think it had a prayer. After of day of misfires and mistakes, watching the ball spiral toward a receiver well out of the camera's view filled me with an awful trepidation. It looked under thrown. Tate was hurt. He was walking around the field turf gingerly holding his right arm so as not to make any unnecessary movements. Yet, despite the obvious pain in his throwing shoulder, there he was throwing deep on third down. Balls out. Going for it all.
Nine months earlier against Indiana a similar story unfolded. Missed chances. An inexplicably inept offense that looked like a world beater not two weeks earlier. A porous defense that couldn't stop the conference's worst offense from scoring at will. Michigan was clinging to the ropes in a game that, on paper, shouldn't have been close. And as the clock quickly ticked toward nothingness, another iceberg cold shooter lifted up for one more triple in an attempt to tie the game. When I saw Laval Lucas-Perry launch it, I was certain it would be yet another brick in the bunker Michigan had been building all night. But, dammit all, if Michigan was going down, they were going down firing.
And the ball hung up there. Seemingly forever. Gliding down on its arc toward its destination. It going to be short. No. Maybe its got a chance. It's almost there. Oh god.....
Just like that the fortunes of an afternoon seemed to shift. Michigan was back on top or tied. They could win this one. Then it hit you. The defense had to make a stop. The same defense that had been gashed on the corners, up the middle, on basic screen plays, for long bombs. The defense would have to be the difference after a day it would rather forget. But then, 25 seconds later, a 15 footer bounced harmlessly off the rim and Donovan Warren broke on the ball a step quicker than Damarlo Belcher and Michigan had escaped with a win it really shouldn't have wrested away.
(more after the Jump....)
Saturday's contest against Indiana was not a pretty one, or one that people will want to look back on as a shining example of Michigan excellence. It was ugly. Defensively, Michigan received an all around torching at the hands of one the Big Ten's historically most inept offenses. Indiana averaged 6 yards a carry, and 13 yards a completion. The Hoosiers took every inch of ground the Wolverines soft coverage allowed them and exploited Michigan's linebackers in the run game. With that, Indiana still mounted drives of 11 and 12 plays in the second half. During the first half, the Defense was run ragged by the Indiana offense, surrendering 23 points and allowing Indiana to control the ball for over 18 minutes. Then there was shifting away from Indiana's 85 yard fourth quarter touchdown run.
The Offense, after two quick scores, immediately went to sleep. Horrid snaps that killed drives. Drops. Bad reads and throws. Fumbles and interceptions. Shelving Carlos Brown despite gaining over 100 yards in his first four series. Indiana danced all over the Michigan backfield, amassing an incredible 7 tackles for loss including two sacks. The offense seemed to be outsmarting itself, passing when it didn't need to and abandoning its running backs for prolonged stretches of time.
Yet, Michigan was never out of the game and never outside of a touchdown from the lead.
For all the errors and frustrations, Michigan answered its mistakes with stellar individual efforts. Ryan Van Bergen emerged in the second half as a force in Indiana's backfield, picking up a crucial sack and nearly picking off an Indiana screen. Zoltan Mesko single handedly shifted the playing field, pinning Indiana deep in its own territory on nearly every occasion. Tate Forcier overcame his worst game to date in the passing game by scrambling for first downs, touchdowns, and to make time in the passing game. Donovan Warren, well, you know. Martavious Odoms adjusting to Tate's final throw for a touchdown he never would have caught a year earlier. And Carlos Brown being the guy we all knew he could be.
And then there were the team victories. When it mattered both the offensive and defensive lines stiffened. Walk-ons and no-names stepped into vacancies left by four and five star injuries and performed admirably. Michigan's defense allowed Indiana only 3 points from Indiana's second half trips into Michigan's red-zone. On offense, when it mattered, Michigan marched 52 yards in 8 plays for the game winning touchdown, sealing it in dramatic fashion.
It was exhilarating and exhausting all at once. Constant frustration matched with heart pounding excitement. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Saturday Michigan was supposed to take care of business. They were supposed to play the way we've built them up in our minds to play.
Just like January 7, 2009, Michigan isn't there yet. A big win here and there had us believing they're a team they haven't grown up enough yet to be. Michigan is a good young team with plenty of potential. We've seen glances of that potential and on Saturday we finally saw full view just how young they are. On Friday we were debating rankings, bubbles, brackets, and bowls. On Monday we're wiping away beads of sweet realizing we dodged a bullet we were too cocky to notice was heading our way.
But LLP's shot still found the twine, even if it bounced around on the rim before finally heading through; and Tate's pass found Odom's waiting fingers when it mattered. This Michigan team, like its basketball brethren, will not give up. They are a determined bunch. Injuries, mistakes, and tough competition may bring out their youth. But it will also bring out their best. They showed that on Saturday.