If not for some pesky, 19th century Ivy Leaguers, the Michigan Wolverines would carry an undefeated record on the date of Nov. 2 into Saturday's showdown with the Michigan State Spartans. Back in 1881 when football still resembled rugby, the Wolverines played -- and lost -- three games on the east coast against Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The middle game took place on Nov. 2, and the Yale Bulldogs dominated the visiting Michiganders by a score of 11-0 in front of 500 people. It was the fifth game in program history for the Wolverines, and needless to say, things only got better after those Ivy League losses in 1881.
Before the 20th century, the Wolverines steamrolled the Oberlin Yeomen 42-0 in 1895, giving Michigan a 5-0 record at that point in the season and 219 points for to zero points against. Six years later in 1901, Michigan defeated the Carlisle Indians (a team out of Pennsylvania from 1893-1917) at Bennett Park in Detroit by a score of 22-0. Reading the New York Times write-up for the game creates more questions than it answers since, for whatever reason, Wu Ting-Fang -- Chinese Minister to the United States -- sat with soon-to-be Michigan Senator Russell Alger in a box seat to watch the game. I don't see a Chinese diplomat traveling to the Big House any time soon, but maybe I'm wrong.
In another six years, the Wolverines traveled to Nashville to beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 8-0. Walter "Octy" Graham kicked two field goals following fumbled punts and accounted for all eight of Michigan's points. Half of a decade later, the South Dakota Coyotes came to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines in the only game in history between the two teams. The 'Yotes carried a 6-0 into the fourth quarter before Michigan scored a touchdown with under a minute left in the game. After converting the extra point, the Wolverines held on to win by a score of 7-6 against a South Dakota team that had been undefeated and crushing their opponents all season.
Passing through the '20s without a Nov. 2 game, the Wolverines didn't hold a game on Saturday's date again until 1935, when they hosted the Penn Quakers for Homecoming. Unlike 1881, Michigan didn't lose again to an Ivy and took the game easily, 16-6. The '35 game would be the last non-conference contest for the Wolverines on Nov. 2, and the next two decades watched them beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 21-0 in '46 and tie the Iowa Hawkeyes 21-21 in '57. The only negative in Michigan's shutout victory against the Gophers was that they failed to score from the one-yard line as time expired. Heading into the '57 game, the Hawkeyes ranked third in the nation but hadn't beaten the Wolverines since 1924 (a span of 13 games). The winless streak continued for Iowa, but Michigan's 11-game winning streak against the Hawkeyes came to an end as Iowa rallied for two touchdowns in the second half.
During the '60s, Michigan beat Northwestern twice: 27-6 in '63 and 35-0 in '68. The '63 game was considered an upset since the Wolverines entered the game with a 1-3-1 record to Northwestern's 4-2. However, the records didn't matter as Michigan dominated the game entirely with the Wildcats gaining their only points in the game's final seconds. '68 saw the opposite happen before the game: the Wolverines entered ranked ninth in the country with a 5-1 record while the Wildcats struggled to a 1-5 start. As expected, Michigan cruised to victory, thanks in large part to a 78 second stretch in the second quarter where the Wolverines scored 21 points.
Similar to the '46 and '57 games, Michigan beat the Indiana Hoosiers in '74 by a score of 21-7 and then followed that with their second Nov. 2 in '85 against the Illinois Fighting Illini. The '74 game doesn't need to be mentioned outside of the fact that it mirrors the 2013 version of the Wolverines: the Hoosiers were an almost 40-point underdog, but mistake-free play coupled with Michigan miscues (two fumbles and one interception) kept the game close to the end.
As for the '85 game, the Chicago Tribune said, "Don't let the final score fool you. This was an exciting, superbly played game, replete with big plays on both sides of the football." The game remained scoreless until a Michigan field goal early in the third quarter. The Wolverines might have scored sooner if not for an unsportmanslike conduct penalty on Bo following a controversial incomplete pass call involving wideout and ex-basketball player Paul Jokisch. According to the Tribune, Schembechler did what he did best and ran "screaming onto the field, almost strangling himself with his headset," but the penalty took the Wolverines out of field goal range. The Illini added three points in the fourth after stalling at Michigan's 11-yard line. The Wolverines made one last push later in the final frame as they drove all the way down to Illinois' nine-yard line before fumbling the ball away. On the ensuing drive, the Illini responded with a drive down to Michigan's 20 to set up a game-winning 37 yard field goal attempt. But Wolverines linebacker Dieter Heren got his fingertips on the ball, forcing the pigskin to hit the crossbar and fall harmlessly to the ground (Heren also tipped the Illini's successful field goal try). With the block, Michigan survived an upset scare and Illinois fell inches short of a season-defining victory.
Seeing as I just spent too many words on a 3-3 tie, I'll briefly mention Michigan's 42-0 win over Purdue in '91: Desmond Howard scored two touchdowns along with 169 all-purpose yards while tying two NCAA records (consecutive games with a touchdown and consecutive games in won season with a touchdown). Following the blowout victory against Purdue, the Wolverines have played two consecutive Nov. 2 games against the Spartans, winning 45-29 in '96 and 49-3 in '02. In the hopes of appeasing the football gods on Saturday, I won't dwell too long on Michigan's past Nov. 2 successes against Sparty. After falling behind 10-7 in '96, the Wolverines crushed the Nick Saban-led Spartans behind 21 second quarter points in a span of 2:01. On the day, Michigan forced five turnovers (four picks, one fumble), limited State's two running backs to 98 total yards rushing, while gaining 409 yards of total offense. Six years later, the score was even more lopsided thanks to a stellar performance by quarterback John Navarre. Throwing for three and rushing for one, Navarre's four touchdowns helped Michigan hand State its biggest defeat since '47. The victory helped erase the bad memories from a year prior, when that whole "Clockgate" mess happened. Watch highlights from '02 here: Part I and Part II.
So, once again, history is on Michigan's side heading into Saturdays' game. If this post and all of the other Maize n Brew game day coverage can't tide you over until kickoff, feel free to revisit the Wolverines and Spartans rivalry in my classic games post from this summer. I'm looking for Michigan's season to turn the corner on Saturday. Go Blue!
Overall Record on Nov. 2
1881 at Yale, 0-11
1895 vs. Oberlin, 42-0
1901 vs. Carlisle, 22-0
1907 at Vanderbilt, 8-0
1912 vs. South Dakota, 7-6
1935 vs. Penn, 16-6
1946 at Minnesota, 21-0
1957 vs. Iowa, 21-21
1963 vs. Northwestern, 27-6
1968 at Northwestern, 35-0
1974 at Indiana, 21-7
1985 at Illinois, 3-3
1991 vs. Purdue, 42-0
1996 vs. Michigan State, 45-29
2002 vs. Michigan State, 49-3