As we near the end of September, the dates of Michigan games played continues to push deeper into the past. The end of the September's third week features the first 1960s game in this series, an unfortunate season-opening loss against the California Golden Bears. The game took place in 1968, which ended up being Bump Elliott's final year at the helm of Michigan Football. Bump and the Wolverines looked to change their downward trend since Elliott won his only Big Ten title in 1964. The best Michigan finish since then was a 6-4 record and a third place tie in '66. For California, the Golden Bears aimed to do anything but struggle on the football field. Going into the '68 game, Cal had only one winning season to their name since 1953: the 1958 season saw the Golden Bears finish the year 7-4 after a loss to Iowa in the Rose Bowl. Led by running back Gary Fowler, the Golden Bears ground attack dominated the Wolverines defense to the tune of 240 total rushing yards and three touchdowns by Fowler (which ended up being a third of his total touchdown haul that season). After the upset, both teams finished '68 with semi-successful season. Cal finished with it's first winning record in 15 years at 7-3-1 and in his last year, Bump coached Michigan to a 8-2 finish, with a blowout 50-14 loss at the hands of Ohio being the final moment in his coaching career.
Next on the list is a home game against Colorado in the Week 2 of 1974. By the time the Buffaloes rolled into Ann Arbor that Sept. 21, Bo had already led the Wolverines to four Big Ten championships (three shared) in five years, with a second place tie the lone exception. Michigan hadn't lost since the '72 Ohio game, a winning streak of 12 games. On the other sideline, first-year head coach Bill Mallory looked to right the ship in Boulder after a disappointing end to a fairly successful stint for former head coach Eddie Crowder. Unfortunately for Mallory, the Buffaloes wouldn't be taking a huge step forward by upsetting the Wolverines. Michigan dominated the game inside and out, racking up 388 yards of total offense and scoring a touchdown a quarter in various ways: an 88-yard punt return in the first quarter, a fumble recovery in the second, one on the ground in the third, and one through the air in the fourth. The Wolverines added a field goal early on in the final frame, making the final score 31-0. Michigan's defense didn't allow Colorado past the Michigan 32-yard line, and the Buffaloes moved the ball that far only once, on the first drive of the game. After the rout, Michigan won the next eight in a row before falling to Ohio to end the season.
After Bo's worst season in 1984 (a 6-6 record and tied for sixth place finish in the Big Ten), the Wolverines needed to prove themselves in '85. Prior to playing South Carolina in Week 2 on Sept. 21, unranked Michigan upset #13 ranked Notre Dame 20-12 in the season opener. The win moved the Wolverines into the polls at #19, but they'd still be the underdog against the #15 ranked Gamecocks in Columbia. Unlike the rankings for both teams, the game wouldn't be close as the Wolverines destroyed South Carolina 34-3. Jim Harbaugh led the Michigan offense as they put up 507 total yards -- 324 rushing and 183 passing. On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines defense held the Gamecocks to a mere 33 yards in the first 27 and a half minutes. Michigan ended up losing one game that year, to eventual Big Ten champs Iowa, and the Wolverines finished second 10-1-1 after crushing Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl.
For the final two games on the list, I'm not going to say much. Why, you ask? Because they're too similar to last week's almost-meltdown against Akron. In '96 against Boston College, Michigan gave the Eagles the lead for most of the game thanks to missed field goals, turnovers, and penalties (sound familiar?). But the defense came through to ensure Michigan won the game (sound familiar?) with an interception to set up a fourth quarter touchdown and another to seal the game. It's kind of funny to note that against the Eagles, Michigan fumbled seven times but only lost two. After Boston, the Wolverines stumbled at the end of the season, losing three of the last four, including the Outback Bowl against Alabama.
2002 saw much of the same. #14 ranked Michigan welcomed the Utah Utes to Ann Arbor expecting an easy victory against the Mountain West team. However, the Wolverines didn't perform well against the Utes, missing two of three field goals and losing a fumble inside Utah's five-yard line. Lucky for Michigan, their defense showed up to play and limited Utah to 13 rushing yards on 20 carries. Strong safety Julius Curry secured the game for Michigan with two interceptions on the day, one in the final minute of regulation. After the close call, the Wolverines lost top-ranked battles against Iowa and Ohio before beating Florida in the Outback Bowl to finish 10-3.
Like last week, here's to Michigan adding a fifth win on Sept. 21 this Saturday against UConn. Go Blue!
Overall Record on September 21st
1968 vs. California, 7-21
1974 vs. Colorado, 31-0
1985 at #15 South Carolina, 34-3
1996 vs. Boston College, 20-14
2002 vs. Utah, 10-7