The tale of this game day begins in the 1969 season opener and first game for new Michigan Wolverines head coach, Mr. Glenn Edward Schembechler, Jr. You probably know him as Bo. The Wolverines dominated the Vanderbilt Commodores (a program that's averaged
1.64 wins 1.64 conference wins and 4 total wins per year since being a charter member of the SEC in '33) in the game, something Michigan fans everywhere hope to see this Saturday against the Utah Utes.
It's the easiest and most obvious choice for this game day, but it's impossible to pick against Bo's first win as Michigan's head coach. He is Michigan football. The game started slow, and the Wolverines failed to pull away with one touchdown on the ground in each of the first two quarters. Michigan let Vanderbilt back in the game early in the third quarter with some quick passing and a rushing touchdown to make the game 14-7. This scored remained heading into the fourth quarter. However, the Wolverines woke up and crushed the Commodores in the final minutes. Michigan capped the victory off with a 71-yard touchdown drive, followed by a blocked punt returned for a score, followed by an interception returned into Vanderbilt territory, followed by another rushing touchdown before reserves entered the game to score another touchdown on the ground before the final buzzer. At the time, it looked like a promising start for Michigan's new head coach. I doubt many would have predicted that it marked the beginning of the most prominent and successful era in Wolverines football history behind one of the greatest coaches of all-time. Watch game highlights here.
Defeat Win Tie
Of the four remaining games, only one wasn't a letdown in some way, and that's Michigan's rout of Baylor in '97. After giving up an early field goal to the Bears, the Wolverines never looked back, scoring 38 unanswered points while outgaining Baylor in total offense 532 to 134 yards (could you imagine that happening today?). Watch the highlights here.
In '86, #3 ranked Michigan was favored by 40 points over the Oregon State Beavers (a program that averaged just over two wins - 2.04 to be exact - per season from 1972-97). However, the Wolverines held a slim 17-12 lead heading into the fourth quarter before putting the game away. Check out highlights here.
Since I'm choosing to ignore the loss against Notre Dame in '80, that leaves one game left to talk about on Sept. 20, a 19-19 against the Stanford Cardinal in '75. Back then, the Cardinal weren't the powerhouse they are today, but they weren't a slouch either. After winning back-to-back Pac-8 titles in '70 and '71, they finished in the top-three in all but one of the next six seasons. However, Michigan still entered as 27-point favorites and the second-ranked team in the country. The first half watched the teams trade touchdowns: Stanford scored in the first quarter and Michigan in the second, but a missed extra-point attempt by the Cardinal gave the Wolverines a 7-6 halftime lead. Following the break, Michigan's offense failed to finish a drive the rest of the game as kicker Bob Wood booted a pair of field goals in each of the final quarters, including two in the final six minutes. Trailing by a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter, the Cardinal opened the final frame with a touchdown before trading field goals with Michigan to finish the game. Stanford's final score came with nine seconds remaining. The tie was unexpected and happened mainly due to Cardinal quarterback Mike Cordova exploiting a young Wolverines secondary late in the game. Behind 24 of 44 passing for 285 yards and two touchdowns, Cordova led his team to Michigan's two-yard line with 36 seconds remaining and a fresh set of downs. However, Michigan stood tall and salvaged a tie. Bo commented after the game: "We played good enough to tie. But that's not what you play for." The tie thwarted Bo's first bid at 100 victories (Michigan would tie again in the following week against Baylor before giving Bo a win against #5 Missouri two weeks later).
Overall Record on Sept. 20
1969 vs. Vanderbilt, 42-14
1975 vs. Stanford, 19-19
1980 at Notre Dame, 27-29
1986 vs. Oregon State, 31-12
1997 vs. Baylor, 38-3
So far this season, I've included a bonus section at the end of the article, looking at different season characteristics and how Michigan's performed in those seasons. I'm going to wait and bulk it up a bit more for next week. So in lieu of that, I'll leave you with Bo's "The Team" speech. And if you have time and access to them, I suggest reading Bo's Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership and/or Bo: Life, Laughs, and Lessons of a College Football Legend. Also, if anyone has direct contact with Brady Hoke, tell him to do the same and take some notes. Go Blue!