One game after Michigan lost on the final play, the Wolverines won on the final play.
With two seconds left, Minnesota trailed No. 15 Michigan, 29-26, and had the ball on the Wolverines' one-yard line. Rather than kick the chip-shot field goal and send the game to overtime, Minnesota interim coach Tracy Claeys opted to be aggressive and go for the win. The Gophers called a QB sneak for Mitch Leidner, and Michigan formed a wall.
MICHIGAN'S GOAL LINE STAND WINS THE GAME VS. MINNESOTA pic.twitter.com/UbQaoxhFMT— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) November 1, 2015
Michigan's defensive line, which has been one of the nation's best units, stuffed Leidner well short of the goal line, and the Wolverines ran off the field at TCF Bank Stadium in celebration with a dramatic 29-26 win over a stunned Minnesota on Halloween night.
It didn't look like it would end that way, though, for the Wolverines. With less than 30 seconds left, Minnesota's Drew Wolitarsky burned Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling on a double move and hauled in Leidner's underthrown pass right near the goal line. The officials originally ruled it a touchdown, but, upon a review, it was indisputable that Wolitarsky's knee hit the turf with the ball just short of the end zone.
With 18 seconds left, which would begin to run once the ball was set at the one-yard line, and one timeout left, it seemed obvious that the Gophers would snap the ball immediately and try to bury their way across the goal line. However, Minnesota didn't do that and began to motion into a different formation with Leidner moving back into the shotgun. With just seven seconds left, Leidner received the snap and rolled to his right before trying to throw the ball back across to his receiver on the left side. However, the ball sailed incomplete, leaving the Gophers with just two ticks left and a decision.
Minnesota went for it all, and Michigan's defensive line took it for themselves.
The Wolverines were fortunate to walk out with their sixth win of the season. They started strong, using two 40-plus-yard special-teams returns by Jabrill Peppers to set up a one-yard touchdown run for Joe Kerridge and a 13-yard strike from Jake Rudock to Jehu Chesson on a slant through traffic to grab hold of a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. However, Michigan began to fall apart thereafter due to some poor decisions by Rudock and some fortunate passes down the field by Leidner that somehow weren't intercepted or batted down by Michigan's secondary. And one of those passes ended with a 52-yard touchdown for the Gophers. Thus, Minnesota took a 16-14 edge into halftime.
Michigan and Minnesota then traded touchdowns in the third quarter. The Wolverines regained the lead when, on the six-yard line, Peppers took the snap in the Wildcat, ran left on a crackback sweep, and bulldozed a Gophers defender that weighed at least 50 pounds more than him for an extra three yards a touchdown. However, Minnesota responded later in the quarter when Delano Hill got caught peeking into the backfield on a zone read, and Leidner pulled the ball and broke to the outside. Hill realized his mistake but slipped when he tried to recover. The Wolverines couldn't recover, and Leidner was able to speed 24 yards into the end zone. Minnesota had a 23-21 lead.
There was still lots of time for Michigan to retake the lead, but all hope looked lost when Rudock scrambled and took a wicked shot to the head as he went to the ground. Rudock exited the game and didn't return. Rather than insert Shane Morris, whom Jim Harbaugh has insisted would be the backup if Rudock was to be injured, Harbaugh went with redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, who had never completed a pass in his college career.
Speight got off to a shaky start, missing on his first three passes, which allowed the Gophers to tack on another field goal to extend their lead to 26-21. However, with some excellent starting field position at the Minnesota 40-yard line with 8:36 left in the game, Speight completed passes to Jake Butt and Khalid Hill to put Michigan at the 12-yard line. Then, facing a 3rd & 10, Speight dropped back to pass and threw a strike to Chesson on a slant for a touchdown. Michigan went for two to earn a field-goal cushion, and Speight stepped up again, figuratively and literally. Speight felt pressure and moved up in the pocket before lobbing a pass to Amara Darboh, who caught it at its highest point.
Michigan 29, Minnesota 26. 4:57 left. And Michigan finished it off on the final play.
It wasn't the prettiest win for Michigan. The offense gained only 296 yards and averaged only 4.9 yards per play, while the Minnesota was able to gash the Wolverines' defense for big plays both on the ground and in the air, averaging 6.8 yards per play -- easily the worst performance by Michigan's defense. But you take any win you can get on the road.
And Michigan will take this one to improve to 6-2 and keep its Big Ten East hopes alive.
Oh, and the Little Brown Jug gets to return to its rightful home: Ann Arbor.