Michigan’s situation at running back to start the game wasn’t ideal with Donovan Edwards ruled out, and then things got worse in the second quarter when Heisman candidate Blake Corum left the game after taking a hit to the knee. Corum would return for one rush in the second half but players like C.J. Stokes and Isaiah Gash were the ones who had to carry the load the rest of the way.
For Gash, his biggest contributions came as a pass-catcher. Gash had three receptions on the day for 24 yards, but that stat-line doesn’t tell the full story — two plays do. One was a big drop, the other a huge catch.
With under four minutes in the game and Michigan trailing Illinois 17-13, the Wolverines found themselves in the red zone with a 2nd & 11 opportunity. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw it to a wide-open Gash, who appeared to have a good angle to get a first down or more. Unfortunately for the Wolverines Gash didn’t haul it in and Jake Moody would ultimately kick a field goal to narrow the deficit to 17-16.
Michigan would get the ball back with a chance to win, but the situation became dire. Michigan needed to convert on 4th & 3 or the game would be over. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said they opted to roll with a new play that was originally designed for Blake Corum. Gash had just one practice rep on the play all week. Gash, an amateur boxer, rolled with the figurative punches and told Harbaugh he was comfortable being the go-to guy.
“Talked about it on the sideline — he said he got it, he would be able to execute it and he did a fantastic job doing it in the game," Harbaugh explained. "The most critical moment picking up that fourth. I’m really happy with Isaiah Gash. Cemented a big place in my heart. So many guys, so many others. Locker room of heroes.”
Isaiah Gash goes from dropping a pass to becoming a hero in the course of minutes hauling in a pass on 4th down. pic.twitter.com/iFC4VWknIi— Trevor Woods (@WoodsFootball) November 20, 2022
McCarthy said that they practiced that play all week for Cover One coverage. That’s the coverage Illinois showed and McCarthy knew what to do.
Michigan converts on 4th down! pic.twitter.com/ZntI8zdc0C— Swapty Sports (@SwaptySports) November 19, 2022
“He obviously doesn’t want to drop that ball, so I know that he’s gonna come back the next opportunity he gets and makes that play. Him dropping that, I was almost more inclined to go back to him because I know that there’s a better chance he’s gonna make that next time.”
Each week is unpredictable in football. Injuries happen and new players emerge and have a chance at carving out their collegiate legacy. Gash, who’s been with the program since 2020 and has rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns this season, had the biggest play of his career yesterday against Illinois. He had a key role in Michigan’s victory.