If you’ve watched Michigan football all year, you’ve seen a team that usually dominates its opponents from start to finish, leaving little doubt that they’re the best team on the field and among the nation’s best. Saturday was a different story though, as the Wolverines were taken down to the wire by a six-win Maryland team ahead of a major matchup with Ohio State next week.
With Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa dealing in the second half and Michigan’s usually sharp offense unable to move the ball at times, there was some doubt that Michigan would secure the win. However, the Wolverines relied on their fundamentals and veteran players to get the job done, eventually winning by a final score of 31-24.
It was far from being all bad for Michigan in this game, as the Wolverines got off to a solid start in the first quarter, thanks in part to a massive special teams play by Christian Boivin, who blocked a punt that would eventually be batted out of the end zone for a safety.
The special teams would come up big throughout the game, specifically punter Tommy Doman who consistently pinned Maryland deep to prevent their offense from getting short fields against Michigan’s stout defense. His biggest punt of the game came in the closing minutes, where the ball was downed at the one-yard line, helping to set up another safety that would effectively ice the game.
“It’s huge for momentum and huge for field position,” said interim head coach Sherrone Moore in regards to the special teams unit’s big plays.
“Those plays are the plays that make the difference in games like this,” said fifth-year senior Mike Sainristil as well. Sainristil had a major impact on this game in his own right, as he would have two big interceptions, including one in the game’s final minutes, that would help to halt Maryland’s momentum.
Sainristil’s interceptions certainly made an impact on the game, but where him and other experienced members of the team also made an impact was through their leadership and mindset that are needed in games like this.
“At halftime we told the fellas keep doing what we’re doing, stop shooting ourselves in the foot - just stay locked in,” said Sainristil. In games that don’t go as expected, it’s easy for teams in Michigan’s position to show frustration or crack, but the Wolverines never folded and were eventually able to secure the win. The team was able to show poise when it needed to, and Sherrone Moore echoed that sentiment.
“I thought (the players) did a really good job of just staying poised,” said Moore after the game.
While it may be easy to get down on Michigan in a game like this, the Wolverines still showed reasons for optimism. Over the last two weeks, Michigan has been hit with adversity and still been able to respond. It’s likely it’ll happen again next week too, as a game against Ohio State will be far from a cake walk, but fans can take comfort in that fact that Sainristil and his teammates are prepared to respond.
“Where this team has thrived this year is just being able to say, ‘you know what no matter what is going on - we can handle anything,’” said Sainristil. If the hits keep coming, it’s almost certain that Michigan will be prepared to hit back.