Michigan survived at Indiana with a 27-20 overtime victory Saturday that improved the Wolverines to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten.
It wasn’t pretty — the offense again struggled with consistency but the defense sealed the win with a goal-line stand capped by safety Tyree Kinnel’s interception in the end zone.
Here are three things we learned:
The defense knows how to respond
OK, this isn’t new, but every week the Michigan defense impresses with how it handles adversity.
After Indiana scored a touchdown on its first possession of the second half, cutting Michigan’s lead to 13-10, the Wolverines defense forced five straight 3-and-outs, then got its first takeaway on a Lavert Hill interception. The Wolverines continue to get the job done defensively, even though they often play with little or no margin for error. The players say they’re upset anytime they allow a score, and they took out that frustration during those ensuing six drives.
Indiana became the first team to score against Michigan in the fourth quarter this season when it got 10 points in the final 3 minutes, 27 seconds to force overtime. The Hoosiers’ touchdown came on a Peyton Ramsey 8-yard pass to Whop Philyor on what looked to be a rub route. It’s a similar pattern that Cincinnati had success running against Michigan in Week 2. That touchdown drive was 20 yards after J-Shun Harris returned a punt 53 yards to give Indiana hope.
Even after giving up the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, and then facing a first-and-goal situation at its 1-yard line, the Wolverines stood their ground. Rashan Gary dropped Morgan Ellison for a 2-yard loss on first down. Ramsey threw incomplete on second down, and then Gary and Noah Furbush stopped Ramsey for a 1-yard loss on third down. Ramsey had nowhere to run or throw on fourth down when Kinnel picked him off to end the game.
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) October 14, 2017
Karan Higdon is the new No. 1 running back
Karan Higdon reached 200 yards rushing with a 25-yard touchdown run on the first play of OT. It was his third touchdown of the game. The play should have gone for a loss but Higdon bounced it outside to the left and was untouched as he crossed the goal line. It is the second-highest rushing total by a Michigan player against Indiana; Denard Robinson had 217 yards against the Hoosiers in 2010, and Higdon is first Michigan player to reach 200 yards rushing in a game since Robinson ran for 235 at Purdue on Oct. 6, 2012.
Chris Evans started the opener against Florida. Ty Isaac began the season with back-to-back 100-yard games. The three players have rotated throughout the season but Higdon, who led Michigan with 65 yards on 12 carries against Michigan State, is first in line now.
Higdon’s first touchdown gave the Wolverines a 13-0 lead in the second quarter.
The offense has little continuity
Despite Higdon’s big numbers, the offense nearly cost the Wolverines this game. One first down on Michigan’s final drive of regulation would have prevented overtime but the unit couldn’t deliver. The offense scored points on its first three possessions, then punted on six of its next seven drives. The one drive it didn’t punt was at the end of the first half when quarterback John O’Korn twice handed off to Higdon to run out the clock.
O’Korn threw for 58 yards on 10-for-20 passing. The biggest positive, aside from Higdon, was that Michigan didn’t turn the ball over a week after committing five against Michigan State. O’Korn missed a couple big plays. He overthrew Donovan Peoples-Jones in the first half on a post pattern, then threw into double-coverage for Kekoa Crawford instead of finding a wide-open tight end Zach Gentry running a crossing pattern underneath. Also, Michigan receivers dropped a couple passes and penalties stalled drives.
Those are aspects that need to improve with a trip to Penn State looming next Saturday.