The following is the next in a series of fictional game stories predicting the outcome of the 2017 Michigan football season.
Escape from Bloomington
Michigan squeaks by Hoosiers to remain undefeated—barely
Bloomington, Ind. – Yet again the Hoosiers pushed mighty Michigan to the brink, and yet again they lost. So the Big Ten’s longest consecutive streak of futility between conference combatants lives on.
For the third year in a row, Michigan-Indiana came down to the wire. And for the third year in a row the result was the same as it’s been in every meeting since 1987. When Griffin Oakes’ 52-yard field goal as time expired sailed wide right, it allowed the Wolverines to hold on for a 23-21 victory.
No. 4 Michigan remains undefeated, despite overcoming a key injury and a classic “sandwich game” situation. With this road trip to Memorial Stadium nestled between last week’s rivalry game with Michigan State, and just ahead of next week’s showdown at Penn State in State College.
“What a tremendous gut-check for our young team,” said Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team is now 6-0. “Give Indiana credit, they played so hard and that is a good defense we just faced with a quarterback who’s going to play in the NFL. And we had to win it with our backup quarterback in the game.”
The Wolverines were already struggling to consistently move the ball against a game Indiana defense. Even before Wilton Speight left the game with an undisclosed injury following a vicious hit by Tegray Scales, which the Michigan sideline thought was targeting. When Speight departed, Michigan held a tenuous 16-14 lead.
Enter redshirt freshman Brandon Peters.
Peters’ first pass upon entering the game was a tipped-ball interception, which led to the Hoosiers’ go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. However, Peters and Michigan responded on the very next drive. First, Peters connected with Chris Evans for a 28-yard gain on a screen pass, which seemed to give him some confidence. Then, Karan Higdon burst through for a 17-yard scamper on the ground to get Michigan into the red zone.
Eventually, the Wolverines made it to Indiana’s 2-yard line. But after two Khalid Hill plunges were stuffed, and Peters’ pass to Ian Bunting was batted down, Harbaugh had a decision to make.
“The way their defense was playing, and given the lateness in the game, I wasn’t sure we’d have another shot to get in the end zone,” said Harbaugh, explaining why he made the decision to forego the field goal.
But as pressure-packed as the decision was to go for it, the play to call in that situation was just as crucial. During a timeout, Harbaugh huddled with his offensive coaches and came up with what turned out to be the perfect call—a naked bootleg.
“Coach Harbaugh told us (Indiana) was going to be very aggressive on defense on that play, and we were going to use their aggression against them,” Peters said. “And he was right. So I after I faked the hand-off to Ty (Isaac), I looked up and it was wide open for the touchdown.”
Peters’ touchdown dash put the Wolverines back in front, but they failed on the two-point conversion and their defense still had to hold onto the lead. And the Hoosiers got all the way to the Michigan 29-yard line before their coach made a controversial decision. Instead of running to center the ball for the potential game-winning field goal, Tom Allen elected to try a play-action pass.
He made the wrong decision.
Michigan’s Rashan Gary burst through the line and sacked Richard Lagow on the play, pushing Indiana back another six yards. That might have made the difference in whether Oakes’ kick, on the game’s final play, was successful or not. As it sailed wide right during the final leg of its path.
“I’m just sick to my stomach for our kids,” said Allen, whose team fell to 3-3. “We really didn’t try to get greedy there, because even a 45-yarder into that wind was no gimme. Plus, we had missed one earlier from that distance. But as coaches we took the game out of our players’ hands, and we have to hold ourselves accountable for that.”
Harbaugh was non-committal on Speight’s status for next week’s game at Penn State.
“I’ll huddle with the training staff when we get back to Ann Arbor and know more then,” Harbaugh said.