In the end, the Michigan football team wanted to celebrate.
The Wolverines had just needed three overtimes to defeat Illinois, 67-65, in the wildest game in Michigan Stadium history.
Coaches and players stormed the field, hugging, staggering around, overcome with emotion and not quite sure where to go next.
After all, Michigan (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) hadn’t won since Oct. 2, so that feeling was foreign enough. But to win like this — three overtimes, 132 points, five Michigan turnovers, Denard Robinson leaving injured, 111,441 fans screaming good and bad for nearly 4 hours — no one had ever seen a game like this.
“My mind was saying celebrate,” defensive end Craig Roh said, after assisting on the final pass rush, forcing an incompletion on Illinois’ last-chance two-point conversion. “My body was saying rest.”
Exhaustion rippled through everyone in the 83-year-old stadium, which had seen just about everything — until today offered something new.
Who could explain Tate Forcier entering as a backup for Robinson, who left with dizziness and was kept out as a precaution at the start of the fourth quarter, and seeing him fumble the ball away, dropping it out of his hands on his first play? And then Forcier being the one to rally the Wolverines with four touchdowns in his final five drives?
Coach Rich Rodriguez had built his offense for games like this. When the first play from scrimmage became a 75-yard touchdown bomb from Robinson to Roy Roundtree, it was clear this would be a unique afternoon. When they hooked up again later for another 75-yard connection, there was no doubt.
Regarded as one of the game’s most innovative offensive minds, Rodriguez’s offense was unstoppable, tearing through a previously elite defense. Illinois’ opponents were averaging 301 yards per game; Michigan had that with 7 minutes left before halftime, finishing with 676.
“If we score, we’ve got to score again,” Roundtree said. “That’s the motto of our offense.”
There were only two impediments: the Wolverines’ own miscues — five turnovers is the surest statistical measure for a loss — and the defense.
The scary part? U-M’s defense actually had moments of worthiness despite allowing a program-worst 65 points, highlighted by that game-ending stop on the final two-point conversion try.
Fortunately for Rodriguez, the offensive march continues, setting school records through the air (419 passing yards and Roundtree’s 246 receiving yards), asking the defense for, quite literally, only one play.
“That’s the perfect ending,” Rodriguez said.
Contact MARK SNYDER: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more in his Wolverines blog at freep.com/wolverinesblog.