BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Once again, the defense closed the door for Michigan.
This time, Tyree Kinnel came up with the pivotal stop.
In a 27-20, overtime win Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Kinnel leaped to grab Peyton Ramsey’s fourth-down pass in the end zone, which helped Michigan earn its 500th Big Ten win.
More importantly, Kinnel’s pick on the final play of the game finally allowed the Wolverines to exhale and took another huge weight off the defense’s shoulders.
The defense has been carrying much of the load so far this season. Yet, this defense simply doesn’t want to break, likely because it has no choice. Michigan’s offense has been nearly immobile at times — it finished with 58 passing yards, but got a 200-yard, 3-touchdown rushing performance from running back Karan Higdon — and penalties hampered Michigan throughout the game, including a pass-interference penalty against defensive back David Long on the first play of Indiana’s overtime possession.
That moved the Hoosiers from the 25 to the 12. That also became Michigan’s final penalty.
Still, Indiana pushed Michigan’s defense to the brink in overtime, reaching the 1-yard line before defensive end Rashan Gary tackled Indiana running back Morgan Ellison for a loss of 2 yards on first-and-goal.
Much like Kinnel’s game-ending interception, Gary’s tackle was a response you’d expect out of a seasoned defense. Not one that lost all but one starter from last season, and one that has continued to save a sputtering offense.
“That just comes down to all the hard work we’ve been putting in, in the offseason, on the defense,” Gary said. “That last drive, we knew it.
“The game’s on us, and we know that we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’ve been doing it for the past couple games, and everybody’s got a chip on their shoulder.”
Still, not perfect
Michigan’s defense wasn’t without a few mistakes, either. It took a handful of Michigan’s 16 penalties, including 3 on one play in the second quarter. Michigan declined an offsides penalty against linebacker Khaleke Hudson and a holding penalty against Brandon Watson, but defensive tackle Maurice Hurst got called for roughing the passer, with 2 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first half.
The defense stood firm there, too. Michigan limited Indiana to 1 yard on the next 4 plays, and Indiana’s drive ended with Griffin Oakes’ 32-yard field goal with 1:46 left in the half.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has played or coached football for most of his life. He may have seen something like 3 penalties at a time happen, but he regarded it as an area of growth for his team.
“Probably,” Harbaugh said, chuckling. “But we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get better in that area.”
Michigan had a big stake in this game, too. Michigan hadn’t lost to Indiana since 1987. No Michigan team wants the dubious honor of being the first team to lose to an opponent in 30 years.
‘We trust our defense’
But Harbaugh has seen his defense operate before, and he knew its aptitude in a high-pressure situation. He saw it again on the final play of the game Saturday in Bloomington. So did the rest of the Wolverines, whether they were on the field or on the sideline.
“We were going to have to dig down deep to do it,” Harbaugh said. “The goal-line stand was great, an opportunity to keep them out of the end zone and win the ball game. We responded with 2 tackles for a loss, an incompletion and an interception on the quarterback-option route. It was a great four plays for us.”
Higdon ran for the only touchdown on Michigan’s only overtime possession, but it was up to the defense to preserve the 7-point lead on Indiana’s possession.
The Wolverines didn’t agonize. And they certainly didn’t think about the possibility of playing a second overtime. Kinnel’s interception ended any idea of that happening.
“We trust our defense,” Michigan quarterback John O’Korn said. “They’ve continued to get the job done, all year.”
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