ANN ARBOR, Mich: It took a three-point deficit to the University of Akron to wake Michigan from its Saturday afternoon doldrums at Michigan Stadium.
By that time the Wolverines had to know they were in a football game. Despite their eventual 28-24 victory, the Wolverines know they were fortunate to win.
It took a four-play, 70-yard drive and a 2-yard touchdown run by Fitzgerald Toussaint in the final minutes to give the Wolverines the victory. Even then it was left in doubt after the resilient Zips continued to punch back.
“Their kids came in here like most Mid-American Conference schools are going to come in here — to win the football game and play to win the football game, and they coached it that way, they played it that way,” Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said.
Kyle Pohl threw for 311 yards on 25-of-49 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions and came up just short on what could have been the game-winning drive when a fourth-and-goal pass from the 4-yard line fell incomplete in Michigan’s end zone.
“It was a good call by Coach [Terry Bowden],” Pohl said. “A half-second later and I’m able to make a good throw.”
The defense forced four turnovers including an interception return for a touchdown by Justin March. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was held to 248 yards on 16-of-30 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
People might end up calling it a Notre Dame hangover on Michigan’s part, but that would be a disservice to UA.
Despite continuing some disturbing patterns defensively in giving up big plays, the Zips established a tone that they would do well to tap into as they look to the MAC portion of their schedule.
They owe the effort as much to the defense as an offense that continued plugging away.
Defensively, they pounded the Wolverines for more than a half, holding them to 19 yards on the ground in the first half and eventually forcing them to rely on Gardner’s legs. He delivered with a 36-yard touchdown run to put the Wolverines ahead 21-10 with 3:23 left in the third quarter. For the game he was Michigan’s leading rusher with 103 yards.
“That quarterback, I don’t know how you keep him from making big plays,” Bowden said. “He can probably outrun everybody on our team. He created plays that didn’t necessarily come from the defense being out of position or playing improperly.
“He rose above a lot of people to make his plays.”
The Zips’ defense showed progress by shaking off those mistakes and creating plays of its own.
The Zips forced Gardner personally into four turnovers, including March’s second interception of the game.
Trailing 21-10, the Zips went three-and-out on their next possession. Michigan took the ball over on its 31. The UA defense stuffed a first-down run then forced an incomplete pass on second down. On third-and-9, Gardner dropped back for a pass that March intercepted and waltzed into the end zone for an easy touchdown.
“That was huge because we tried not to, but I think our hopes were slipping right there because we were getting down. That was huge by him. He’s a good player,” Pohl said. “It was definitely huge to get our spirits back up and get us in the right direction.”
“When we were about to mentally go out of it, Justin March’s interception kept us in that mental game,” he said.
Pohl, in probably his best effort of the season thus far, did his part as well, saving his best efforts for the second half.
He completed 9-of-22 passes for 82 yards and an interception in the first half.
In the second he was 16-of-27 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
He appears to be taking a huge step forward, but he’s not the only one.
“I think with this game, we grew and became a better team,” he said.
Oh so close
A penalty might have indirectly decided the outcome. With a first-and-10 on the Akron 15, cornerback Emmanuel Lartey got flagged for a borderline pass interference call, putting the ball at the 2-yard line. One play later, Toussaint scored and Michigan led 24-21.
“You don’t expect to get the calls at the other team’s home field, no matter what league, conference that you play [in], so it didn’t even faze me,” Bowden said. “That’s what you expect because it’s the nature of the game.”
March was the first Zip to have two interceptions in a game since Miguel Graham did so against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 27, 2009.