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With the regular-season now concluded and only the Peach Bowl against Florida remaining, we’ve decided to take a look back at the five most influential plays of Michigan’s 2018 season.
At 10-2, the year was mostly filled with positive plays, but some impactful ones did occur in the season-ending loss at Ohio State that changed some people’s perception of the Wolverines as well.
Here is the complete breakdown:
5. Shea Patterson’s Late-Game Heroics at Northwestern
The Wolverines were still a bit of a mystery when they traveled to Evanston to take on Northwestern on Sept. 29.
They entered the game with a 3-1 record, and were coming off a 56-10 beatdown of Nebraska the week before.
In what was expected to be a double-digit victory against a 1-2 Northwestern squad, Michigan came out incredibly flat and found itself in a 17-0 deficit.
The Maize and Blue clawed back to make it 17-13 midway through the fourth quarter, before junior quarterback Shea Patterson led the team on the game-winning drive.
Facing a critical third-and-six from the Wildcat 37-yard line with just 6:35 remaining, Patterson took a shotgun snap and looked downfield for an open receiver, but failed to find one.
Facing pressure from sophomore defensive end Samdup Miller, Patterson eluded a shoe-string tackle attempt by darting to his left, before crossing the line of scrimmage and cutting across the field to his right.
Once at the first down marker, the junior quarterback dove forward just past the 30-yard line, keeping the series alive.
The nine-yard rush instilled new life into the U-M offense, and wound up leading to the game-winning five-yard touchdown run by senior running back Karan Higdon just four plays later.
Michigan escaped Evanston with a 20-17 victory over a Wildcat club that wound up winning the Big Ten West and rattling off victories in seven of its next eight games.
A loss that afternoon would have dropped U-M’s record to 3-2, and would have created more negative attention from the fan base who hadn’t yet gotten over the Notre Dame loss.
The victory also gave fans a glimpse of the grit and toughness Patterson possessed, and what they would be in store for over the next two months.
4. Brandon Watson’s Pick-six Against Penn State
The Nov. 3 Penn State/Michigan showdown was being dubbed as ‘Statement Saturday’ around college football, with the Nittany Lions ranked No. 14 heading into Ann Arbor and the Wolverines coming in at No. 5.
On top of that, the game was expected to be Michigan’s toughest test since the season-opening loss at Notre Dame two months prior.
The Maize and Blue passed the test with flying colors, and indeed made a statement against the Nittany Lions.
U-M actually only held a 14-0 lead with 58 seconds left in the third quarter, but that’s when the floodgates opened for Penn State.
A seven-yard touchdown pass from Patterson to redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry made the score 21-0, and then fifth-year senior cornerback Brandon Watson all but ended things on PSU’s ensuing possession.
With just 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter, redshirt junior quarterback Tommy Stevens threw an ill-advised pass at midfield that fell right into Watson’s arms, and he ran it back 62 yards to make the score 28-0 and all but seal the win.
The Maize and Blue would then cruise to an easy 42-7 victory, and caught the attention of college football fans and publications everywhere.
Michigan was tabbed as a legitimate national title contender at that point, and was playing its best football of the year in the month when it mattered most.
It was also the third consecutive win over a ranked opponent (victories over No. 15 Wisconsin and No. 24 Michigan State had been the previous two), a feat the school hadn’t accomplished since the final three games of the 1997 campaign.
3. Lavert Hill’s Pick-six Against Wisconsin
Michigan ripped off five straight wins following its season-opening loss at Notre Dame, but most fans didn’t want to get too excited until a crucial three-game stretch in the middle of the year that featured showdowns against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State.
The matchup with the Badgers on Oct. 13 was the first of those three crucial affairs, with the Badgers entering at 4-1 and No. 15 in the country, and U-M coming in at No. 12 nationally.
The Maize and Blue made a statement against Wisconsin in primetime, however, blowing it out 38-13.
Despite the final score, the Badgers were clinging to a strand of hope with 10 minutes left in the game — they trailed 24-7, and began a drive deep in their own territory knowing they had to find the end zone.
Junior cornerback Lavert Hill destroyed those brief hopes immediately though.
Redshirt junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook dropped back to pass from his own 15-yard line, but let the ball go early when he faced instant pressure from junior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp.
Hornibrook’s pass only traveled six yards, and Hill made a leaping one-handed grab to intercept it. The junior then took it 21 yards back to the house, giving the Wolverines a 31-7 lead with just 9:55 left in the game.
Granted, Wisconsin wasn’t as good as people had once thought (it finished the regular-season 7-5), but the unexpected Michigan blowout signified how much the Wolverines had improved since the loss to the Fighting Irish on Sept. 1.
It also gave head coach Jim Harbaugh a win over a ranked opponent, something naysayers had been gladly pointing out for months how seldom he had done so during his time in Ann Arbor.
2. Parris Campbell’s 78-Yard Touchdown Reception Against the U-M Defense
There are several plays that could have been chosen from the Ohio State game that exemplified the perceived talent disparity between the two clubs, but we decided to go with OSU fifth-year senior wideout Parris Campbell’s 78-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
Michigan trailed 41-25 with 14:06 to go in the game, when Campbell went in motion into the OSU backfield at the Buckeyes’ own 22-yard line.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins flipped a short pass to him, and the OSU wideout was off to the races.
Campbell immediately sprinted to the edge, and junior viper Khaleke Hudson and Hill were both taken out of the play by their respective blockers.
That left junior safety Josh Metellus — who had been reading the play all along — to make the tackle.
Metellus had no blockers in front of him, but one small hesitation saw Campbell run right by him, leaving nothing but grass between the fifth-year senior receiver and the end zone.
During his 78-yard sprint, Campbell showed off blazing speed while leaving the U-M defense behind, a trait the Michigan defenders couldn’t appear to match.
Although the Wolverines’ hopes of winning the game had been slim to none prior to Campbell’s touchdown, the way he was easily able to outrun the Michigan defense is what left people in awe after the game.
Speed, athleticism and coaching were three of the biggest factors that allowed Ohio State’s offense to pick apart the No. 1 defense in the country and post 62 points on them.
These OSU attributes were on display almost all game long, but it was perhaps never more evident than on this play.
1. Donovan Peoples-Jones’ 79-Yard Touchdown Reception at Michigan State
Michigan entered the Oct. 20 game at Michigan State with a 6-1 record and looking to exercise several demons.
The program had struggled mightily in both rivalry games and road contests against ranked opponents, and with MSU sitting at No. 24 nationally, had a chance to temporarily put both of those struggles to bed.
The Maize and Blue grabbed a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, but saw the Spartans tie it at 7-7 on a trick play following a U-M turnover with 11:12 to go in the third.
With the game knotted n the midst of a furious rainstorm, neither team showed any ability to consistently move the ball throughout the third quarter, evidenced by a combined two fumbles and three punts by the two teams following the MSU score.
With points hard to come by, Michigan finally broke the deadlock with just 2:24 to go in the third quarter.
Patterson took a snap from his own 21-yard line, and heaved a pass down the right sideline to sophomore receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was being single-covered by MSU sophomore cornerback Tre Person.
The pass floated perfectly into Peoples-Jones’ arms at the U-M 47-yard line, and the wideout had a clear path to the end zone following a failed diving shoestring tackle attempt by Person.
Peoples-Jones waltzed in for the score with the nearest Spartan nowhere in sight, giving Michigan a 14-7 advantage and the breathing room it needed.
MSU’s final three possessions after that featured two punts and a turnover on downs, and the Wolverines left East Lansing with a 21-7 triumph.
The win broke Michigan’s stretch of 17 straight losses on the road to ranked opponents, a streak that had dated all the way back to 2006.
It also gave Harbaugh his second victory in East Lansing, and marked the program’s first double-digit triumph at MSU since a 23-7 win there in 1997.
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