After the double-OT win over Army, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh explains why his team went for it twice on fourth down. The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Michigan caught pretty much everyone off guard with its fake punt late in the first quarter, even most of the Wolverines on the sideline.
Sophomore linebacker Michael Barrett, a high school quarterback in Georgia who completed 64 percent of his passes his senior year, made his first college pass, a 25-yarder, to freshman safety Daxton Hill on a fake punt.
The Wolverines, trailing 7-0 to Army, were stalled at the Michigan 47-yard line when the punting team came out. It was assessed a 5-yard penalty for a false start, making it fourth-and-10 from the Michigan 42 when the fake was called.
“On the false start, we saw what punt coverage they were in, what punt block they were in and called the alert for the next play,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Hill got Michigan to the Army 33 and with new life, the Wolverines reached the 6. A third-down pass to Nico Collins was incomplete, but Army was called for interference and that moved the ball to the 2. Freshman running back Zach Charbonnet scored from there to tie the game.
“Loved it,” guard Ben Bredeson said of the fake punt. “Didn’t know it was coming. Surprised me, too.”
No challenge allowed
It appeared Michigan safety Josh Metellus scored on the next drive following the fake-punt when Army’s Kell Walker fumbled. Metellus recovered at the Army 21 and ran in for a touchdown.
But the officials said Metellus’ knee was down. Replays showed that was a missed call.
So why didn’t Harbaugh challenge?
“I was told I couldn’t challenge that,” he said.
Going for it
Michigan was 1-of-3 on fourth-down attempts, including two that came up short on runs by freshman Zach Charbonnet in the fourth quarter.
With the game tied, 14-14, the Wolverines were fourth-and-2 at the Army 19 and opted to run Charbonnet rather than go for the field goal. Charbonnet lost four yards. On the second fourth-down attempt in the next series, Michigan needed two yards, but Charbonnet managed one.
“Our analytics had it that the best thing to do if we got in that situation fourth-and-3 from that distance was to go for it and we didn’t convert, same with the second one,” Harbaugh said. “That was a fourth-and-2 and analytics told us to go for it and we didn’t make it again.”
After the game, the Michigan players joined the Army players who were gathered in the corner end zone facing their fans. A “U-S-A” chant filled the stadium.
“The fans got that going,” Bredeson said. “We felt it was the thing to do with the service academies to go sing their anthem with their fans after the game, so that was tradition to go over there with them.”