'We did what we do': Michigan defense saves its best for the final play
Ann Arbor — Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson sat the postgame interview table with a football just to his right.
“This is the last-play ball,” he said, smiling.
Michigan survived a near-upset by Army on Saturday when the defense came up big in the second overtime of a 24-21 victory at Michigan Stadium. It was that last play, a sack of Army’s Kelvin Hopkins by Hutchinson and Kwity Paye that forced a fumble Paye recovered to end the game.
“That last play we were in our base defense,” Hutchinson said. “I remember hitting the quarterback, so whatever I did, hopefully was good. I’m not really sure what happened. All I know, at the end of the play, we hit the quarterback, ball came free and that moment it was game, so I started running and celebrating.”
The seventh-ranked Wolverines took the lead on a 43-yard field goal by Jake Moody. It was up to the defense to stifle the Black Knights.
“We knew the game was on the line,” said Hutchinson, who had 10 tackles, including a tackle on the previous play for a three-yard loss. “Offense kicked a field goal, we knew if they scored it’s game. We all came together as one unit — this is a tight unit. Those are my brothers out here. We came together and we did what we do.”
Paye, who finished with seven tackles, said the defense met and knew its job.
“Going into that drive, our offense came up with a field goal and we came together as a defense and said, ‘The game’s on us now, so we’ve got to go out and make this play,’” Paye said.
The Black Knights had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation but missed a 50-yard field goal.
“We just saw it as another opportunity,” Hutchinson said. “We tried our hardest to block it. We didn’t do it, but they ended up missing it and that’s just another opportunity.”
Army runs a triple option, something defenses rarely see. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown and the players said they had been preparing for Army since the spring. The Black Knights had 243 yards of offense but attempted only four passes while running the ball 61 times.
Two Army touchdowns were set up by fumbles in the first half. The Black Knights started from their own 40-yard line the first scoring drive and the Michigan 40-yard line the second.
“That was a gem of a defensive performance, not doubt about it,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
“The last play, the last series, the entire football game, we made mistakes offensively, penalties, turnovers and turnovers on down — the defense was not in the best positions.”