With the Michigan football team having a bye week following its last-second, 27-23 loss at the hands of No. 7 Michigan State on Oct. 17, much of the talk around Schembechler Hall is still pertaining to that game.
During the middle of the second quarter of that matchup, Wolverines linebacker Joe Bolden fell onto Spartans quarterback Connor Cook as he lay on the ground and the play was being whistled dead. The referees penalized Bolden for targeting, which includes an automatic ejection.
With 12th-ranked Michigan (5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) leading by just a touchdown and already dealing with the first-half suspension of third-string linebacker James Ross, the highly touted Wolverines defense took on a different feel for the remaining eight minutes of the first half.
“Targeting is defined in the NCAA rulebook, and I guess they saw something that made them call targeting and removed me from the game,” Bolden said Tuesday night. “So unfortunately it didn’t exactly go my way, but it is what it is. You’ve got to move on.
“Obviously I would rather be on the field than in the locker room, but the refs made a call and you have to live with it. You have to serve the sentence, and now I’m free and able to play this Saturday.”
Bolden is the team’s second-leading tackler, with 40 total, and has led the team in that category in three of its seven games this season.
Junior Ben Gedeon and senior Allen Gant took a majority of the snaps against Michigan State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) in place of Bolden and Ross for the remainder of the first half, alongside senior starting linebacker Desmond Morgan.
As he was being led off the field by recruiting coordinator Chris Partridge, Bolden took off toward the student section and looped around the stadium, hyping up the crowd for the rest of the defensive stand.
“Whether I agree or disagree (with the call), there’s no point of arguing it,” he said. “They aren’t going to overturn a call that they replayed in the booth. There are certain situations that define what kind of individual you are, and I could have gone off and ripped the refs or walked across the field quietly. That’s not the type of person I am. Even though I was removed from the game, I still wanted to win and felt like I was part of the game. So on my way out I wanted to let the 110,000 people in the stands know that the No. 1 defense was still out there, and you guys need to stay behind them.”
Bolden said when he got to the locker room he was greeted by Ross, who was serving his own suspension for a targeting call from the Wolverines’ Week 6 matchup against Northwestern. Ross was able to return for the second half against the Spartans.
“It was just us, and when I got in there, no words really had to be said,” Bolden said. “We looked at one another, and knew that we were just changing places.”
Bolden declined to comment on his opinion of the call itself, and said that he hasn’t heard any explanation from the Big Ten. He is eligible to play beginning Saturday at Minnesota.
Michigan takes on Minnesota in a battle for the Little Brown Jug, which the Golden Gophers have possession of after topping the Wolverines 30-14 last season.
“We want to get the Jug back, that’s very important,” Bolden said. “We want it back here in Ann Arbor. We’re going to work and going to come out and play for it on Saturday at Minnesota. We just have to win one game at a time and execute one play at a time, just play the way we are capable of playing. (Getting the Jug back) is the most important thing right now.”
Ben Fidelman is a freelance writer.