There might not be a more apt movie comparison to Michigan’s double-overtime victory at Indiana than the one coach Jim Harbaugh mentioned — Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Michigan improved to 8-2, 5-1 Big Ten with a double-overtime, 48-41 victory at Indiana on Saturday. Jake Rudock threw six touchdowns for the Wolverines, and Jehu Chesson caught four of them. It was Delano Hill’s fourth-down pass breakup that sealed the victory, giving a defense that had allowed 307 rushing yards, a late lift.
The Wolverines are on the road again on Saturday against Penn State and then return home for the regular-season finale against rival Ohio State.
“There was some of all of it,” Harbaugh said after referencing the film. “Our guys found a way to win, as good a win as you’ll ever have.”
About the good, that would be Rudock, the graduate transfer who has thrown for 777 yards the last two games. He was 33-of-46 for 440 yards and had a school-record six touchdowns, including the game-winning 25-yard touchdown to Amara Darboh.
“Jake doesn’t play the way he does, we don’t have a chance,” Harbaugh said.
That final score to Darboh was designed on the fly, Rudock told the “Inside Michigan Football” show that aired Sunday morning.
“That was something our coaches drew up. It’s not even on the wrist band,” Rudock said. “Just something they thought of. The great on-field adjustments of our coaching staff were able to give us a chance.”
Rudock praised the offensive line for its protection. He took only one sack. He also ran for 64 yards on seven carries, including two big third-down runs in the first half.
“Where do you start with him,” said tight end Jake Butt, who caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first overtime. “This guy’s been fighting all season. He made plays down the stretch we needed to make. It speaks a lot about his preparation, who he is as a guy.”
Chesson had 207 yards on 10 catches and four touchdowns, including a long of 64 yards that might quell some of the criticism regarding Rudock and his struggles with connecting on the deep pass. Darboh had 109 yards on eight catches, and Butt had 82 yards on seven catches.
Included in the “bad” was the special-teams touchdown allowed in the second-straight game. Against Rutgers the week before, the Wolverines allowed a kickoff return for a score, and Indiana’s Mitchell Paige scored on a 51-yard punt return early in the third quarter last Saturday.
Kenny Allen also missed a field goal because of a poor snap that skipped off the field to holder Blake O’Neill.
Also in the “bad” category, Michigan was penalized 13 times for 72 yards. The Wolverines had five false starts, including two on back-to-back plays in the third quarter and four offside penalties.
“Regroup, retool, refit and come back,” Harbaugh said, acknowledging the issues on special teams and with penalties. “It’s great to be able to do it with a win.”
The ugly, however, was pretty hideous.
Indiana entered the game with the Big Ten’s most prolific offense, while Michigan’s defense was ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 2 nationally. But with nose tackle Ryan Glasgow, injured in the Rutgers game a week earlier, out for Indiana and likely lost for the rest of the season, the Hoosiers carved Michigan’s run defense.
Hoosiers tailback Jordan Howard gouged a Michigan defense that entered the game ranked third nationally against the run, allowing an average 80.6. But Howard rushed for 238 yards on 35 carries (6.8 per-carry average), and had three touchdowns, two coming on the ground. That’s the first time since Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde rushed for 226 yards against the Wolverines in 2013 that Michigan has allowed a back to rush for 200 yards or more.
“I thought our O-line was chomping them up,” Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld said. “We were playing very fast. Their defense was very tired, especially their front seven. They respected our pass game. They manned us up and played some good coverage. We were just finding ways to make things work. We just were not able to execute at the very end.”
Howard’s first rushing touchdown gave Indiana the lead, 34-27, with 2:52 left in regulation. Indiana ran all eight plays of the drive, and Howard scored on a 24-yard run.
He also scored Indiana’s only touchdown in overtime.
Maurice Hurst started in place of Glasgow, but the Wolverines are clearly short-handed on the defensive line, and that was exposed by Indiana’s up-tempo offense.
“We’re beat up, we’re getting tired, we’re running low on manpower in spots, and it showed,” Harbaugh said. “We played like it at times. There were blocks we must have liked them so much we weren’t getting off them, and that showed up a lot in the game. Find a way, find one stop, (defensive coordinator D.J.) Coach Durkin kept saying that, and we found it.”
During a three-game stretch of shutouts against BYU, Maryland and Northwestern, Michigan allowed a total of 378 yards. But since then, the Wolverines defense has hardly been invincible.
Michigan State had 386 yards, including Connor Cook’s 328 passing yards, the most Michigan has allowed all season. A week later, at Minnesota, the Gophers gained 461 yards, and Mitch Leidner threw for 317. Rutgers mustered 225 yards, and then Indiana gained a season-high 527 against the Wolverines.
That’s bad and ugly, but for the second time in three games, Michigan’s defense has made a play to secure the victory. The Wolverines stopped Minnesota at the half-yard line, and Hill made a touchdown-saving tackle of Sudfeld on third down and then the fourth-down pass breakup.
“It was very close,” Sudfeld said. “We had a little whip route to Mitchell (Paige). He ran a great route, but the defense made a good play. It was the play we wanted, and we just could not convert.”
Hill said he was “filled with joy” after making the stop.
“I was trying to keep my eyes on my man,” Hill said. “As he looked for the ball, I looked, and I seen the ball was coming, and I had to try to get it out. I was happy. I knew we won the game.”
Michigan at Penn State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
TV/radio: ABC/WWJ 950
Line: Michigan by 5
Records: Michigan 8-2, 5-1 Big Ten; Penn State 7-3, 4-2.
Series: Michigan leads 11-7 (Michigan, 18-13, Oct. 11, 2014)
Outlook: Penn State was off last Saturday and is unbeaten in six games at home this season. Michigan, however is 3-0 on the road this season in the Big Ten, including a 48-41 double-overtime victory at Indiana last Saturday. The Wolverines haven’t lost a game on the road since the season opener at Utah.