Ann Arbor — Not surprisingly, Michigan redshirt freshman Brandon Peters made his first start at quarterback, but the story Saturday night was the Wolverines’ one-two running back punch of Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.
Peters was not asked to do too much against Minnesota in a game delayed an hour because of lightning accompanied by heavy rain. There was an announced crowd of 111,090 at Michigan Stadium.
Higdon and Evans did the heavy lifting, combining for 391 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-10 victory over Minnesota. It was the first time the teams had played since 2015 and the Wolverines retained the Little Brown Jug.
Higdon rushed for 200 yards, his second time this season, on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns, while Evans had 191 yards on 13 carries and scored twice. Michigan finished with 427 yards of offense, including 371 rushing behind the offensive line’s best performance of the season. A week ago against Rutgers, Michigan had 334 yards rushing and two 100-yard performances from Higdon and Ty Isaac.
“Stalwart performances,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Looked up at one point and the statistics looked like we were Air Force. I thought we were Air Force, we were running the ball. I’ve never seen that many plus-50-yard runs in one game any team I’ve coached or been on. That was quite the performance.
“Karan and Chris had spectacular runs. The counter play was really good to us today (and) the blocking was really efficient, great precision there by the line. Tight ends were very good. I didn’t see any missed blocks in the running game, although it’s never as good as you think it is, there probably will be a few, but I thought it was really good. The guys up front, that was a game for the ages if you’re an offensive lineman. It was quite the performance rushing the football.”
Jim Harbaugh on the success of Michigan's running game against Minnesota. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
In his debut as the starting quarterback, Peters was 8-of-13 for 56 yards and a touchdown. He did take three sacks.
“Didn’t have a lot of opportunities (to throw),” Harbaugh said. “Couple of the hard hits he took, he did a great job of seeing it at the last, just out of the peripheral was able to tuck the ball and not have a turnover. A lot of those kind of hits, the quarterback gets dislodged from the ball.”
Minnesota was held to 164 total yards — and only 36 in the second half. The Gophers had 90 yards rushing.
The Wolverines took a 33-7 lead by the end of the third quarter when Higdon scored his second touchdown, a 5-yarder. Michigan’s defense set up the scoring drive when Khaleke Hudson, clearly the defensive player of the game with 13 tackles, including 6 1/2 for loss, forced Minnesota quarterback Demry Croft to fumble. Chase Winovich recovered.\
Jim Harbaugh on Khaleke Hudson's 'spectacular game' against Minnesota. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“What a game, what a game,” Harbaugh said of Hudson. “Spectacular performance by Khaleke Hudson, 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, forced fumble, it looked like he was everywhere. Strong hands, really showed up in this game. He was everywhere he was supposed to be and making the sure tackles.
With 1:35 left in the third quarter, Evans scored on a 67-yard run for a 33-7 lead.
Evans said he wasn’t motivated to match what Higdon already had done on a 77-yard touchdown. Evans also had a 60-yard run late in the first half.
“Our running back room is so together I don’t look at it as, ‘Oh he made a big play, I’ve got to make a big play too,' ” Evans said. “I trust the process. When he scores, I’m as happy as when I score.”
Michigan took a 20-7 lead at halftime after accumulating 312 yards, including 266 rushing, behind a tough-blocking offensive line that featured freshman Cesar Ruiz making his first start at right guard.
It was the Higdon-Evans show from the get-go as both rushed for more than 100 yards. Higdon had nine carries for 163 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown run with :58 seconds left in the first quarter. Evans, who had 111 yards on six carries, scored on a 60-yard run with seven minutes left in the half.
Michigan has not had multiple backs with 100-yard rushing games in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1975.
“We’ve been really focusing on the run game and knew we were going to have to run the ball to win the game,” senior center Mason Cole said. “We had the backs to do it. We blocked well enough to get them through the line of scrimmage and onto the second level and from there it was all those guys.”
The Wolverines got on the board first when Peters hit tight end Sean McKeon on a 20-yard pass.
Michigan lost out on four points from the kicking game as Quinn Nordin missed an extra point for the second time in three games and missed a 49-yard field goal slightly wide right just before halftime.
“We thought he was going too fast,” Harbaugh said of Nordin. “That’s what we noticed last week and then in practice this week we thought we had that corrected. I think we did get that corrected. The missed extra point, he looked up too early and got his left hip in front of his right too much and pulled it left. I thought the long field goal, the 49 yarder, was a good hit, just went a bit wide right. Just keep working at it.”