Tale of two halves: Michigan prevails in uneven effort
College Park, Md. — With its final two regular-season games looming against the two best teams in the Big Ten, Michigan had one of its more uneven performances at Maryland.
The Wolverines outplayed Maryland in the first half and built a four-touchdown lead, and then, without leading rusher Karan Higdon in the second half because of an injury, looked lackluster. That changed late in the game when Chris Evans scored on a 17-yard run for the final points in a 35-10 victory on Saturday at Maryland Stadium.
Michigan is now 8-2, 5-2 Big Ten and will travel to No. 4 Wisconsin next week. Maryland is 4-6, 2-5.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, in his first road start, was 9-of-18 for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Higdon had 50 yards on 10 carries but did not play the second half after leaving late in the first half with an undisclosed injury. Evans had 80 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Remarkably, Maryland outgained Michigan 340-305 for the game after outgaining the Wolverines, 228-93 in the second half.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, however, thought it was the Wolverines’ most complete game of the season.
“I really think it might have been our best ball game in all three phases,” Harbaugh said. “There were so many good three-and-outs by our defense, the turnovers, the interceptions, special teams blocked punt, no turnovers and stopped the fake attempt, as well.
“Offensively, very sound, no turnovers, we were able to make the big play. Very efficient. We were executing well, working hard, we were finishing down after down. It was solid football, very few penalties, it was a very sound game by our team.”
Michigan’s defense made big plays, as Khaleke Hudson had an interception late in the game, and David Long picked off Ryan Brand at the Michigan 10-yard line with just more than two minutes left in the first half. Long returned it 80 yards to the U-M 20, but the Wolverines failed to convert when Quinn Nordin missed a 31-yard field goal wide right.
Josh Metellus also had a blocked punt recovered by Devin Gil. That set up a two-play scoring driving, and Peters connected with tight end Sean McKeon on a three-yard touchdown for the 28-0 first-half lead.
But after building that lead, the Wolverines seemed to drift in the second half, as the offense stalled and the defense allowed big plays. Maryland controlled the clock and pushed the Wolverines’ defense. Michigan gained a mere 21 yards in the third quarter, while the Terps had 148 yards and finally got on the board with a 20-yard field goal.
“It felt like there were a couple things we needed to clean up out there,” said tight end Zach Gentry, who led the receivers with three catches for 63 yards and had a touchdown. “I think some of the things we need to clean up are easy to fix. It seemed like they were bringing more pressure (in the second half) and moved their defensive front around giving us some different looks. It was something we had to adjust to.”
Maryland kept making noise into the fourth quarter and chewed up nearly five minutes on a 75-yard, 11-play drive that added a 10-yard touchdown making it 28-10.
“I don’t think we lost any focus,” senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “I thought our guys were into the game and tried to play hard. I think it’s just lack of concentration so maybe a little lack of focus on our end. We may have lost a little bit of focus but I thought it was something we finished out well toward the end of the game.
“I feel we came out ready to play (in the second half) and came out strong. They just hit some big plays we could have shored up. I don’t think there was a loss of focus. I don’t think our guys really lost focus.”
Maryland coach D.J. Durkin, Michigan’s defensive coordinator in Harbaugh’s first season, said the short-field situations the Terps gave Michigan in the first half was their undoing. They also missed on a throwback to Brand that had he made the catch, would have gained significant yardage.
“We had some momentum plays that couldn’t swung things the other way,” Durkin said. “We were trying to make a play and we got stuffed on the fake punt. We had a blown assignment which resulted in a short field. I thought our defense played well.
“For the game we outgained them, and I can’t say enough about how our offense keeps competing and playing. Ryan Brand (Detroit Jesuit), a guy who started the year as our fifth-string starter (at quarterback), played against one of the best defenses in the country. And I thought for the most part there were some drives that we could have — and should have — finished. We say it all the time — if you turn over the ball, it’s hard to win and we didn’t do that.”