Sunday November 15th, 2015

For the second time in three weeks, Michigan’s goal-line defense held firm to avoid a devastating upset on the road. This time the Wolverines’ secondary broke up Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s pass on fourth down to secure a 48–41 over the Hoosiers in double overtime.

Here are three thoughts on the thrilling finish:

1. In the battle of Jake Rudock vs. Jordan Howard, Rudock prevailed

Football is of course a game of 11 on 11, but as Michigan and Indiana went down to the wire, the game became an epic clash between Rudock and Howard, both of whom are in their first year with their respective programs after transferring.

Rudock completed 32 of 45 passes for 448 yards with six touchdowns and an interception. The yardage and scoring both marked career highs, and this was just the second time Rudock has ever thrown for more than two touchdowns in a game. He also set a career high with 64 yards rushing on seven carries.

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But Rudock, who joined Michigan as a graduate transfer from Iowa before this season, shined in more than just quantitative ways. He delivered in the clutch to steer the Wolverines to victory. Rudock threw high to receiver Jehu Chesson to allow Chesson to come down with a game-tying score on fourth down with two seconds left in regulation (Chesson played an incredible game, as well, catching 10 passes for 208 yards with four scores). Rudock then found tight end Jake Butt and wide receiver Amara Darboh for overtime touchdowns.

Until the second overtime, Indiana’s Howard matched Rudock’s brilliance. The UAB transfer rushed 34 times for 237 yards with two touchdowns (plus a third receiving) on the Wolverines’ vaunted run defense, which entered Saturday allowing just 2.6 yards per carry. Howard’s 24-yard rushing score with 2:52 left in the fourth quarter nearly won the Hoosiers the game. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson will likely waver for a long time on whether he should have put the ball in Howard’s hands with the game on the line in double overtime.

2. Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes are still alive

The Wolverines haven’t made it easy on themselves lately, needing a goal-line stuff to hold off Minnesota for a 29–26 win on Oct. 31 before Saturday’s tense finish. But with three victories since falling to Michigan State, Michigan remains in the hunt for a Big Ten championship.

Jim Harbaugh’s squad is put in the awkward position of rooting for Ohio State next week as the Buckeyes take on the Spartans. Because Michigan State holds the tiebreaker on Michigan, the Wolverines need the Spartans to drop another game in order to win the Big Ten East. If Ohio State takes down Michigan State, the Wolverines’ meeting with the Buckeyes on Nov. 28 would decide the division.

Another Michigan loss would have made all future results moot for the Wolverines’ chances at a conference title. Saturday’s narrow margin keeps Michigan in play.

3. Have some sympathy for the Hoosiers

Indiana opened the season with four straight victories heading into its Oct. 3 showdown with Ohio State. The Buckeyes survived with a 34–27 win, denying the Hoosiers on their late drive to tie the game.

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Since then, nothing has gone Indiana’s way—and often in heartbreaking fashion. The Hoosiers blew a 25-point lead to Rutgers on Oct. 17, falling 55–52 on a last-second field goal. A week later they trailed Michigan State by two entering the fourth quarter and stayed within a score until the Spartans reached the end zone three times in the final five minutes. The next week Indiana trailed Iowa by one early in the fourth quarter and got back within a score with 2:24 to play after two Hawkeyes touchdowns. But the Hoosiers were unable to come up with the onside kick and Iowa held on.

The results of all of these close losses, with Saturday’s perhaps the most devastating, is a six-game losing streak that leaves Indiana still two wins short of bowl eligibility with two games to play. The schedule gets easier with matchups against Maryland and Purdue, both on the road, to close out the season. But the Hoosiers now have no margin for error as they seek their first bowl appearance since 2007 and their second since 1993.

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