It was supposed to be the fourth in a string of five cakewalk wins for Michigan.
It was supposed to be another episode of determining what to take away from a dominating win against an inferior opponent.
It was supposed to be an opportunity for the Wolverines to give their backups a half to prove themselves.
But Saturday evening in Evanston was none of those things, as Michigan had to fight back from 17 down to pull out a nerve-wracking 20-17 victory on a late Karan Higdon touchdown.
Northwestern punched the Wolverines in the mouth early and often in the first 20 minutes, blasting out to a 17-0 lead on the first drive of the second quarter. Much like the first quarter of the season opener at Notre Dame, Michigan?s pass rush failed to get pressure on quarterback Clayton Thorson, allowing him to take advantage of the Wolverines? penalty-prone secondary.
After that point, the Michigan defense returned to its customary suffocating form. Its offense also appeared to gain momentum by rattling off a rapid-fire seven play touchdown drive on its next possession to get back into the game but that was much shorter-lived.
The ensuing five offensive drives were a story of penalty-induced missed opportunities for the Wolverines.
They got down to the Wildcats? 42 on the next drive and lined up to go for it on fourth down before a Zach Gentry false start forced the punting unit onto the field. The story repeated itself on the next possession ? Michigan?s last of the half ? as Shea Patterson flashed his speed to break into Northwestern territory before a holding call brought up a 2nd and 20 that it couldn?t convert.
That series of events repeated itself a few series later, as a 20 yard quarterback run was brought back forcing a punt with the Wolverines down by four. In its two possessions between those series, though, Michigan was able to pick up a frustrating but critical six points.
Both drives stalled inside the Wildcat 10 as Karan Higdon was finally able to run the ball effectively and wide receivers began to open up downfield for Patterson. Patterson, though, was not as sharp as he has been this season and missed consecutive 3rd down touchdown opportunities.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, they were finally able to break through with 4:06 to go, after a prolonged drive culminated in Higdon?s second touchdown of the day.
From that point, Michigan was able to hand the responsibility over to its defense ? a much more comfortable proposition for the Wolverines, who were able to stop Northwestern?s last two drives before they got started and escape with a fourth straight victory, even if it was much more complicated than anticipated.