That was the mood around the concourse of Michigan Stadium from its faithful following the Wolverines’ 24-21 win over Army in double-overtime Saturday afternoon.
From seven combined fumbles to a fourth-quarter filled with numerous almosts for both teams, Michigan vs. Army was reminiscent of a video game turned on arcade mode. Except, most times, the only play calls made available in this game were 3rd- and 4th-and-short halfback dives for U-M, and triple options gives to the fullback for Army.
It was so ugly for four quarters that overtime gave us four possessions of actually decent football.
That being said, these are — per the polls — two top 35 football teams. Army had come in winners of 10 in a row with its last loss being at Oklahoma, also in overtime, nearly a year ago. Meanwhile, Michigan was the offseason favorites to win the Big Ten and tabbed a College Football Playoff team by national pundits.
Whatever that game was, both teams hope its offenses erase it from their memory and produce a completely different effort for execution in the 10 games left on the schedule.
For Army, its ugliest moment came on the goal line, needing three yards to take a two-possession lead on Michigan in the second half. Instead, Jeff Monken dialed up a pass for quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, one of only four dropbacks on the day. Michigan senior cornerback Lavert Hill intercepted it. The Wolverines would go on a 12-play, five-minute drive and score a touchdown to tie the game.
For Michigan, its drive-killing fumbles and vanilla playcalling that’s become a customary complaint under Jim Harbaugh headlined its struggles. A failed attempt to convert on fourth-and-three with a run-up-the-middle in a tie game with nine minutes left — which inevitably would’ve won the game in regulation had they kicked the manageable field goal — almost cost U-M the game.
“Our analytics had it that the best thing to do on 4th-and-3 from that distance was to go for it,” Michigan’s fifth-year head coach said.
The zany four quarters of football that, justifiably, left U-M fans in full panic mode somehow didn’t lose them the game. Had it been a Big Ten opponent such as Wisconsin or Ohio State, or a rival such as Notre Dame, Michigan likely would’ve watched its stadium empty in the third quarter.
However, it was Army on the other side — winners of 10 straight and far from a slouch, yet further from an elite Big Ten team like the ones left on U-M’s schedule.
In the end, like freshman Zach Charbonnet (33 carries, 100 yards, 3 touchdowns) said, Michigan had its defense to thank. Holding a unit that averaged nearly 400 yards per game in 2018 to just 243, this is likely an upset for the ages without Don Brown and his menacing unit.
Sophomore DE Aidan Hutchinson & freshman RB Zach Charbonnet.
Hutch: “I don’t recall anything that happened on that last play…. we hit the quarterback, ball came free.”
Charbonnet: “a lot of details we need to clean up. Need to thank the defense.” pic.twitter.com/1mGkUTQZRm
— Brandon Justice (@BrandonBJustice) September 7, 2019
College football is indescribable and unpredictable. Ask Vegas.
Sometimes all you can do is escape. Michigan did exactly that. Now that they’re home free, it’s time to spend a bye week figuring out how to execute the offense it promised and continue to play the defense it prides itself on.
Otherwise, another year of almosts is ahead.