And then suddenly, it clicked.
After turning the ball over five times and accumulating a grand total of 21 yards of offense in the first half, Michigan scored 27 consecutive points after the break to stun No. 9 Wisconsin, 27-25. The Wolverines came all the way back from a 19-0 halftime deficit to hand Rich Rodriguez his first marquee win as Michigan's head man.
This is the fun of watching a young Wolverines squad that will grow on a weekly basis. And boy, did we see some growth today.
The accolades must begin with Steven Threet. In the first half, the redshirt freshman quarterback looked as ill-equipped for Rodriguez's spread-option offense as is humanly possible, turning the ball over three times. Inherently, Michigan produced one of the sorriest first-half drive summaries in program history: fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception, interception (two of Michigan's turnovers came on special teams, and thus weren't recorded on the drive chart). But something strange happened in the Michigan locker room, and Threet came out in the second half as a man on a mission, handling RichRod's offense like a seasoned vet. Halfway through the third quarter, Threet capped a 14-play, 80-yard march with a 26-yard TD pass to fellow freshman Kevin Koger. In the final period, Threet directed touchdown drives of 85 and 77 yards. At one point he even channeled his inner-Pat White, rumbling for a 58-yard gain after an exceptionally deceptive fake handoff.
It was probably the most drastic in-game about-face by a quarterback since UCLA's Kevin Craft in Week 1. But it would not have been possible without the outstanding effort from Michigan's defense.
Entering this season, the Wolverines' D was supposed to carry this team while the offense came into form. But that unit looked highly questionable in losses to Utah and Notre Dame. Today, the defense stepped up in a major way, especially in the second half. Michigan's front four (most notably Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison) constantly hounded Wisconsin QB Allan Evridge, who was sacked four times and lost a pair of fumbles. And linebacker John Thompson made the biggest play of the game. Michigan RB Brandon Minor scored a 34-yard rushing touchdown with 10:27 left in the fourth quarter to reduce Wisconsin's lead to 19-14. On the first play of the ensuing Wisconsin drive, Thompson picked off a tipped pass and returned it 25 yards to the house, entering the end zone with 10:24 on the clock. Michigan went from facing a 12-point deficit to holding a one-point lead in the span of three game seconds.
Wisconsin almost sent the game into overtime. David Gilreath caught a 22-yard TD pass with 13 seconds left, and the Badgers seemingly tied it up with a successful two-point conversion, as Evridge connected with Travis Beckum. But Beckum had lined up on the line of scrimmage, covering up a tight end and negating the play with a penalty (ineligible receiver downfield). Wisconsin couldn't convert on its second attempt.
So there you have it -- Michigan's tied for first place in the Big Ten at 1-0. But before anyone purchases a plane ticket to Pasadena, let's remember that this is still a work in progress. This team is very young and the players are inexperienced in their new approach. As I said before, this group will grow exponentially throughout the course of the season, but the Wolverines will still suffer from the unavoidable growing pains that come with a regime change (and a complete change in philosophy).
The maize-and-blue faithful should soak up this moment, though.
Immediately after the game ended, Michigan players gathered in front of the student section to celebrate and a cheer broke out among the gleeful collegiates: "It's great ... to be ... a Michigan Wolverine."
After one of the most improbable comeback victories in recent memory, it certainly is.