Fortunate? Yes, luck helped Michigan football team: 'We just kept fighting'
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
NEW ORLEANS — The Michigan football team struggled to move the ball for the third time this season.
Twice, it lost. Not this time.
Michigan prevailed 23-20 in overtime against Virginia Tech on Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl, the program's first BCS win in more than a decade. Kicker Brendan Gibbons became a hero with two clutch field goals, including the game-winning 37-yarder in overtime.
The victory was a lot of things. Pretty was not one of them.
The Wolverines (11-2) managed 184 yards of offense against Virginia Tech, the only time this season they gained fewer than 250. They are just the third team in eight seasons to win a bowl game while gaining fewer than 200 yards.
They were doubled-up by Virginia Tech, which gained 377 yards.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, so good in his previous two games, was bottled up and finished with a career-worst 13 yards rushing. He was stuck on zero midway through the second half.
Robinson combined this season with sophomore tailback Fitz Toussaint to become Michigan's first pair of 1,000-yard rushers since 1975. Against the Hokies, they combined for 26 carries and 43 yards.
No player had more than two catches. No rusher gained more than 30 yards.
"We were looking at the third-quarter stats on the screen, and they had more first downs, they had more total yards, they had more time of possession — but we were still up," senior tight end Kevin Koger said. "We had no idea why. It wasn’t pretty, it was definitely ugly, but we got through it."
When paired with Michigan's inability to get off the field on defense — it allowed Virginia Tech to convert all but one of its third-down attempts of 8 yards or longer, and the lone miss led to a fourth-and-11 conversion — it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Wolverines could win a BCS game.
Yet, they did.
"I feel like this was a team that didn't quit and we just kept fighting," Robinson said. "We held everybody accountable for what we had to do to win."
That meant 45- and 18-yard touchdown passes to receiver Junior Hemingway. They were the Wolverines' only touchdowns, and were enough for Hemingway to earn MVP honors, despite not recording another catch.
Even those positive plays were fortunate, as both passes were off-balance heaves to a blanketed Hemingway. The senior has been a virtuoso this season on jump balls, but the difference between success and failure on both tosses was incremental.
Michigan turned up on the right side of both plays.
"We've always had a lot of confidence in that combination and, sometimes, you are going to make plays," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "You've got to have guys who can make those plays, and when they're the ones doing it, you feel pretty good about it."
How did Michigan conjure a win while not being able to move the ball on offense nor get off the field on defense? It benefited from a series of fortunate twists.
Two Robinson interceptions were negated, including one on a defensive pass interference call two plays before Hemingway's final touchdown grab.
Michigan’s fake field-goal pass attempt just before halftime caromed into the air and found long-snapper Jareth Glanda, despite the play being doomed from the start because several players didn’t know the team had called a fake.
Even in overtime, Michigan benefited from Danny Coale’s touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone being overturned. Virginia Tech had to settle for a field goal, which it missed to set up Gibbons’ heroics.