Playing its first game since head coach Jerry Kill‘s abrupt and emotional retirement just three days prior, Minnesota mounted a dramatic comeback to take the lead with 19 seconds remaining, seemingly giving the Gophers an emotional win. But Drew Leidner‘s pass to Drew Wolitarsky was downgraded from a 23-yard touchdown to a 22-yard completion after an official review, and Minnesota had the ball at the Michigan one-yard line with 19 seconds left.
With a timeout remaining, Minnesota lined up to run a play… and shifted… and shifted… and shifted some more. Seventeen seconds later, Leidner’s pass fell incomplete in the end zone. After a timeout, interim head coach Tracy Claeys elected to eschew an overtime-forcing field goal and play for the win. The Gophers called for a Leidner sneak and Michigan, which entered the game with college football’s second-ranked rush defense, held. The spot was upheld upon review, and No. 15 Michigan held on for a 29-26 win.
The Wolverines led 14-3 in the second quarter and 21-16 in the third, but Minnesota re-took the lead on a 24-yard Leidner run, and then pushed the score to 26-21 with a 47-yard Ryan Santoso field goal.
Michigan mounted a comeback despite starting quarterback Jake Rudock knocked from the game after a shot to the head, as backup Wilton Speight (who hadn’t completed a pass this season before tonight) rebounded from four consecutive punts to move the Wolverines 40 yards in seven plays and more than three-and-a-half minutes, punctuated with a 12-yard scoring strike to Jehu Chesson on 3rd-and-10 with just 4:57 remaining. Speight finished the night 3-of-6 for 29 yards in urgent action, while Rudock connected on 13-of-21 throws for 140 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Minnesota accepted the ball at its own 25 on the ensuing possession and methodically moved its way down the field, converting a 3rd-and-17 at its own 18 and a 4th-and-5 at the Michigan 39. Two plays after Leidner hit K.J. Maye for a 12-yard gain on that do-or-die fourth down, he hit Wolitarsky for the apparent game-winning score.
And then, somehow, the Gophers snapped the ball only twice more in the final 19 seconds despite holding a timeout in its back pocket. One may wonder why Claeys, in his second stint now replacing Kill at Minnesota, did not call timeout from the sideline when it appeared Leidner (317 passing yards, 37 rushing, two total touchdowns) was unaware of the rolling clock.
But he didn’t, and Michigan (6-2, 3-1) survived. The win reclaims some of the momentum lost in the shocking Michigan State loss two weeks ago and keeps the Wolverines alive in the Big Ten East race. Michigan will return to Ann Arbor next week to host Rutgers, then visit Penn State and Indiana in advance of Ohio State’s much-anticipated Nov. 28 visit to the Big House.
Minnesota drops to 4-4 (1-3 Big Ten) with the loss and puts the Gophers bowl hopes in jeopardy. Unless Minnesota pulls an upset at Ohio State next week or Iowa the week after, the Gophers will have to sweep Illinois and Wisconsin – winners of 11 straight in the series.
The loss also robbed Minnesota of its first back-to-back wins in the Little Brown Jug series since winning four straight from 1960-63. In a series dating back to 1892, Michigan now holds a 74-25-3 lead.