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Survive and Advance: Michigan Turns Back Maryland

Things were on verge of becoming dicey for Michigan.

Despite falling behind 7-0 less than ten seconds into the game, Maryland had fought back to take a 13-10 second quarter lead. And with 2:34 left in the half, the Terps had the ball and a chance to add to their lead. If Maryland could punch in another touchdown, it could take a 20-10 lead into the locker room. Something that would make for a tenuous second half for the home team.

Yet in perhaps the most pivotal moment of the game, Michigan’s defense forced a quick three-and-out and its offense put together an eight-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, staking the Wolverines to 17-13 halftime lead. The eighth and final play of that drive was a 32-yard scamper by junior tailback Blake Corum, his first of two touchdowns on the day.

The moment was as pivotal as it was, not because a ten-point lead would have been insurmountable, but rather because Michigan wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders at the time.

Corum, shouldering a larger role with backfield mate Donovan Edwards on the sidelines in street clothes, was spectacular, rushing 13 times for 132 first half yards. Yet despite Corum’s strong performance, Michigan couldn’t really get on track offensively. JJ McCarthy, in his third career start, didn’t play poorly, but wasn’t as sharp as he’d been earlier in the season. The Wolverines as a team, in fact, just seemed a little out of sync.

Need further proof things weren’t going Michigan’s way? Even Mr. Reliable, reining Lou Groza award winner Jake Moody, missed a field goal, his first miss in 15 attempts.

Michigan’s difficulties weren’t confined to its offense and kicking games. Maryland came into the game boasting one of the better passing attacks in the Big Ten, so it wasn’t surprising that Michigan struggled trying to contain Taulia Tagovailoa and his all-star receiving corps. But Michigan also struggled against the run, something that was a little more surprising. Led by Antwain Littleton, the Terps bullied their way to 74 first half yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Which brings us back to the final minutes of the first half. If Michigan had given up a touchdown, the second half would have had an entirely different feel to it. Instead, while Michigan wasn’t exactly dominant in the second half, the Wolverines never seemed in great peril, either.

Michigan played better in the second half, but the Wolverines still played unevenly. McCarthy continued to struggle at times, but made enough big plays to keep the Michigan offense moving. The sophomore signal caller found tight end Luke Schoonmaker early and often (connecting on seven completions for 72 yards and a touchdown) and hit Ronnie Bell for a key 49-yard completion in the fourth quarter. But McCarthy’s best plays might have been when he handed off to Corum.

Corum was a workhorse for the Wolverines, finishing the day with 30 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The 243 yards are the most for a Michigan player since Denard Robinson rushed for 258 yards in 2010. The most for a Michigan running back since Tim Biakabutuka’s 313 yards against Ohio State in 1995. The two touchdowns gave Corum an NCAA-leading nine rushing touchdowns this season. His final carry of the day, like his final carry of the first half, resulted in a long touchdown, this time a 47-yard run that salted the game away and sent 110,000 fans home happy.

Michigan didn’t play its best football Saturday, but it defeated a solid Maryland team. We still may not know what kind of team Michigan is, but good teams have to win games in which they don’t play their best. And Michigan proved it could do that Saturday.