IOWA CITY - The third time - or third down - was a charm for Michigan yesterday when the Wolverines overcame a poor offensive first half and twice rallied to knock off Big Ten upstart Iowa 32-26 in Kinnick Stadium.
The eighth-ranked Wolverines, who came into the Iowa game averaging over 400 yards per game, could not get untracked against the Hawkeyes, who limited Michigan to just 296 total yards. And to make matters worse, the Wolverines managed just 107 total yards on 29 first-down plays and 25 second-down plays.
Thank God for third down.
Because it was on just 21 of those plays that Michigan not only amassed 189 of its total yards but 11 either resulted in first downs or touchdowns. The Wolverines scored two touchdowns on third-down plays to overcome a 20-7 third-quarter deficit.
“You have to go back to the quarterback and it's a team game,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who also saw the Wolverines overcome a 26-20 deficit. “I thought we did a better job of protecting the quarterback in the second half, and John (Navarre) stood in there and made some good throws.”
Navarre completed 16-of-33 passes for 233 yards, including touchdown passes to wide receiver Marquise Walker and tight end Shawn Thompson (game-winner) on third-down plays in the second half.
Walker's touchdown was one for the highlight reels; the 6-3 senior leaped high for an apparent overthrow but got his right hand on the ball and pulled it down to his chest as he landed in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown reception that gave Michigan a 21-20 lead with 38 seconds left in the third period.
“This kid keeps making catches that defy description,” said Carr. “I didn't think the ball had a chance of being caught.”
“I was just hoping that the ball was going to come my way,” said Walker, who caught six passes for 72 yards, including five in the second half. “Wherever the ball was, I was just going to go up and get it. I just thought it was a normal catch. If the ball's in the air, I just have to go and get it.”
“They made the plays when they needed to,” said Iowa defensive end Aaron Kampman, who saw his team fall to 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten.
A 77-yard pass from Navarre to Tyrece Butler set up a three-yard run by Chris Perry that pulled Michigan to within 20-14.
Iowa scored on a 65-yard punt return that featured a handoff from Chris Oliver to C.J. Jones. But the Wolverines displayed some trickery, too.
On third-and-eight from the Iowa 21, Michigan snapped the ball directly to tailback Chris Perry, who handed the ball to B.J. Askew through Askew's legs. Askew paused as the rest of the backfield went right. Then Askew ran left for 14 yards. That set up Walker's spectacular catch.
Carr said he got the play after seeing Stanford run it against Michigan and Ohio State in the early 1970s.
“What made me nervous is that I saw Northwestern run it today on TV,” said Carr, speaking of the Wildcats' game with Purdue earlier in the day. “We thought we better run it pretty soon or people will be watching for it.”
Iowa pretty much dominated the action in the first half but managed just 10 points.
The Hawkeyes drove into Michigan territory on each of their first three drives, but it wasn't until reserve quarterback Brad Banks entered the game on Iowa's third series that the Hawkeyes could get into the end zone.
Michigan finally got on the board with 1:42 left in the first half when reserve linebacker Zach Kaufman blocked a Nate Kaeding punt, and Roy Manning jumped on the ball in the end zone for a TD.