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Published: Sunday, 9/9/2012

UM's Ryan honors legend with key plays

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Michigan's Devin Funchess scores a touchdown after making a catch in the second quarter against Air Force. Michigan's Devin Funchess scores a touchdown after making a catch in the second quarter against Air Force.
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ANN ARBOR -- Jake Ryan may not have turned himself into a Michigan football legend Saturday, but he was the closest thing the Wolverines' defense had with the home opener on the line against plucky Air Force.

Ryan and his mates put up some resistance on the visitors' final two possessions to preserve a Denard Robinson masterpiece and a 31-25 victory at the Big House.

With 12 minutes to play, Air Force had option-pitched its way to 378 yards of offense and was within a field goal. The Falcons would get two more possessions.

And Jake Ryan would get his say.

For the second time ever, an ex-Michigan star was recognized as a "Legend," having his retired jersey un-retired and assigned to an active player.

Bennie Oosterbaan, a nine-time letterman in three sports and a three-time football All-American in the 1920s, and later the head coach of a national championship team (1948) at UM, was honored Saturday.

The player selected to change into Oosterbaan's No. 47 jersey for the remainder of his UM career was Ryan, a second-year linebacker from Westlake, Ohio.

"Coach [Brady] Hoke called me in about a week ago and told me," Ryan said. "It's an honor. I'm going to wear it with pride.

"I did a little research on Bennie. He was just a great athlete. He made a lot of plays. It's just a number, I know, but I wanted to represent him by doing the same thing."

With the game on the line, he did just that.

He and defensive end Frank Clark alternated hits and tackles on every play during the Falcons' final possession.

Air Force's last two pass attempts, including the fourth-down play that sealed UM's win, were thwarted when Ryan smacked quarterback Connor Dietz just as he released the ball.

On the previous Air Force possession, which got into Michigan territory, another UM end, Jibreel Black, came up big on third and fourth-down plays.

Those were among the very few times Michigan put a clamp on Air Force's fairly unique option offense.

"It's very high tempo," Ryan said. "It's crazy. There are different things coming at you all the time."

Air Force ran an astounding 90 plays, including a fake field goal attempt from the UM 3 that Raymon Taylor and Joe Bolden sniffed out short of the end zone.

Undeterred, the Falcons forced a three-and-out, got good field position, and drove for the touchdown that made it 28-25.

Yes, 90 plays, all out of the no-huddle, most of them pitches and dives and quarterback keepers, so much misdirection with some counter plays mixed in, everything coming with at least one man in motion.

There were 12 third-down conversions, two fourth-down successes. The UM defense had to play on and on and gave up 417 yards, 290 on the ground, when all was said and done.

So, truthfully, considering the opponent's style, it's hard to determine how well or how poorly the Wolverine defensive unit played. But it played a lot.

"[Air Force] ran too many plays which means our defense wasn't getting them off the way you'd want," Hoke said. "There's a uniqueness to that offense and to the schemes, but at the same time we're a work in progress on defense."

On offense, Michigan was a Denard in progress. Check this out -- in something of a statistical anomaly the Wolverines' quarterback either ran (218 yards) or passed (208) for 426 total yards and his team finished with a net 422. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

A week after seemingly playing himself out of the early Heisman picture with a shambles of a performance against Alabama, he may have played himself back into the discussion.

Robinson burst 79 yards for a touchdown on UM's second play from scrimmage. Not wanting to wait so long in the second half, he took the first play 58 yards for a score. He passed for two other TDs.

It almost wasn't enough until Jake Ryan, with help from his friends, got the last word on a day he led Michigan with 11 tackles.

Hoke said he and his staff selected Ryan, who was playing in just his 15th career game, for the Oosterbaan jersey honor because of "character and how he goes about his business. There wasn't a better choice than to have Jake represent Bennie. There's no question he had some big plays at the end."

Maybe not legendary stuff, but the right stuff for the Wolverines to hang in for a win.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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