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ANN ARBOR — Jeremy Gallon had a career-best day. So did Devin Gardner. Yet against an opponent who has played in a succession of high-scoring affairs, an offensive explosion became vital for the Michigan football team in its 63-47 win against Indiana.
Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines accrued 751 yards but needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions to end any hopes the Hoosiers had of winning their first game in Ann Arbor since 1967.
Never mind the late-game theatrics. The Wolverines needed several touchdowns to simply maintain its pace, despite the fact they trailed only once, when Cody Latimer’s 59-yard touchdown catch gave the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
If Michigan wanted to be successful, it had to execute one task: Keep the ball out of the Hoosiers’ hands.
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That assignment was easier said than done. The Hoosiers ran 76 plays, and while they had possession of the ball for only 21 minutes, 26 seconds, they were efficient. Much in the fashion of a two-minute drill, Indiana completed seven of its eight scoring drives in 1:50 or less.
“We tried to simulate their tempo in practice with the quick offense and all of that,” Michigan safety Thomas Gordon said. “It’s nothing compared to the game. We felt we were prepared. We were lined up, but we’ve got to get the calls to echo across the field, and we still came back and made plays on the ball. We were in position, we just had to make plays on the ball.”
Against Indiana’s high-tempo, no-huddle offense, the Wolverines drew an analogy.
“Coach [Fred] Jackson told us, “It’s like a basketball game,’ ” said Gardner, who had a school-record 584 yards of offense, including 503 yards passing. “You have to keep scoring.”
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Michigan (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) had to find opportune times to do so if it wanted to preserve its lead, which went from 14 points early in the second quarter to two in the fourth.
Fitzgerald Toussaint (32 carries for 151 yards, four touchdowns), gave Michigan a 21-7 lead with 7:02 left in the first half, but Shane Wynn answered with a 33-yard catch that cut Michigan’s lead to 21-14.
Then, with 40 seconds left in the first half, Gallon (14 catches for 369 yards, a school and Big Ten record) scored the first of his two TDs, but Mitch Ewald’s 50-yard field goal on the final play of the half brought the Hoosiers within 28-17.
Then the third quarter kicked off, and the shootout ensued.
The Hoosiers (3-4, 1-2) and the Wolverines combined for nine touchdowns and 775 yards in the second half, and it seemed as if Indiana answered Michigan on just about every one of its scoring drives.
Three minutes into the fourth, the Hoosiers cut Michigan’s lead to 49-47 on quarterback Tre Roberson’s 15-yard touchdown run. Yet in a game where defense was optional, Gordon came through with a pair of picks that set up the game’s final two touchdowns.
Gardner’s six-yard touchdown run gave Michigan a 56-47 lead three plays after Gordon intercepted Nate Sudfeld at the Hoosiers’ 35-yard line.
“I was relieved that I didn’t die,” Gardner said of his third rushing TD, in which he hit an Indiana defender and went airborne into the end zone. “That guy came in and blocked, and it was a little scary to me. I saw a lane and I took it.”
Gordon’s intercepted Roberson — who completed 16 of 23 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception — at the Wolverines 6 with 2:57 left, and Michigan’s final drive ended with Toussaint’s 27-yard touchdown that stretched the lead to 16 with 1:12 left.
“We just talked about sticking together,” Gordon said. “We knew it was an explosive offense coming into the game, and nothing they did was surprising to us. They just executed. The defensive backs, we’ve got to make plays on the ball when we have opportunities.
“As a defensive player, you have to be frustrated with giving up that amount of points. But it’s all about the offense holding us up, and us holding them up when we need to.”