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Published: Tuesday, 10/13/2009

UT fans can savor this forever

ANN ARBOR - Don't try to figure it out.

How a team can lose to Florida International, be shut out by Ball State to cap a run of three straight setbacks at home, sink to 1-4 and give every indication it is making a one-way trip on a slippery slope to a third straight losing season, perhaps the last for its embattled coach, and then come into the Big House with 107,000 people singing The Victors and whipping their fists into the air and clapping in rhythm on the most beautiful autumn day you've ever seen and BEAT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN well, don't try to figure it out.

The victors on this day were Toledo's Rockets. If you are a UT fan, and aren't we all at times like this, then don't waste a minute trying to figure it out. Just enjoy. Final score: Toledo 13, Michigan 10.

We have been here before. It was 2000 and UT went into central Pennsylvania and former Rocket coach Gary Pinkel, standing in the shadow of Mount Nittany, chatted amiably with the living legend, Joe Paterno, at the center of the field and then proceeded to kick his, um, well, we'll get to the exact word later.

It was a very, very good UT team (the Rockets would finish 10-1) dominating a so-so Penn State team (the Nittany Lions would finish 5-7) before 94,296 fans at Beaver Stadium.

This time, frankly, it was a to-date bad, or at least underachieving, Toledo team beating what may prove to be the worst Michigan team in more than four decades.

But they still have that block "M" at center field, stretching from the 45 to the 45. There's the same tunnel Fritz and Bennie and Bo and Lloyd stepped out of into the light of day hundreds of times. Heisman Trophy winners have played here. National champions, too.It's the Big House. Toledos don't win here. Twenty-four teams from the Mid-American Conference have come here previously and 24 have gone home losers. The Wolverines were 16 1/2-point favorites, for goodness sake.

But 60-some players and a dozen or so coaches and, yes, one president believed.

"We're gonna kick ass," UT president Lloyd Jacobs told me before the game.

Oh, really? Can I quote you?

"Absolutely, go ahead," he said.

Consider it done, sir.

Don't try to figure it out. Just enjoy.

Tom Amstutz was UT's defensive coordinator when the Rockets won at Penn State. Would it be accurate to say that was a Toledo team that expected to win that day?

"Yes," Stutz said.

And, yesterday, did you really expect to do it again?

"Yes," said the Rockets' head coach.

(By the way, I don't know how this is going to work out, and I'm not suggesting that UT extends the big guy's contract by, say, tomorrow, but has any coach under more heat produced a more unlikely victory than Amstutz did yesterday? His defensive staff choreographed a game plan that checked UM on less than 300 yards and one touchdown and had three takeaways. Stop trying to remember the last time Toledo's offense scored a touchdown, because that didn't change yesterday, but the offensive staff came up with a pass-happy, slap-happy - few punches, no knockouts, but slap after slap after annoying little slap - attack that kept the chains moving and led to a five-minute edge in possession time. We could go on and on about yesterday's coaching job.)

But how about that Tyrrell Herbert? Michigan's offense moved quickly from the Toledo 33 to the 5 after the Rockets had botched a fake punt and Herbert stepped in front of a badly thrown pass intended for, ironically, Toledoan Kevin Koger and returned it 100 yards for a 7-0 Rockets lead. The senior safety had another pick later too.

"I've never experienced a win like this before, nothing even close," Herbert said. "This is Michigan. My favorite player growing up, Charles Woodson, played in this stadium. It's incredible."

How about Aaron Opelt, who completed 33 of 50 - yes, FIFTY - passes for 257 yards and had UM fans wishing the guy in the blue and gold was wearing the gold and blue, or something like that.

"Ever since I was a little kid I dreamed of playing in the Big House," he said.

And did he win in those dreams?

"I must have," he said, "because this is a dream come true."

Maybe Nick Moore dreamed of setting UT and Michigan Stadium records with 20 receptions for 162 yards. The Wolverines are expected to start covering him at any minute now.

"No, no, I never thought I'd have that many catches, ever," Moore said. "But it's not about me. It's about a team with character battling through adversity and never losing faith in itself."

And, then, there was Alex Steigerwald, the Toledo kicker, who missed a 21-yard field goal due in large part to a shaky snap and later provided the winning points with a career-long 48-yarder that landed on the crossbar and bounced over and through. "Must be my limit," he joked later.

And, then, Steigerwald stood on the sideline in the waning seconds as Michigan's K.C. Lopata lined up a 26-yarder that would have tied the game and sent it to overtime.

"You know, nothing's automatic," UT's kicker said.

Nope. Not in field goals, not in college football, not in university president's quotes, and not in the Goliaths swinging at the Davids.

Don't try to figure it out. Just enjoy.



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