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November 10, 2012Something special happens when the Wolverines go into overtime.
The NCAA adopted an overtime policy for the 1996 season, and since then, Michigan has played in nine of them. There have been wild comebacks, season-capping bowl wins, high-flying offensive fireworks and rivalries made fiercer through the Wolverines' overtime appearance - but they nearly all have one thing in common: a Michigan win at the end of the day.
In nine all-time overtime games, including Saturday's come-from-behind 38-31 win over Northwestern, the Wolverines have won eight times.
No team in the country that has played multiple overtime games in its history has a better winning percentage in them (and only one program, FBS provisional South Alabama, has a 1-0 all-time record). South Florida and Michigan lead the country in all-time overtime winning percentage (88.9 percent), each posting a stellar 8-1 record.
Here is a list of the Wolverines' nine overtime games:
The Wolverines have done with the momentum going into overtime - as they did Saturday after coming up with a 53-yard prayer from junior quarterback Devin Gardner to fifth-year senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree with 18 seconds in the game to set up the game-tying field goal - and without.
Against Penn State in 2002, Michigan State in 2004 and Illinois in 2010, Michigan scored momentous touchdowns in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter to knot the game and roll into over time.
Against Iowa in 2005 and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, Michigan survived last-second regulation field goals to win in overtime. And in 2005, the Spartans returned a late-game fumble for the tying score, and in the 2000 Orange Bowl, Alabama blocked a potential game-winning field goal as time expired - but the Wolverines still found a way to regroup and win.
It all comes down to expectation and preparation.
"Playing in close games is something we work on all the time," Redshirt junior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. "You have to play to the whistle. That's what this program is based on: finishing. And I think when we came out, we knew what we needed to do. We needed to score. And our defense needed to come out with a stop, so I was really happy with them.
"I don't know if we ever practice a specific overtime scenario, but we always do a two-minute drill, a four-minute drill: the money stuff. That's what you have to do to be successful."
After the game Saturday, Gardner admitted that he had never played in an overtime game, having not seen the field in the Illinois win in 2010 nor the Virginia Tech game last season.
But, with the game on the line, it was business as usual.
"We prepared to score another touchdown," he said. "When Northwestern scored, our object was to score another touchdown. In overtime, we just stayed poised. Stayed focused and did what we were supposed to. Give Coach Borges credit for calling the great plays."
Best All-Time Overtime Teams, By Winning Percentage*
Team - Wins - Losses - Winning %
Michigan - 8 - 1 - 88.9
South Florida - 8 - 1 - 88.9
UCLA - 7 - 1 - 87.5
Nebraska - 6 - 1 - 85.7
Western Kentucky - 5 - 1 - 83.3
San Diego State - 4 - 1 - 80.0
Hawaii - 7-2 - 77.8
Tennessee - 10 - 3 - 76.9
Arkansas - 9 - 3 - 75.0
Army - 6 - 2 - 75.0
Ohio State - 6 - 2 - 75.0
*With at least two OT games played
Defense Has Work To Do
With a fourth and two in overtime, facing the brutal north end zone of Michigan Stadium where the student section was hurling intensity and hate down upon them, the Wildcats went to what had worked all afternoon: the read option.
Thus far, Northwestern had gashed the Michigan defense for 248 rushing yards (the most since the second week of the season) and 431 total offensive yards (tying a season-high, set in week one against Alabama).
But instead of pulling the ball and working the perimeter of the defense, where the Wildcats had found the most success, quarterback Kain Colter handed the ball off on the inside option to fullback Tyris Jones.
And fifth-year senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens was right there to cut the play down for no gain. The Wolverines stormed the field, hugging, dancing and singing The Victors with the scoreboard reading Michigan 38, Northwestern 31.
"To make that play, I just felt so proud of myself, but not for me - for my teammates," Demens said. "The defense didn't play as well as we wanted to, but to come up and make a play and finish strong, how we did, it means a lot."
It was only the fourth game in Michigan coach Brady Hoke's tenure that the Wolverines surrendered more than 30 points in a game.
And although the defensive deficiencies will be masked by a win and an otherwise solid year for the unit, the coaching staff knows there is still work to do on that side of the ball.
"We need to play better on the perimeter of the defense," Hoke said. "We need to get off blocks better."
The defense has played the outside run very well in some weeks. In a 12-10 win over Michigan State, Michigan held the Spartans to 15 yards on nine off-tackle runs (1.6 yards per play).
But against teams with option tendencies, the perimeter has been very susceptible to perimeter plays. Although their schemes are very different, Air Force (a triple-option team) and Northwestern (a zone-read team) used perimeter reads to gash the Wolverines.
The Falcons gained 290 yards on the ground on 4.1 yards per attempt, often attacking the edge. The Wildcats hit the Wolverines for 4.3 yards per carry on their way to 248 rushing yards, relying on aggressive blocking in the flats and a dangerous combination of Colter and running back Venric Mark, who finished with 82 and a game-high 104 rushing yards, respectively.
"They've got some good receivers, and we knew they were going to stalk block us," fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "We knew how they were going to approach us. From a defensive backs standpoint, we didn't do a good job of getting off those blocks and helping up in the front seven, by keeping it inside and in front."
The Wildcats also had quite a bit of success converting on third-down chances.
Coming into the game, the Wolverines ranked No. 31 nationally in opponent third-down conversion percentage, surrendering first downs on just 43 of 125 attempts (34.4 percent).
Saturday, the Wildcats were 8-of-16 on third downs and 1-of-2 on fourth-down conversions.
""They converted and were a little more accurate on some of the throws on the seven routes, smash route," Hoke said. "We needed to do a better job in the seam part of our defense when they were throwing, and he scrambled at times, either we missed the tackle, which we did a couple times on the scramble, or didn't force the ball enough when you talk about your lanes and compressing the pocket from the outside and the inside."
Jordan Kovacs Honored With Wistert Brothers' No. 11 Legends Jerseys
This season, Michigan fans have watched a little more closely when the Wolverines storm out of the tunnel before the game and touch the "Go Blue" banner.
The "Michigan Legends" program, which honors former Wolverine greats by adorning their jersey numbers with special patches, has been in full swing this year, with four formerly retired jerseys being reintroduced.
The coaches have issued the jerseys out to players who they felt deserved them the most and have kept those decisions tightly under wraps until just before kickoff, having the players change into their new jerseys after pregame warmups.
Earlier this year, the No. 21 Desmond Howard Legends jersey was awarded to fifth-year senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree; the No. 47 Bennie Oosterbaan Legends jersey was awarded to redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Jake Ryan; the No. 87 Ron Kramer Legends jersey was awarded to fifth-year senior tight end Brandon Moore; and the No. 48 Gerald Ford Legends jersey was awarded to sophomore outside linebacker Desmond Morgan.
Saturday, the Wolverines honored Alvin, Albert and Francis Wistert, who all wore No. 11 and are believed to be the only three brothers to earn All-American honors at the same position in college football history.
And it was not hard to spot the player in the No. 11 jersey coming out of the tunnel.
Fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs, the Wolverines' defensive captain who leads the team onto the field every Saturday, trotted out in his new jersey for all to see.
While the reaction to the Michigan Legends program has been overwhelmingly positive, many Michigan fans felt torn about Kovacs wearing a new number.
The former walk-on who has risen through the ranks to become on of the most reliable, consistent defensive players in the country, will be remembered fondly for years to come.
But will it be as No. 11 - or his former number, No. 32?
"Coach [Brady] Hoke let me know earlier in the week that I'd be wearing No. 11," Kovacs said. "He asked me how I felt about it, and of course, I felt it's a huge honor. I've worn 32 for quite some time, and I think I'll always be 32, but I think it's a great opportunity to recognize our legends.
"I did a little research on the Wisterts. I actually had the opportunity to meet Albert yesterday. He said when he was first given 11, he was so humbled and so excited. It was a huge honor for him. He said he prayed before every game he put it on, that he'd be worthy enough to wear it.
"It's a huge honor, and I just hope I'm worthy enough to wear it."