Glen Mason's Minnesota squad entered Saturday's contest extremely confident. Despite the crushing defeat they suffered at home last year, they learned in that game that they could play with Michigan. That said, the Wolverines showed their visitors on the first drive that things were going start out a little differently.
Chad Henne did a wonderful job of taking what the defense gave him, connecting five passes (three to Braylon Edwards) before an eight-yard touchdown run by Mike Hart put the home team up 7-0. Henne's passing efficiency continued later in the first quarter when he engineered a 9 play 35 yard drive, hitting three different receivers to set up a 38 yard Garrett Rivas field goal to make the score 10-0. The Wolverines were rolling and it seemed as if they would continue to do so, but then Gophers vaunted rushing attack struck for their first big play of the day.
On the first play of the subsequent Gopher drive, sophomore tailback Laurence Maroney burst upfield, cut to the outside, and outran the defense for an 80-yard touchdown run. The long jaunt silenced the largest homecoming crowd in Michigan history (111,518), but the backs wearing winged helmets weren't going to let them stay quiet for long. "They (the media) were talking about their two running backs the whole week," Hart said. "We knew we had to come out and earn some respect this week." Hart's record setting rushing performance really began to take shape on the next drive.
The New York native rushed 7 times for 27 yards to pace a 14-play drive that culminated in a beautiful jump ball touchdown to Edwards. The game started to resemble a heavyweight fight at that point. The Gophers bounced off of the ropes with a huge uppercut to get right back in the contest. Their drive started with a 39-yard strike to Ernie Wheelwright. Then the Gophers imposed their will on the ground. Six rushes and 39 yards later the they had trimmed the lead to 17-14 thanks to a 19 yard run from Marion Barber III.
Michigan took the three-point lead into the intermission, but the 165 first half rushing yards had many envisioning a repeat of the Gopher ground performance against Michigan last year. However, the Michigan defense was prepared to step up to the challenge. "The coaches put the Brown Jug and the 424 yards rushing (from 2003) in our face the whole week," Gabe Watson said. "We just tried to prepare to stop the run and shut it down. Minnesota is a great team and the first half they had an 80-yard touchdown, but we had to keep our confidence and believe that we could win the game."
Michigan came out of the locker room swinging with a heavy dose of Mike Hart. The freshman chalked up another 19 yards rushing on the drive, but the march down the field was cut short when Henne attempted a pass over the middle that was intercepted at the Minnesota 18. A few minutes later the Gophers took their first lead of the game when Jared Ellerson beat Markus Curry on an out-and-up for a 26-yard TD to make it 21-17. The Wolverines tried to answer on the next drive when Henne attempted a deep pass to Edwards, but Ukee Dozier intercepted it in the endzone for the touchback.
Things looked bleak for the home team at the start of the fourth when Leon Hall muffed a punt deep in Michigan territory. The Gophers recovered the ball and were going for the knockout blow. The Michigan defense proved up to the task though, and held the visitors to a field goal to stay within striking distance.
The offense responded to the new life with a 10 play 68 yard drive (35 of which came from Mike Hart on the ground) to get into field goal position. A poor snap made the Rivas attempt more troublesome than the Michigan faithful would have liked. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Matt Gutierrez was able to get the ball up just enough for Rivas to kick a low line drive between the uprights for the 29 yard field goal to make the score 24-20.
The defense stoned the Gophers on the next series and forced a punt, but the Michigan offense wasn't able to capitalize. With 4:57 left in the game, Michigan's veteran field general decided to punt and call on his defense to come up with yet another stop. They did just that, holding the Gophers to 19 yards on 6 plays and putting the offense 87 yards from paydirt with just over 3 minutes remaining.
Chad Henne's late game heroics are the stuff of legend back in Pennsylvania. On the next drive he began a new legend in Ann Arbor! He was anything but freshman-like on the drive, going 5/6…connecting with Tyler Ecker (his third option on that particular pass play) for a 31-yard game winning touchdown.
"He (Henne) has gotten better every week," Carr said after the game. "He had a couple interceptions today. On one of them he threw the deep pass to Braylon inside, he has to keep that ball outside, but I thought he was remarkable. When you consider where he was five weeks ago it tells you what he can be. Michael Hart is special too. Of course those guys really fought on both sides of the football."
On the day Henne set career highs in attempts, completions and yards, completing 33/49 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Hart was equally impressive, setting a Michigan freshman record with 160 yards on 35 attempts. Those two were certainly heroes, but it was the defense that kept Michigan in the game. After giving up 165 yards on the ground and 9 first downs in the first ham, the wolverine defenders limited the Gophers to only 24 yards rushing and 4 first downs in the second half.
"I think we really played a lot of guys on defense," Carr said. "I can't say that I felt we could shut Minnesota down, but I don't think there is a man on this football team that did not feel that our defense would play outstanding football. They got off to a good start and then midway through the first half, Minnesota had the long touchdown run and that took something out of us. What I liked is that we regrouped in the second half and played outstanding defense."
Coach Carr announced after the game that junior lineman Leo Henige suffered a season-ending knee injury against Indiana that will require surgery.