With the momentum clearly on the side of the Green & White, Spartan tailback Javon Ringer took a hand off to his left, attempting to get outside. Waiting five yards in the backfield was Michigan senior linebacker Shawn Crable. The play appeared doomed, as the hulking 6-5 243-pounder collided with the ball-carrier, but he didn’t wrap-up. After reversing his field, Ringer raced down the opposite sideline for what many thought would be an 80-yard touchdown. As hopeless as it seemed, one Wolverine refused to give up on the play… and it just happened the same one that missed the tackle in the first place. Shawn Crable.
In the immediate aftermath, stopping Ringer after the 72-yard jaunt seemed meaningless since the Spartans scored on the next play. However, it symbolized what ultimately turned out to be the difference in the two teams that afternoon (and arguably the past four decades)
“I told Ringer after the game, ‘you old blankety-blank, I had your butt and then you get out on me’,” said Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English. “But I respect Ringer. He is a great player and he made a great run there. But I was so proud of Shawn and the play he made that I could not even get pissed off. I was just impressed. If you look at it, he had to fight off two blockers and still make the tackle. With the speed he has and you know Shawn is just a guy who really has a high end talent, I am just happy when he plays that way. It really pleases me when he plays up to his ability. I was just telling the players that if you can’t get excited about that play then you shouldn’t be out there. What a great, great play by Shawn Crable. Great effort!”
“I just think it's an unbelievable play,” added Michigan headman Lloyd Carr. “It's certainly one of those plays that in Michigan defense, it will be there in the future to stand as an example of what great effort is.”
For his part, Crable tried to downplay the play’s significance.
“I really was not thinking about it,” he said. “I thought I had him on the backfield. I was trying to hang on to him and wait for people to come in and really hit him after I was holding him. We did not get that to happen and then he broke leverage on the backside. When he broke leverage and took off running, I knew I had to get up off the ground. I really had an opportunity to run and do my thing. I took the right angle and got him on the ground.”
“Playing until the whistle blows”… “finishing the job”… “giving all you’ve got until you have nothing left”… all of those cliché’s were visible in that play. When Michigan State pushed its advantage to 24-14 with 7:35 remaining, it was clear that many on their sideline believed the game was over. That turned out to be a drastic miscalculation against a team that wasn’t just going to lie down and accept defeat.
“I just thought we should have faith in there,” English said recalling the message he delivered to his players when things looked their bleakest. “We have proven that we are going to play and compete and have faith that we can win. I thought we were wavering a little bit and I just told them that we needed to have faith. We are going to win this game.”
“Composure is a good word,” added Michigan defensive line coach Steve Stripling. “I think the great thing was that even when we were down, no one was panicking. There was not anybody on the sideline pointing fingers at anybody. We were all just kind of hanging in their and something positive was going to happen.”
In Crable’s eyes, the defense regaining its composure was just a matter of diagnosing what was wrong.
“Well they were running the ball nicely on us,” the senior captain admitted. “I think we had to settle down and really get into a groove with what they were doing to us. They were running the power, but they were cutting it backside and our backside linebacker was kind of unsure about what he needed to do. We told him to run right up in there because they were bringing the tackle around. We were just like, ‘run up in there and make a play, make the ball stay front side.’ Once you do that then we’ve got a chance to make a play. We did that the last 2 drives and stoned them.”
Even though he wouldn’t acknowledge it, what Crable showed on the play set a tone for the rest of the game. It also was reminiscent of what his team as shown in the aftermath of a dismally disappointing 0-2 start. The book on the season is incomplete at this point, but it should be clear to even the most cynical of Michigan fans that this team has rebounded in a way that few others would have.