Michigan Stops Leidner on Final Play to Beat Minnesota 29-26
October 31, 2015

The Minnesota Gophers came within a half-yard of retaining the Little Brown Jug for the first time in more than 50 years. Mitch Leidner was stopped short of the goal line on a quarterback sneak as the game ended, and the 15th-ranked Michigan Wolverines came away with a 29-26 win.

Michigan was coming off a devastating loss to Michigan State, losing on a botched punt on the final play. Minnesota was coming off the retirement of coach Jerry Kill five days before the game. Kill stepped down as his epilepsy forced him out, and his long-time assistant and coordinator, Tracy Claeys, took over. “This is a tough game for tough people,” Claeys said after the game, echoing the words his mentor had always said.

The final plays brought a swing of emotions in what was a gut-wrencher for both teams. Michigan had taken a three-point lead on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 4:57 left.

The ensuing drive by the Gophers included overcoming a third-and-17 situation from its own 23 and later a pass on fourth-and-five from Leidner to K. J. Maye for 12 yards to the Michigan 27. One play later, Leidner looked right and hit Drew Wolitarsky for what was ruled a touchdown with 19 seconds left. However, a review by the officials showed Wolitarsky’s knee had touched the ground before he got the ball across the goal line. The ball was placed at the one-foot line.

The next play, according to Claeys, “took longer than we wanted.” Minnesota had only one time out left and hoped to be able to take two shots at the end zone before having to make a decision between a game-tying field goal or a touchdown to win. After the review and spotting of the ball, the clock started. Leidner first started to line up behind center, then moved back into the shotgun. He threw an incomplete pass, and the clock showed only two seconds left. The Gophers called their final time out and opted to go for the touchdown. “In these situations, you’ve got to be able to get the half-yard,” said Claeys, adding, “I’d do it again.”

Tackle Ryan Glasgow and linebacker Joe Bolden were credited with the stop on Leidner. For the third time on the final drive, the officials reviewed the play. Michigan players held on until it was announced that the call stood—Leidner never reached the end zone—and then rushed across the field to get the jug, which the Gophers had captured with a win at Ann Arbor last year.

Leidner was outstanding in the game, completing 16 of 33 passes for 317 yards and no interceptions. Tight-end Brandon Lingen hauled in five of those passes for 111 yards.

For Michigan Jake Rudock completed 13 of 21 for 140 yards but came out of the game in the third quarter after being hit while going into a slide on a scramble. Wilton Speight, listed third on Michigan’s depth chart, relieved Rudock and had trouble generating a drive; meanwhile, Ryan Santoso kicked his fourth field goal of the game to increase Minnesota’s lead to 26-21. “The first couple of drives I was not really comfortable,” said Speight. “I was probably flushing myself out of the pocket when I did not need to.”

The Wolverines finally got a short field to work with after a 29-yard out-of-bounds punt by Santoso gave them the ball at the Minnesota 40 with eight-and-a-half minutes left. It was Santoso’s only punt of the game, after four by regular punter Peter Mortell. Claeys said nothing was wrong physically with Mortell and referred to a low punt Mortell had made in the second quarter, which allowed Jabrill Peppers to return it 41 yards and set up the Michigan’s second touchdown for a 14-3 lead.

The Gophers stopped the Wolverines the rest of the game and took a 16-14 lead on Santoso’s third field goal of the game as the half ended. In between the field goals, Leidner connected with Rashad Still for a 52-yard touchdown, Still taking the pass down the right sideline at the 30 and cutting inside to go the rest of the way.

Michigan took the opening kickoff of the second half and covered 75 yards for a touchdown, the versatile Peppers taking the snap on first and goal at the Minnesota 6 and following blockers on the left side to put the Wolverines back in front 21-16.

After an exchange of punts, Minnesota took over with good field position. KiAnte Harden muffed Michigan’s punt at midfield, but the Wolverines were flagged for fair-catch interference, a penalty that gave the Gophers the ball at the 33. Two plays later Leidner ran 24 yards for a touchdown, and the Gophers were up 23-21.

Leidner caught a break later in the quarter when his pass in the flat was only knocked down and not intercepted by Peppers, who is Michigan’s starting safety in addition to returning punts and kickoffs and occasionally taking a snap on offense. The play, from the Minnesota 39, would have resulted in a touchdown for Peppers. Instead, the Gophers were able to punt, get the ball back, and take a 26-21 lead on a 47-yard field goal by Santoso.

The team’s swapped punts one more time before Michigan’s winning drive and Minnesota’s just-short response as time ran out.

Peppers was the man for Michigan, returning a kickoff 43 yards after the Gophers had taken a 3-0 lead in the first quarter. The Wolverines took advantage of the field position for a 57-yard drive that finished with a one-yard touchdown plunge by fullback Joe Kerridge. “Very explosive performance by Jabrill in all three phases.”

Gopher Holes: Michigan now leads the series with Minnesota 74-25-3.

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