Wildcats Have ‘Nobody’ to Thank : Ohio State Snub Inspires Michigan, Aids Northwestern : College football: Wolverines’ Biakabutuka takes comment personally and rushes for 313 yards in 31-23 upset of Buckeyes in front of 106,288.
His shoulder hurt and his hands tingled and his calf was strained after 37 encounters with Ohio State’s bruising defense, but Michigan tailback Tshimanga (Tim) Biakabutuka ignored those injuries.
It was the insults inflicted by Ohio State earlier in the week that he couldn’t overlook.
Inspired by Buckeye flanker Terry Glenn’s declaration that, “Michigan is nobody. I guarantee we’re going to the Rose Bowl,” Biakabutuka took it upon himself Saturday to change Ohio State’s itinerary.
Bouncing back from punishing hit after punishing hit, Biakabutuka rushed for a career-high 313 yards and plowed in from the two-yard line to score the final touchdown in the Wolverines’ 31-23 upset of the Buckeyes before a delirious crowd of 106,288 at Michigan Stadium. He not only preserved the Wolverines’ honor, he knocked Ohio State, 11-1 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten, out of the Rose Bowl and gave Northwestern (10-1, 8-0) its first passage to Pasadena since January of 1949.
“If [Glenn] is going to disrespect me and tell me I’m not something I believe I am, I’m going to go out and try to prove him wrong,” said Biakabutuka, a junior who was born in Zaire but raised in the suburbs of Montreal. “It was a tough game. A couple of times I fell on the ball and my wind was knocked out and another time I fell on my helmet. I just sucked it up.
“I wanted this game so bad, I couldn’t stop there. It’s a great way to salvage the season.”
There was no salvaging the day for the Buckeyes. For the second time in three years, they came to Ann Arbor undefeated and needing a victory over a less-than-spectacular Michigan team to earn a Rose Bowl berth. And for the second time in three years, the Wolverines (9-3, 5-3) foiled them. Ohio State hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since the 1984 season.
Before Saturday, the Buckeyes had given up an average of 124.1 yards per game rushing; Biakabutuka exceeded that before the first quarter ended. Ohio State’s offense, which had set a school record with 348 points, produced only three field goals and didn’t cross Michigan’s goal line until Eddie George dived in to cut Michigan’s lead to 17-15 with 1:12 left in the third quarter. The Buckeyes’ 106 yards rushing were a season low.
“The Citrus Bowl is still a good bowl, but it’s not the Rose Bowl,” Ohio State Coach John Cooper said. “It’s not the one you play for. I’m tremendously disappointed. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as disappointed in my life.”
Biakabutuka became only the second Michigan player to rush for more than 300 yards in a game. Benefiting from superb blocking by his offensive line, he broke off runs of 22 and 19 yards on Michigan’s first possession. That gave Ohio State ample notice of the slashing, twisting runs that were to come, but the Buckeyes never figured out how to stop them.
Carries of 16, 44 and two yards by Biakabutuka helped set up Michigan’s first touchdown drive, which ended with a four-yard pass from Brian Griese to Clarence Williams. That gave Michigan a 7-3 lead.
“We never stopped their running game, and if you can’t stop the running game in this league, you’re going to get beat,” Cooper said. “They ran the cutback play time and time and time again. I don’t know where our back-side linebacker was or where our secondary was.”
George, widely considered the top Heisman candidate, rushed for 104 yards, his 11th consecutive 100-yard game, but far below his average of 156.6 yards per game. He caught the conversion of the two-point play after Bobby Hoying’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Buster Tillman, which brought the Buckeyes within eight at 31-23 with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter, but he wasn’t a game-breaker.
That role was played by Biakabutuka.
“It doesn’t take a smart coach to give it to Tim,” said Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr, who became the team’s interim coach last spring after Gary Moeller was forced to resign following a drunken incident at a suburban Detroit restaurant. The “interim” was removed from his title Nov. 13.
“Tim came in to me last Sunday [after a 27-17 loss to Penn State] and said, ‘Coach, don’t worry about me. I take [the Ohio State] game as a personal challenge,’ ” Carr said. “I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I want to prove I’m the best back in the Big Ten.’ I think he is.”
He had an immeasurable amount of help from a quick and aggressive offensive line. “I’ve been playing football for six years and I’ve never seen holes so big,” Biakabutuka said. “I’ve never seen a group of guys block that well.”
Their blocking also helped Williams, a freshman, gain 43 yards in 10 carries and score two touchdowns. Griese dived over center for the Wolverines’ second touchdown, giving them a 17-9 lead early in the third quarter. But he set the crowd on edge when Mike Vrabel grabbed a pass intended for Amani Toomer at the Michigan 40 and returned it 15 yards, setting up George’s touchdown dive in the third quarter. The Buckeyes went for two points and the tie, but George was stopped.
Williams took a pitch from Griese and scored from eight yards out to put Michigan ahead, 24-15, early in the fourth quarter, but Ohio State didn’t fold. Even after Biakabutuka scored with 7:55 to play, Ohio State pulled off a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped by Tillman’s catch and the two-point conversion. But just as the fans were getting seriously worried, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted a fourth-down pass intended for Glenn at the Michigan 13 with about a minute left.
“There was a lot of talking out there. A lot of things were being said,” Woodson said. “I took [Glenn’s vow] personally. The way I look at it, this is his first year and it’s mine too. I wanted to prove I was the best freshman of us two. I did that.”
Carr, a freshman coach, was nearly overcome afterward. His players carried him off the field and insisted he lead them in the school fight song in the locker room, leaving him teary-eyed.
“It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” Carr said. “I’ve had some unbelievable moments lately, but I’ll never forget this moment.
“I don’t think anybody in the country gave us much of a chance to win this game, but we said all week the only important thing was what the men on the sideline believed. Now they have something they can believe for the rest of their lives.”