Michigan gets boost from run, kick threats
During the first half of the Citrus Bowl, No. 14 Michigan matched No. 13 Alabama blow-for-blow with surprising help from a young running back duo and a senior kicker.
Michigan isn’t a running team. The Wolverines can typically trust their offense in the hands of senior Shea Patterson, a veteran who roped in 22 touchdowns and more than 2,800 passing yards during his final season in Ann Arbor.
With Patterson wielding the aerial game, rushing typically made up a little more than a third of the Wolverines’ offense, which averaged 150 rushing yards per game. The talented young pair helming the running corps — freshman Zach Charbonnet and sophomore Hassan Haskins — both finished well below 1,000-yard seasons.
But Patterson was 1-for-6 passing during Michigan’s first two drives of the Citrus Bowl Wednesday at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. Smothered in the air, Michigan turned to the ground to recover. Charbonnet and Haskins both surpassed their average rushing yards by the end of the first half, combining for 120 yards to set up Michigan’s two-point halftime lead.
The adjustment also forced Alabama to adapt its defense, which took pressure off Patterson in the pocket and allowed him to throw for a touchdown to close the first quarter.
“That was our O-line,” Patterson said. “Any time that happens, they put an extra guy in the box and it opens up more space in the second level for our guys to get open.”
The run game kept Michigan in the game in the first half, but its absence sank the Wolverines in the second. After running for 135 yards in the first, the Michigan offense stalled in the second, mustering only 27 rushing yards.
Alabama sealed the edge to force Michigan to rush into the teeth of the defensive line. Without relief from his running backs, Patterson floundered in the pocket and threw two interceptions. The quarterback passed for 82 more yards in the second half, failing to move Michigan into scoring position again.
“They just made their adjustments,” Patterson said. “I didn’t play my best, I missed a few throws and I could’ve calmed my feet down earlier. I felt like I didn’t make enough plays.”
While the run game pushed the Wolverines into a first-half lead, it was kicker Quinn Nordin who delivered on the scoreboard. Nordin accounted for 10 of Michigan’s 16 first-half points, stepping up to close when the Wolverines couldn’t find the end zone.
Nordin also gave Michigan the 16-14 edge headed into the locker room with a 57-yard kick in the final seconds of the first half.
The crowd held a collective breath as the ball dangled in midair, lost steam over the 10-yard line, then plummeted dramatically between the uprights, falling just inches beyond the bar for a field goal. The kick set a Citrus Bowl record and tied a Michigan record.
“It was a tremendous kick,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He had been kicking the ball really well leading up to the game [and] hit three from that same spot in pregame. He hit it perfect.”
The performance closed a redemptive season arc for Nordin. He began his senior season as the second-string kicker behind sophomore Jake Moody, then took over the starting role midseason.
Nordin closed out the season as a rock for Michigan, going 10-for-10 in the final five games of the season and knocking in three field goals from more than 45 yards.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around,” Patterson said of Nordin. “He’s always in the weight room, he’s always in the training room getting better and working on his game. He deserved all that today.”
Michigan running back Hassan Haskins helped gash Alabama’s defense, giving the Wolverines a surprising boost during their Citrus Bowl loss to the Crimson Tide.