Michi­gan gets boost from run, kick threats

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS THURSDAY - By Ju­lia Poe [email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com

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.”

JOE ROB­BINS/GETTY

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.

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