Jim Harbaugh came to Piscataway four years ago and rubbed Rutgers’ face in the dirt. The guy had the audacity to call for a two-point conversion in a game Michigan won 78-0. It was utterly ridiculous, the type of thing you pay back in spades when the time comes.
That time came Saturday, when Harbaugh staggered to the banks with his program coming apart at the seams — and Rutgers let him off the hook with one of the most puzzling decisions you will ever see.
With the ball on Michigan’s 25 in overtime and its offense firing on all cylinders, Rutgers ran two conservative plays and then took a two-yard loss on a quarterback kneel-down — an attempt to center the ball for Valentino Ambrosio’s game-winning field goal attempt. The 45-yarder hooked just left, and Michigan prevailed 48-42 two overtimes later.
“The two plays, we weren’t going to be overly aggressive but they were plays that we felt could gain yardage, and they did,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “There was I guess third-and-6. We just said let’s center it. That’s where Val wanted it, in the middle. You know what? Sometimes you make them, sometimes you don’t. I definitely thought that was in his range. It just wasn’t tonight.”
That’s not the kicker’s fault. A 45-yarder is a risky proposition at the college level and Valentino — a walk-on from the soccer team who got the starting job just last week —hardly has been tested. Yet Rutgers’ coaches maneuvered like they were sending Adam Vinatieri out there.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh went for it on fourth-and-goal in triple overtime and the Wolverines scored the winning touchdown. Perhaps the most criticized and scrutinized coach in the sport changed quarterbacks, rallied his team from a 17-0 deficit and avoided the knockout punch because his counterparts on the other sideline declined to deliver it.
“Reminds me of some of the greatest comeback wins I’ve been a part of,” Harbaugh said afterward. “Both teams played with a lot of heart and played really well.”