3 ‘unheralded’ plays that helped Michigan football blow out Minnesota in season opener

Jim Harbaugh highlights 3 plays that helped Wolverines open season with win

Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the second quarter of the game at TCF Bank Stadium on October 24, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (David Berding, 2020 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football made plenty of huge plays in its blowout win over Minnesota, but what about the under-the-radar moments that helped Jim Harbaugh’s team maintain control of the game?

READ: Michigan has crushed plenty of good teams under Harbaugh -- Is this win different?

During his Monday press conference, Harbaugh used the word “unheralded” several times when highlighting three plays that likely went under-appreciated in Michigan’s win.

The first came from redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Taylor Upshaw, who played sparingly but made the most of his only tackle of the game.

With 2:40 left in the first quarter, Mohamed Ibrahim took a handoff from the 13-yard line and bounced outside. He had a wide open look at the end zone, but Upshaw -- at 256 pounds, mind you -- caught him from behind and wrestled him down at the 2-yard line.

“Talk about unheralded,” Harbaugh said. “That was probably the unheralded defensive play of the game for me -- him running all the way to the sideline, defensive end, making that tackle, keeping a very good player out of the end zone.”

Ibrahim’s run was enough to give Minnesota a first down, but a 5-yard penalty followed by three stops forced the Golden Gophers to settle for a field goal attempt.

Upshaw’s tackle ultimately saved Michigan four points, and instead of a tie game, the Wolverines maintained a 14-10 lead. Two plays and 24 seconds later, the lead grew to 11 points.

“I’m really proud of Taylor," Harbaugh said. “Taylor’s one my favorites on the team.”

You can hear Harbaugh talk about Upshaw’s play below.

Harbaugh also pointed to two special teams plays, the first of which was made by running back Hassan Haskins.

Haskins was one of Michigan’s most productive offensive players, rushing for 82 yards and two scores on six carries.

But with 3:20 left until halftime, Haskins -- who switched from linebacker to running back before the 2019 season -- showed he can still tackle on one of the biggest stops of the game.

Since his starting punter was unavailable, P.J. Fleck decided to fake a punt on fourth down and four from his own 31-yard line. Michigan was already up by 11 points at the time.

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Haskins sniffed out the play and stood up tight end Ko Kieft, who had caught a touchdown pass earlier in the game. He drove him back for a loss and the Wolverines took over with great field position.

“Took on a blocker, shed him, recognized it, made the tackle in the hole,” Harbaugh said.

Four plays later, Haskins punched the ball into the end zone to give Michigan an 18-point lead, and the game was virtually over. Minnesota never got the lead back down to single digits.

Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with Ronnie Bell #8 after scoring a touchdown against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the second quarter of the game at TCF Bank Stadium on October 24, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (2020 Getty Images)

There was one brief moment in the second half when it felt like the Gophers might have been able to make a push. After coming out with an impressive touchdown drive to get back within 11 points, Minnesota kicked off and forced a fumble during Blake Corum’s return.

When the ball squirted out, Michael Barrett was blocking another Minnesota defender. But somehow, he ended up being the one who fell on the loose ball.

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Minnesota would have had the ball at Michigan’s 32-yard line against a tired defense with a chance to pull within four points. Instead, Barrett handed the ball back to the offense, which drove down the field and scored yet another touchdown.

Barrett had a strip sack that led to a defensive touchdown, a 66-yard kickoff return and seven total tackles, but no play was bigger than that fumble recovery.

“There was a ton of hustle plays throughout the game,” Harbaugh said.

Tanner Morgan #2 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fumbles the ball after getting hit by Michael Barrett #23 of the Michigan Wolverines in the first quarter of the game at TCF Bank Stadium on October 24, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (2020 Getty Images)

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Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.