ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Michigan football is on a bye this weekend after seven straight wins to climb into the top five of the national rankings.
The Wolverines capped the streak with dominant wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State. Since Sept. 1, only two games have been competitive for Michigan in the second half, and only Northwestern finished within 14 points of the Wolverines.
It's been an impressive streak for Jim Harbaugh's team, and there have been several memorable moments. Here are the top 10 plays from Michigan's winning streak.
10. Peoples-Jones punt return
Coming off a three-touchdown game against SMU, Donovan Peoples-Jones was much quieter on offense against Nebraska.
But he made a huge splash on special teams, notching his first punt return touchdown of the season.
With Michigan already up 39-0 in the third quarter, Peoples-Jones fielded a punt at Michigan's 40-yard line, got to the outside, broke a trio of weak tackle attempts, spun away from a defender and ran across the length of the field to the opposite pylon.
He capped it off with a diving flip into the end zone.
The blocking was perfect, and it was an incredible display of the sophomore's athleticism.
We'll see Peoples-Jones again higher up the list.
9. McCaffrey to Bell
All-around @UMichFootball highlight TD here, folks:@dcaf20 with the beautiful throw, and Ronnie Bell with the great run after the catch. pic.twitter.com/XYAi5eCXmZ — Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 22, 2018
One of the coolest plays of the year came later in the Nebraska game, when the starters were pulled and younger players earned a chance to see the field.
Backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey came into the game at the start of the fourth quarter and threw a couple of nice deep passes that were dropped by his receivers.
Then, on second and 10 with Michigan up 49-3, McCaffrey fired a strike down the right sideline to true freshman Ronnie Bell, who hauled it in for a 56-yard touchdown.
It was a glimpse of the future from McCaffrey, vindication for the lightly recruited Bell and put an exclamation point on Michigan's blowout win.
8. Mason hurdles defender
Harbaugh loves fullbacks, and Michigan is one of the few schools in the country that still uses them regularly.
Ben Mason has taken over the position as a sophomore, and so far, he looks like the best Harbaugh has had in Ann Arbor.
The high school linebacker demonstrated his athleticism early in the game against Maryland, catching a pass in the flat, turning upfield and hurdling a Terrapin defender.
Most fullbacks run into people. Mason jumps over them.
The drive ended in a punt, so the play didn't end up being very significant, but it's still one of the most memorable moments of the first eight games.
7. Hutchinson forces safety
The play that best encapsulates the dominance of Michigan's defensive line came from a backup who has had limited playing time due to injury.
Aidan Hutchinson looked like a breakout candidate early in the year as a true freshman, and his most memorable play came against Nebraska.
Backed up to his own end zone, Adrian Martinez was dropping back to throw a screen pass when Hutchinson split two offensive linemen and got into the backfield before the play could develop.
As Martinez tried to toss the ball to his running back, Hutchinson jumped, swatted it back to Martinez and took him down as he attempted a jump pass.
It was basically a quarterback hurry, a pass deflection and a sack all in one play, and it gave Michigan two points and the ball back.
6. Hill's pick-six buries Wisconsin
In hindsight, fans might not remember the buildup to the Wisconsin game because it was so one-sided, but it was built up as Michigan's first test since Notre Dame. It was a top-15 matchup, and it was a night game at the Big House.
The first half was underwhelming, as Michigan missed a few opportunities and settled for a 13-7 lead. But 11 straight points to start the second half made it 24-7, and that's when Lavert Hill iced the game.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook dropped back and saw an open receiver to his left. He tried to loft a pass over Hill, who jumped up, snagged the ball with one hand and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
During the raucous celebration, it was obvious Michigan went into the game with a chip on its shoulder.
That play officially buried Wisconsin, cemented Michigan's place as a top-10 team and sent the Big House into an absolute frenzy.
5. Sack, sack, party vs. MSU
The Michigan-Michigan State game had already been decided when Rocky Lombardi relieved Brian Lewerke with 2:30 remaining.
But four consecutive penalties on Michigan moved MSU into position to make it a seven-point game, and knowing how this rivalry has played out in recent years, the Wolverines didn't want to leave the door open for an onside kick or crazy play.
Lombardi completed a pass to Darrell Stewart for nine yards, and it looked like the Spartans were heading into the red zone.
On the next play, Devin Bush sacked Lombardi for a loss of 11 yards. Fifteen seconds later, Michael Dwumfour added a sack of his own. Lombardi threw an incomplete pass on fourth and 16, and the party started for Michigan.
4. Patterson to Collins on third down
The first half of the Michigan State game was strange in that the teams and fans were forced to leave Spartan Stadium because of lighting in the area.
After the 90-minute delay, Michigan returned facing a third and eight in a scoreless game. Shea Patterson hit Nico Collins to move the chains and get into Michigan State territory. That play would end up being a preview of what was to come.
Michigan eventually drove down inside MSU's 10-yard line and faced a critical third and five from the 6-yard line. It looked like the Wolverines might settle for a field goal until Patterson fired a strike to a leaping Collins in the back of the end zone for a score.
The 14-play, 84-yard drive not only opened the scoring, it also got Michigan off on the right foot in a ranked road game, which had been a disastrous situation over the last decade.
3. Patterson's 81-yard run
Oh, so @SheaPatterson_1 got LOOSE loose. 😱
The @UMichFootball QB scampers 81 yards, and Karan Higdon finished the drive with a TD: pic.twitter.com/FnkiYmoYnN — Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 14, 2018
The opening moments of the Wisconsin game weren't going according to plan for Michigan, which missed a field goal on the first possession and allowed Wisconsin to pick up four first downs in two drives.
Michigan's second possession turned things around. Patterson kept the ball on a read option and scampered 81 yards to the Wisconsin 5-yard line on the first play of the drive. Two plays later, Karan Higdon scored to give Michigan its first lead.
Harbaugh didn't ask Patterson to do much running in the first six games, but that run added another dimension to an already improving Michigan offense.
2. Uche slams door on Northwestern
September 29th, 2018: Josh Uche sacks Clayton Thorson as time expires to secure a 17-point comeback victory against Northwestern. @_Uche35 pic.twitter.com/4qeI0pC9o6 — Michigan Moments (@UofMMoments) September 30, 2018
Michigan's closest call since the opener came at Northwestern, which jumped out to a 17-0 lead and had the ball in the waning seconds with a chance to win with a touchdown.
Clayton Thorson led the Wildcats to midfield with enough time remaining for one play.
It was a game dominated by the Michigan defense, and Josh Uche put a stamp on that with his second sack of the day. It took the Wolverines the entire game to dig out of the 17-point hole, and it kept any Big Ten title and College Football Playoff hopes alive.
But even when Michigan took a three-point lead, it was never comfortable. Fans couldn't breathe a sigh of relief until Uche got his hands on Thorson and brought him down for a loss.
Northwestern didn't even get a chance to throw a Hail Mary.
1. Peoples-Jones' game-winning TD vs. MSU
October 20th, 2018: Shea Patterson throws a 79-yard TD to Donovan Peoples-Jones to put the Wolverines ahead of Sparty. DPJ does the Paul Bunyan pose in the endzone. 😂 pic.twitter.com/rwwALIFGEj — Michigan Moments (@UofMMoments) October 21, 2018
Even though Michigan dominated the game against MSU, there were moments during the third quarter when it looked like a classic Wolverines disappointment.
Lewerke and the MSU offense couldn't move the ball in any fashion, but Chris Evans gave them new life by fumbling inside his own 10-yard line.
It took a trick play for Michigan State to score from that distance, but all of a sudden, the game was tied and Michigan couldn't hold onto the ball. In eight possessions, Michigan fumbled twice, missed a field goal and punted five times.
As the offense started a drive on its own 21-yard line with 2:24 to go in the third quarter, fans were more hoping to avoid a third-straight turnover than they were expecting a score.
In the blink of an eye, Michigan was back on top as Patterson threw a perfect strike to Peoples-Jones on the right sideline. Peoples-Jones stepped out of a tackle and sprinted 79 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
He struck the Paul Bunyan Trophy pose in the end zone, and Michigan's season was saved.
If that play hadn't happened, who knows how the Michigan State game would have turned out for the Wolverines.
Ironically, this list doesn't include any plays from Higdon or Chase Winovich, who have been Michigan's best players on either side of the ball. Both are so consistent that there isn't a single play that stands out.
Higdon has rushed for more than 100 yards in six straight games, scoring six total touchdowns. He's turned into a star, and his impact moment is probably ahead.
Winovich lives in opposing backfields. He has 11 tackles for loss, three sacks and seven quarterback hurries. The fifth-year senior is a walking highlight reel on and off the field. His big moment will also come.
Zach Gentry has been steady as Michigan's leading pass catcher, and Grant Perry made the most unappreciated play of the year by breaking up a possible Michigan State interception that could have completely turned the tables.
Michigan has made dozens of memorable plays over the last seven games, and there will be more that crack this list in the weeks to come.
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