September 27, 2008 was an important day in Michigan Football History because it was the day that the Wolverines won the 500th game played in Michigan Stadium history. This day also marked the “high water” mark of the Rich Rodriguez Era because it was his first, and only, win over a top ten team.
Game number four of the 2008 Michigan Football season was the first time that Coach Rich Rodriguez led his team on the field against a Big Ten opponent. The 9th ranked, and undefeated, Wisconsin Badgers were favored to win the day over the Wolverines who only had one win in three games. Things started slowly for the Wolverines and then, they got worse! Michigan’s “high powered” spread offense was stuck in “neutral.” Wisconsin missed an early field goal attempt, but made two before the first quarter ended. The Badgers led 6-0 after one quarter.
Wisconsin found the end zone in the second quarter and added two more field goals. It was 19-0 in favor of Wisconsin at halftime. Michigan fans booed their Wolverines off the field. It was embarrassing!
Coach Rodriguez was probably not very happy with his team in the locker room. However, his second half adjustments had to be pretty simple. If the Wolverines stopped fumbling (5 times in the first half) and refrained from throwing the ball to the Badgers (2 first half interceptions), Michigan could win the game!
Fortunately, for Michigan, that’s exactly what happened. The Wolverine offense woke up and played error-free football. They scored the only points of the third quarter on Kevin Koger’s touchdown reception. Wisconsin still had the advantage at the end of 45-minutes of play at 19-7.
Michigan outscored the Badgers by a margin of 20-6 in the fourth quarter. Michigan led (27-19) with about 5 minutes to play. Wisconsin scored a touchdown, but missed the extra point. The Wolverines held on for a HUGE victory at the Big House!
This “milestone” game was a big part of Michigan Stadium History. It also had some interesting Michigan Football “firsts” that I need to mention.
· This was the first Big Ten game and the first Big Ten win for Coach Rich Rodriguez. The upset win squared Michigan’s season record at 2 wins and 2 losses heading into the heart of their conference schedule.
· The win over ninth ranked Wisconsin was the first, and only, win for Rich Rod over a top ten team.
· The BIG win over the Badgers allowed the 2008 Michigan Football team to become the first team to overcome a 19-point deficit in Michigan Stadium history.
· Unfortunately, the Wolverines lost five straight games and 7 of the last eight to finish the season with a record of 3 wins and 9 losses. Thus, the 2008 edition of the Michigan Wolverines became the first team to lose 9 games in a single season. Ugh!
Note-To illustrate how “spoiled” Michigan fans had become, think about this. Bo Schembechler did not lose his ninth “regular season” game until the fifth game of his tenth season. It took him seven seasons to lose nine games if you include his first five bowl losses. Gary Moeller understood the “expectations” and did just fine. He did not lose his ninth regular season game until the third game of his fifth season. Lloyd Carr also understood what he was supposed to do at Michigan. He did not lose his ninth regular season game until – you guessed it – game three of his fifth season, just like Gary Moeller. The bar was just too high for Coach Rodriguez, or anybody else, for that matter. That’s the plain, Maize and Blue, Michigan truth. I don’t think Rich Rodriguez knew about the history and the “expectations” that come with the big money, the whistle and the “M” baseball cap. He was in way over his head, but he didn’t know it when he agreed to take the job.
Yes, people thought that the first season of the Rich Rodriguez Era might be rough, but nooooooobody saw nine losses in one season. We know that things did get slightly better in 2009, but not that great (5 wins and 7 losses). A 2010 record of 7 wins and 6 losses (which included a blowout bowl loss to Mississippi State) was the end of the line for Rich Rod and his “Spread Offense.”
Like I said at the beginning of this article, the win over Wisconsin was probably the best victory of Rich Rod’s stormy tenure. As it turned out, Rich Rodriguez coached twenty-two games in Michigan Stadium history. He finished with a record of 11 wins and 11 losses at the Big House. Definitely not good enough for Michigan Nation and not good enough to finish his contract in Ann Arbor!