1. Archive

Near-goat becomes Michigan's spark

Michigan tailback Anthony Thomas dejectedly roamed the sideline, doubt he thought long-buried clouding his mind.

The Wolverines held a two-touchdown lead and were rolling over Arkansas on Friday in the third quarter of the Citrus Bowl when the Razorbacks stripped Thomas of the ball.

The result: Three unanswered scores led to Arkansas taking a seven-point fourth-quarter lead. Penalties and miscues swamped the defending national champions as January turned back into September.

Oh, no, Thomas thought to himself, not again.

"It changed the momentum of the game," he said. "It was just like we started the season (0-2). I put them in that position, and now I had to get them out."

And so he did. Thomas scored the tying touchdown, and his relentless motor kept No. 15 Michigan going in a come-from-behind 45-31 win over No. 11 Arkansas in front of 63,584.

Thomas' 1-yard plunge at the 5:49 mark in the fourth tied it at 31. The go-ahead score came when QB Tom Brady hit DiAllo Johnson with a 21-yard touchdown at the 2:25 mark.

James Whitley intercepted Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner on the next drive and took it 26 yards for a score.

"This is the way we wanted to finish," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "We started this season in a way that no one expected, and I told the team before we started practice this year that they were going to have the greatest challenge of any team Michigan has ever had, they will always be compared to the great team of last year that won the national championship.

"I think that after the way we started (losing to Notre Dame and Syracuse), it was only because of the type of players we have that we were able to go on."

A slow start gave way to a shootout between Michigan (10-3) and Arkansas (9-3). Stoerner was 17-for-42 for 232 yards and two scores, and Brady was 14-for-27 for 209 yards and a score. Both threw two costly interceptions, but Stoerner's were returned for scores.

The difference: Michigan's rushing attack. Thomas and Clarence Williams combined for 204 yards. Thomas, the game's MVP, rushed 21 times for 132 yards and three scores.

But he very well could have been the goat. The Wolverines were riding Thomas en route to what might have been an insurmountable lead when Zac Painter pulled the ball from Thomas' arms and David Barrett dived on it at Arkansas' 29.

But at Michigan, Thomas explained, the understanding between coach and player is simple: You make a mistake, you better do something about it.

"My offensive line came up to me and told me, "Don't worry about it. Just get ready for the next play.' And that's what I did," Thomas said. "I knew what coach would tell me. He didn't even have to say it. I just took it as a challenge."

It wasn't just Thomas, though, who had to turn it around. The Wolverines were self-destructing with 104 penalty yards, Carr said, and it had to stop.

"I told our coaches, I told our team, we're the Big Ten champions," Carr said, "and we're going to find out right now what kind of people we are."

Jay Feely, a product of Jesuit High School in Tampa, kicked a 43-yard field goal at the 6:28 mark in the first to put Michigan up 3-0.

Stoerner answered in the second, throwing a 35-yard strike to Michael Williams to put Arkansas up 7-3.

Thomas gave Michigan the lead back with a 2-yard plunge, which sparked a three-touchdown second quarter for the Wolverines. Ian Gold picked off Stoerner at the 5:39 mark and went 46 yards for a score. Todd Latourette contributed a 42-yard field goal for Arkansas. Then Thomas scored a 5-yard touchdown to give the Wolverines a 24-10 halftime lead.

But after Thomas' costly third-quarter fumble, Stoerner put together three consecutive drives that resulted in two short touchdown runs for Chrys Chukwuma and a 9-yard scoring pass to Joe Dean Davenport.

Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt said he was sure the Hogs had wrapped it up at that point.

"It's a fine line between winning and losing," he said. "We showed great character coming back. I thought there was no doubt in my mind that we're going to win.

"It should have been a lot closer than it was, but we had our chances to win it."