In 1997, Michigan completed a perfect season to win the AP national championship. It was its first in nearly 50 years.
Along the way, there were plenty of nail-biters. One of those came on this day 25 years ago.
Once down by 14 points, Brian Griese’s touchdown pass to Jerame Tuman with less than three minutes to go completed the comeback as the Wolverines rallied past Iowa, 28-24.
Setting the Stage
At 5-0, Michigan was ranked No. 5 in the country as it arrived at “The Big House” on Oct. 18, 1997. Through five games, Michigan had allowed just 26 total points.
Ranked No. 15, Iowa was 4-1 and coming off a bye week following a loss to Ohio State. For one half of football, the Hawkeyes were in complete control.
Back Comes Michigan
Iowa used big plays to take a 21-7 lead into the locker room. Standout running back Tavian Banks got the scoring started with a 53-yard touchdown run. Following an exchange of touchdowns, speedster Tim Dwight returned a punt 61 yards on the final play of the first half for what appeared to be a back-breaking blow to Michigan.
Michigan quarterback Brian Griese and Iowa’s Matt Sherman each threw three interceptions, but by the latter parts of the third quarter, Griese had drawn the Wolverines even. Following a touchdown pass to Russell Shaw on the opening drive of the second half, Griese’s 1-yard keeper tied the game at 21. Iowa, however, answered with a field goal to take a 24-21 edge into the final quarter.
After three punts to start the fourth quarter, Michigan started the decisive drive at its own 23-yard-line. Following a pass interference call kept the drive alive, Griese connected with Tuman on consecutive passes, covering 35 yards. After four straight runs by Anthony Thomas, the Wolverines faced 3rd-and-goal from the Iowa 2-yard-line.
On a play-action call, Griese rolled right. Tuman came open and Griese didn’t miss him. It was Griese’s fourth total touchdown and third passing. With 2:55 left, Michigan had the lead, but Iowa had time.
To that point, Sherman had completed just five passes, but a 22-yard completion to Damon Gibson and a 30-yard toss to Banks put Iowa inside the Michigan 30-yard-line. On 1st-and-10 from the Michigan 26, a pressured Sherman fired over the middle. Michigan linebacker Sam Sword was there for the interception to seal the win with 31 seconds left.
Thomas rushed for 129 yards in the win. Michigan dominated statistically with 389 yards of offense to 187 for the Hawkeyes. Banks was Iowa’s leading rusher and receiver, accounting for 134 yards of offense in the defeat.
Iowa bounced back with consecutive wins, but dropped three of its final four games to finish 7-5. Three of its five losses came by four points or less.
Michigan would finish 12-0 with seven wins over ranked teams to finish No. 1 in the final AP Poll. The Wolverines played four games decided by a single score in 1997. Their biggest comeback came on this day a quarter-century ago.
Photo courtesy of Michigan athletics/Bentley Historical Library