Sunday, February 18, 2007

1977 team: Leach led Michigan to back-to-back Rose Bowl games

The 1977 team, led by junior QB Rick Leach, looked to repeat as Big Ten Champions and return to the Rose Bowl for a second straight year. Protecting Leach were All-American linemen Mark Donahue (Guard) and Walt Downing (Center). On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolverines were led by All-American linebacker John Anderson. The Wolverines opened the 1977 season with a 37-9 road victory over Illinois and found themselves ranked #1 in the nation heading into week two of the season. Michigan reeled off three straight home victories against non-conference opponents (versus Duke, Navy, and Texas A & M) before heading on the road to take on their in-state rivals- the Michigan State Spartans. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans 24-14 and Michigan returned home to Ann Arbor the following week and defeated the #14 ranked Wisconsin Badgers by the score of 56-0! At this point, the 6-0 Wolverines were ranked #1 and headed to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers. This turned out to be Michigan's "trap" game as the Wolverines fell 16-0 to unranked Minnesota. Michigan bounced back by racking up convincing victories over Iowa (23-6), Northwestern (63-20), and Purdue (40-7) over the next three weeks. That put the Wolverines at 9-1 and a #5 ranking with their rivals the Ohio State Buckeyes (ranked #4) coming to Ann Arbor on 11-19-77 to conclude the regular season. This game marked the 50th anniversary of the Michigan Stadium dedication. Touchdown runs by Roosevelt Smith and Rick Leach led the Wolverines to an exciting 14-6 victory over the Buckeyes and propelled the Wolverines to the Big 10 title and a Rose Bowl game berth for the second consecutive season!

Heisman Trophy Voting
Leach had an outstanding junior season in 1977 as Michigan's signal caller while leading the Wolverines to a 10-1 regular season record. He was 76/147 for 1,119 yards, 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions during the regular season. He also rushed the ball 106 times for 370 yards and 7 touchdowns. For his efforts, Leach garnered enough votes to finish in the top 10 (8th place) in the balloting for the 1977 Heisman Trophy.

Rose Bowl Game vs. Washington (January 2, 1978)
The Wolverines found themselves down 24-0 in the third quarter to the #13 ranked Huskies before Leach rallied Michigan for a valiant comeback attempt. Leach (14/27, 239 yards, 2 tds., 2 ints.) threw for the most yards of any game in his entire college career as he launched an aerial assault to get Michigan back in the game. The comeback began when Leach connected with Curt Stephenson for a Rose Bowl record long touchdown pass of 76 yards. Washington countered with a field goal to make the score 27-7 as the game headed into the fourth quarter. However, the Wolverines kept coming. Leach led Michigan down the field by completing four straight passes and RB Russell Davis finished the drive off by running the ball in from the two-yard line. Later in the fourth quarter, Leach fired first down passes of 11 and 12 yards to WR Ralph Clayton and then Leach connected with RB Stanley Edwards for 32 yards and a touchdown. The Wolverines failed to convert the extra point because of a bobbled snap on the kick and remained down seven. With 2:46 to go and trailing 27-20, Leach engineered one more drive down the field. He led the Wolverines all the way down to the Huskies' eight-yard line where Michigan had the ball first and ten with about 1:30 remaining in the game. Leach's pass to Stanley Edwards bounced off the running back's shoulder pads and the ball was stripped away by a Washington defender leaving the Wolverines' amazing comeback just short. The loss dropped the Wolverines to 10-2 on the season and they finished ranked #9 in the AP poll and #8 in the UPI poll. Go Blue!

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