By Will Burchfield
When Michigan’s offense lined up in a 10-man I-formation against Wisconsin on Saturday, cornerback Jourdan Lewis couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I was like, ‘Really, what is going on here?’” Lewis said. “It was unbelievable.”
He figured Wisconsin’s defense was thinking the same thing.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen when they snap the ball. How are they going to line up when they get in formation? What personnel are they going to get in? It definitely messes with a defense,” he explained.
The crazy formation was more of a guise than an actual play. The Wolverines broke the ten-man ladder before the snap, fanned out across the line and ran De’Veon Smith up the middle for a five-yard gain to Wisconsin’s one-yard line. They scored on the next play en route to a 14-7 win.
Lewis had never seen the formation because Michigan only installed it last week. As a starter on defense, he was exposed exclusively to the scout-team offense leading up to Saturday’s game. Meanwhile, the first-team offense was scheming behind closed doors.
“Those guys have a plethora of plays that we’ve never seen before,” Lewis said.
So where exactly did the formation come from?
“I can’t tell you, that’s a secret,” said quarterback Wilton Speight with a smile.
Then he confessed he wasn’t really sure.
“The (offensive) coaches came into a meeting one day earlier this week, all with a big smirk on their face, so we knew something was going in that they liked and it happened to be that play,” Speight said.
Was it offensive coordinator Tim Drevno’s idea? Maybe quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch’s? Or did it come from the top, another brainchild of the ever-creative Jim Harbaugh?
None of the above.
“Just something that my son Jay found and came up with,” Harbaugh said.
Jay Harbaugh, 27, is Michigan’s tight ends coach.
“But it was good, the guys had fun with it,” Harbaugh continued. “We put it in this week and executed it well.”
That last part is what matters most.
“The bottom line is if you do something like that, you better not mess it up, you better pick up the first down,” Speight said.
Michigan did exactly that, and Speight believes the wacky formation played a part.
“I’m sure it’s probably pretty confusing,” he said. “I mean, I never play defense but seeing 10 dudes in a line probably throws you off a little bit.”
Speight then turned to defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, who was sitting next to him during the post-game press conference.
“I think that’s fair to say,” Glasgow confirmed with a chuckle.
When the formation was introduced in meetings last week, most of the players laughed in disbelief.
“It was kind of funny at first,” said wide receiver Jehu Chesson. “We were just thinking, ‘Oh that’s just another thing Harbaugh does.’
“But you trust it because he’s our coach. We love our coach and whatever he tells us to do, we do it with blind faith.”
And when it worked, Chesson wasn’t surprised.
“I thought it was genius, I didn’t know you could do that,” he said. “I would hate to be on the other side of the ball and see that.”