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Andrew Kahn | | September 8, 2019

A high school QB, a star freshman, and a clever call: The anatomy of Michigan’s critical fake punt vs. Army

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ANN ARBOR -- Penalties are not supposed to benefit the offending team. But the flag Michigan drew for a false start late in the first quarter swung the momentum in the Wolverines' favor in an eventual overtime win over Army on Saturday.

With 2:32 left in the opening quarter, Michigan trotted out its punt team on 4th-and-5 and was called for a false start. But just before the whistle blew, Army's Jabari Moore left his spot covering gunner Daxton Hill near the sideline to slide towards the line of scrimmage, indicating he'd be coming after the punter.

The Michigan coaches noticed.

"On the false start, we saw what punt coverage they were in, what punt block they were in, and called the alert for the next play," head coach Jim Harbaugh said.

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After the penalty, Michigan faced a 4th-and-10 from its own 42, the ball spotted on the right hash. Sophomore linebacker Michael Barrett, who played quarterback in high school in Georgia, lined up a few yards behind the line of scrimmage and took a direct snap from long snapper Camaron Cheeseman.

Barrett threw to the near sideline, in front of Michigan's bench, to freshman Daxton Hill. The five-star safety out of Oklahoma is one of the fastest players on the team. Army had rotated a player from the line to cover him, but after hauling to get to the sideline, by the time he hit the brakes Hill was able to evade him, eventually picking up 25 yards.

It was Barrett's first collegiate pass attempt and Hill's first reception.

"I didn't even know it was happening," said sophomore receiver Ronnie Bell. "I remember, I was on the sideline, then all of a sudden everybody is screaming and everybody looked -- Dax made him miss. I was excited just like everybody else."

Shea Patterson hit tight end Nick Eubanks for a 24-yard gain on the next snap. Zach Charbonnet ran for a score four plays later to tie the game at 7. Michigan won 24-21 in two overtimes.

"They stole (a possession) from us on the fake punt," Army coach Jeff Monken said. "That was my call. I brought the corner and they (had the false start) and they saw it, and so they must have checked to it and thrown it out there. We've got a guy that runs out there to cover it and we just missed the tackle. So they stole one from us there; probably my greatest regret."

Monken added: "The kid caught the pass, we hit him, and we didn't take him down. If we'd taken him down, they would have fallen short (of the first down). He made us miss, made a good play, and went on to score a touchdown on that drive. Like I said, disappointed in myself. I wish I had changed the call there."

Harbaugh confirmed that, if not for the false start penalty, Michigan would have punted the ball.

So while Michigan was initially penalized five yards, the net result was a crucial first down, a touchdown, and an overtime victory to move to 2-0.

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