Smith runs for 121 yards, Michigan hangs on to beat Northwestern 10-9 after conversion fails

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EVANSTON, Illinois — Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan gave all the credit to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald for attempting that two-point conversion.

He didn't mention anything about sending a thank you note.

De'Veon Smith ran for a career-high 121 yards and a touchdown, and Michigan beat Northwestern 10-9 Saturday after the Wildcats' Trevor Siemian slipped attempting a two-point conversion at the end of the game.

"I give him (Fitzgerald) credit for going for it," Ryan said.

Siemian had just connected with Tony Jones in the left corner of the end zone on a 3-yard pass to make it a one-point game with three seconds left.

Rather than try for the tie, Northwestern went for the win. That plan backfired when Siemian slipped while dropping back as Michigan's Frank Clark closed in on him.

"We didn't score a lot of points so I felt like I'd take a one-play opportunity — 3 yards, one play," Fitzgerald said.

The problem was Michigan had it well-scouted.

"Frank did a nice job," coach Brady Hoke said. "The coaches in the box did a nice job, because it was the same two-point play they had ran a year ago."

Hoke acknowledged he was a "little surprised" Northwestern went for it but defended the decision.

"Pat's shown his team he's got a lot of faith in them," he said.

It added up to another wild finish between these teams, with Michigan once again prevailing.

The Wolverines (5-5, 3-3 Big Ten) won in overtime two years ago and pulled out a triple-OT thriller last year after the field goal unit sprinted onto the field for the tying kick at the end of regulation.

This time, they gave their fading bowl hopes a boost and handed Northwestern (3-6, 2-4) its fourth straight loss in a game that was almost comical for all its missed scoring chances.

Michigan finally grabbed a 7-0 lead on Smith's 3-yard run midway through the third quarter and eventually escaped with a much needed victory.

The Wolverines still have to win one of their two remaining games to become bowl eligible and end a difficult season on a more positive note.

Athletic director David Brandon recently resigned and Hoke's future is in question. But for now, the focus is on getting to a bowl.

Considering the finale is at Ohio State on Nov. 29, the Wolverines can't afford a letdown against Maryland in two weeks.

"You just want to make it to a bowl," Clark said. "We're not going to the Rose Bowl. We failed at that. We're not going to the Big Ten Championship. We failed at that this year. All we can do is finish the season strong."

Against Northwestern, they got two sacks from Mario Ojemudia and five in all by the defense.

Smith eclipsed his previous high of 115 yards against Appalachian State in the opener to lead Michigan on a day when Devin Gardner threw for 105 yards and two interceptions. And the Wolverines won despite converting just 1 of 12 third downs.

Siemian threw for 268 yards and a touchdown but got picked off twice, but Northwestern managed just 12 yards rushing against one of the Big Ten's stingiest run defenses.

"It's tough," Jones said. "This is a very close football team. We'll find a way to respond."

After numerous missed opportunities by both sides, Michigan finally broke through midway through the third, taking a 7-0 lead on Smith's 3-yard touchdown plunge. That came after Northwestern's Jones fumbled a punt and the Wolverines' Jehu Chesson recovered at the 21.

The Wildcats had a chance later in the third when Ibraheim Campbell returned an interception 79 yards to the 15. But two plays for a loss and then an intentional grounding by Siemian put the ball on the 43 and Northwestern out of field goal range.

The Wildcats finally scored on a 21-yard field goal by Jack Mitchell with 7:26 left in the game, capping 95-yard drive. But Michigan's Matt Wile kicked a 37-yarder to make it 10-3 with 3:10 left.

Michigan had several chances to score in the first half, only to come away empty-handed. The last three drives started in Northwestern territory but produced a grand total of zero points, with the Wildcats' Nick VanHoose blocking a 41-yard field-goal attempt by Wile near the end of the second quarter to keep it scoreless.

Tom Hruby, a 33-year-old active Navy SEAL, made his debut for Northwestern.

A junior who walked on this season, Hruby was in on the game's opening kickoff. Married and a father of three, he was recently cleared to play by the Navy.

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