Michigan has been spoiled rotten with its big-play receiver, dominating running back and efficiency expert quarterback.
The Wolverines' Big Three were at it again in Monday's Citrus Bowl, possibly for the last time.
Anthony Thomas ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns and Drew Henson passed for two TDs as the 17th-ranked Wolverines held on for a 31-28 victory over No. 20 Auburn on Monday.
David Terrell caught four passes for 136 yards, including a 31-yard TD, to become the first Michigan receiver to pass 1,000 yards twice.
"There's a lot of talent between the three of them," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "You have to be able to stop one of the three of them to have a chance to win."
Auburn was 0-for-3 on that count, and tailback Rudi Johnson was held to 85 yards on 25 carries. Johnson, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, had been held under 100 yards only two other times, both losses.
It was definitely the last game for Thomas, a senior who became Michigan's leading career rusher and scorer. Terrell and Henson are juniors who have talked about leaving for the NFL or, in Henson's case, possibly professional baseball.
Henson is a top prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
"As a quarterback, it's everything you could ask for: a running back that can block and playmakers on the outside," said Henson, who was sacked five times. "It's nice to go week to week knowing we had those weapons."
The anticipated duel between Thomas and Johnson instead became a showdown with Tigers quarterback Ben Leard.
Down 31-21, Auburn (9-4) stayed alive whe Leard hit a leaping Deandre Green with a 21-yard touchdown pass with 2:26 left. Leard was 5-of-5 for 77 yards on the drive, which covered 89 yards in six plays and 87 seconds.
Michigan had failed to gain a first down in the previous series with a chance to milk the clock.
"We had a chance to put it away, but they just wouldn't let us do it," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "There was no quit in them."
Michigan's Ronald Bellamy then recovered the onside kick and the Wolverines ran out the clock.
Leard was 28-of-37 for a season-high 394 yards and three TDs, both Auburn bowl records. He also threw two interceptions.
Michigan's offense racked up 456 yards against the SEC's top defense, but the defense and special teams came up big in the fourth quarter.
First, Shantee Orr got a hand on Damon Duval's 40-yard field goal try early in the fourth quarter, ending Duval's string of 11 straight.
Auburn marched to the Michigan 18 on its next series before committing its third turnover.
Jeremy LeSeur burst unblocked into the Auburn backfield on a corner blitz, jarring the ball loose from Leard.
Shawn Lazarus recovered, but the Wolverines went three-and-out.
Thomas, who carried 32 times, was named Citrus Bowl MVP for the second time.
His 11-yard TD late in the second quarter gave the Wolverines a 21-14 halftime lead and took care of Michigan's career record. He passed Jamie Morris as Michigan's top runner and set modern era scoring marks for touchdowns and points, breaking a tie with Tyrone Wheatley.
The softspoken Thomas gave the ball to his wife, Hayley, in the stands after the play.
"It was something that was special," he said of the record. "Right now, it hasn't really set in on me.
"I just wanted to give her something to let her know how I feel."
Thomas, who came in 106 yards shy of Morris's mark of 4,393 yards, outrushed Johnson 111-25 in the first half.
Carr will certainly be sad to see his offensive trio broken up.
"They're all guys that have a desire to be the best, guys that take great pride in the way they play and their attention to detail," he said. "The most fun thing about them is that they're competitive guys. You don't have to motivate them to practice hard. That makes everybody better."
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