The mood amongst the large gathering of Michigan fans who made the trip to Iowa City was one of concern and annoyance. I spent a large portion of the night looking at others in Maize and Blue shaking my head in disbelief. Iowa’s only viable path for winning a game against a vastly superior Wolverine squad was unfolding in front of our eyes. The evening turned on a punt, which had to be Kirk Ferentz’s dream scenario. Late in the first half Ron Coluzzi pinned Michigan at their 1 yard line. Two plays later a ridiculous safety turned an annoying 10-0 lead into a contest. Iowa then scored again to make the score 10-8 at halftime. Ferentz and his Hawkeyes had the exact game they needed: a slop fest.
The Iowa offense put up 9 points through 58 minutes of play. Michigan’s lead was just two at that juncture thanks to the offense’s worst outing of the year. Speight had uncharacteristically misfired on one open deep shot after another, any of which would’ve sealed the game. Chris Evans averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 8 touches, but was noticeably absent in the final drives of the game. In spite of the offensive struggles, Michigan’s defense made the play that should have closed out the game. Taco Charlton hit CJ Beathard as he released a deep pass and Channing Stribling intercepted the under thrown ball on Michigan’s 16 yard line. With 1:54 left in the game, Michigan’s offense trotted on to the field 10 yards away from pulling out a win on the road and headed to 10-0. They were just 10 yards away.
This team had been in this position before. Against Michigan State in 2015, the Michigan defense came up with a huge stop and the offense took over with 1:47 on the clock. Again, 10 yards away from sealing a win. Twice in the last two seasons the team has failed to pick up 10 yards when it truly mattered to seal a football game. Understand that many many factors contributed to this loss and this is not to short change any of them. BUT, despite the poor offensive play and the truly appalling officiating the Wolverines had the ball and the lead with under two minutes to go. Victory was in their grasp and it slipped away.
The Final Offensive Series
Let’s take a look at that final offensive series starting with 1st and 10 on the Michigan 16 yard line.
Eddie McDoom is circled and DeVeon Smith is the RB. Desmond King (#14) and Bo Bower (#41) call out the formation and the defensive backfield adjusts for the sweep. Based on how this play unfolded it wouldn’t have mattered which running back (Smith, Higdon, Evans, or Isaac) was receiving the carry. Here’s why:
McDoom motions across the formation like a jet sweep. Iowa’s defense responds to this by doing the exact opposite of what we’ve seen in previous weeks. The corner responsible for McDoom does not go flying across the formation in pursuit and the linebackers do not shift at all. Instead, the safety comes up to take McDoom and everyone else stays home.
If McDoom gets the ball I think there is a decent chance he gets the corner. Instead Smith is plowing into two unblocked linebackers and King. Any yardage gained here is a miracle as four offensive players are blocking against seven defenders.
2nd and 9. Jabrill Peppers starts in a trips formation to the near side of the field. Pre-snap he and Speight exchange places.
Iowa’s defense responds as though they’ve practiced for this all week. Nobody covers Speight and the opposite CB stays at home. At the snap the DE to the wide side of the field shoots out laterally to set the edge. Look at the angle from behind the LOS:
Based on the look the defense is giving, maybe this should’ve been a give instead of a keep? That said, even if he does hand off Bower is waiting in the hole on the left side of the line.
Peppers keeps and finds himself in a 1-on-4 situation that goes about how you’d think it would.
Now facing 3rd and 8, Michigan dials up a pass play that falls apart thanks to one missed assignment.
Amara Darboh gets a clean release and puts a nice stop and go move on the corner. Hence, he is at least two steps behind the coverage running free. Speight rushes the throw because:
Parker Hesse (#40) has just flat blown by Ben Braden and hammers Speight. Darboh is unable to come back to make a touch catch through the DB.
Michigan deserved to lose this football game based on its play Saturday night. That said, to ignore the role officiating played in this game would be ridiculous. The crew was atrocious. A linesman called a TD for Michigan when Darboh’s first contact nearly came outside the white stripe of the end zone. Unfortunately, the mistakes made that favored Michigan were reviewable and the incompetence was immediately corrected. On the other hand, Iowa was the recipient of calls that truly swung the outcome of the game.
On 4th down and with 1:23 left in the game Michigan punted to Desmond King. Mike McCray tackled him on the Iowa side of the 50. The Hawkeyes were at least 20 yards out of realistic field goal range. Unfortunately John O’Neill and crew threw a late flag for a nonexistent face mask penalty. Instead of having to pick up two first downs to get into long field goal range, the Hawkeyes began their final drive on Michigan’s 36.
Directly from the rule book:
No player shall grasp and then twist, turn or pull the face mask, chin strap or any helmet opening of an opponent. It is not a foul if the face mask, chin strap or helmet opening is not grasped and then twisted, turned or pulled. When in question, it is a foul.
Let’s look at what “running into the kicker” is and what it isn’t according to the NCAA rulebook:
Punter A22 is 15 yards behind the neutral zone when he catches the long snap, sprints to his right at an angle toward the line of scrimmage, and runs outside the tackle box. He then stops and punts the ball, and is immediately hit by a diving B89. RULING: Legal play, no foul by B89. A22 loses his roughing or running-into protection by carrying the ball outside the tackle box
I’ve highlighted the tackle box below. Note that it is well inside the right side hash-marks:
A punter outside the tackle box is a “ball carrier” and the rules of “roughing” and “running into” do not apply. Below is the moment he tries to kick the football. Note the proximity to the hash-marks. Clearly he is outside of the tackle box.
Where Do We Go From Here
Michigan’s end of the season scenario has not changed. They control their destiny for the Big Ten championship as well as the College Football Playoff. The road, as it has all year, goes through Columbus. Nonetheless, this was a disquieting performance on the road against an inferior team. Each game throughout this season has been viewed through the lens of “does this squad win in Columbus”. Saturday’s results are concerning for that reason. Doubly so with the reports that Wilton Speight may be done for the regular season.
Despite all of it, I am confident this team can respond. Saturday’s loss did not remove any of the Michigan’s goals from the table. This is an experienced football team with an outstanding coaching staff. This defense remains elite. Iowa scored 12 points with a long drive of 52 yards for the game. Our backup quarterback situation could not be any more different than a season ago. O’Korn is experienced and has been in the system for two years. Harbaugh will put him in a position to succeed. I can’t wait to see how this team and staff respond to adversity knowing that the season is still very much in front of them. An opportunity awaits this team Saturday: beat Indiana and they get to go to Columbus to play for the Big Ten title game. Go Blue!