MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The best player on either roster stretched, gingerly, then announced he was sitting this one out. A horse ran out to midfield —and then promptly collapsed.
And that was just the pregame.
So no, the 2016 Orange Bowl didn’t disappoint. Although it did confuse the hell out of us at times.
Michigan didn’t so much lose to Florida State, 33-32, after about as nutso a final 5 minutes as you’ll find anywhere, as it … well, it just ran out of time.
The Wolverines (10-3) took three quarters Friday night to manage 15 points against a Seminoles defense that flew around Hard Rock Stadium like a nest of angry hornets.
Big Blue, refusing to surrender, then collected 15 points in a span of about 3 minutes, punctuating a wackadoo fourth quarter with a 30-yard Chris Evans touchdown run with 1:36 left that gave the Wolverines their first lead of the night, 28-27.
Over the next 90 seconds:
• A 2-point conversion pass from Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight to wideout Amara Darboh gave Michigan a safe-ish 30-27 lead.
• Florida State ran the ensuing kick back past midfield, then used a 12-yard rainbow from quarterback Deondre Francois to Nyqwan Murray, over failing Wolverines CB Jourdan Lewis, to retake the advantage, 33-30.
• Seminoles K Ricky Aguayo’s extra point following said touchdown was blocked and scooped up by freshman — and south Florida native — Josh Metellus, who ran it all the way back for 2 points to cut the lead to 33-32 with 36 seconds left.
Just like they drew it up.
We should’ve seen it coming, right? Florida State’s equine mascot, Renegade, did an unexpected swan dive during his usual pregame gallop. Michigan’s star triple-threat, junior Jabrill Peppers, tested a sore right hamstring during warmups, clearly gimpy, clearly going at about 40-percent speed.
Even if his heart was in it, his leg wasn’t.
Perhaps it was discretion — but it also adds smoke to the grease fire on the message boards that this, is, indeed, the New Jersey native’s last appearance in maize and blue.
The NFL draft beckons, and as Christian McCaffery and Leonard Fournette can tell you, it’s hard to make an impression with cynical scouts the next three months if you’re hobbling around with a cast.
Who knows? Maybe if Peppers is playing, Seminoles RB Dalvin Cook (145 rushing yards) isn’t taking a pass 45 yards in the first quarter or a handoff a back-breaking 71 yards early in the fourth, the latter sucking much of the air out the Wolverines’ balloon after Michigan cut the Florida State lead to 20-15.
By the time defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defense came around, it was almost too late. Linebacker Mike McCray’s 14-yard interception return for a score with a minute left in the third quarter redressed some egregious early imbalances, pulling the Wolverines to within 20-15.
Because, initially, life without Peppers looked like a sieve. On the game’s opening drive, Florida State drove the ball 75 yards on six plays, carving the Big Blue front with Cook left, Cook right, Cook up the gut. The ‘Noles punctuated the drive with their tailback’s 2-yard score after just 2:13 had elapsed.
If a Wolverines punt hadn’t been fielded like a wet bar of soap by Murray, where it was pounced on at the FSU 1 by a pair of Michigan gunners, the Fighting Harbaughs would’ve been stuck trying to climb out of an even deeper ditch.
With Florida State pinned at its own 8 on its fourth possession, Francois rolled left, got a great block to clear a passing lane, and found Murray over the top and up the left boundary, having outrun the Wolverines’ top corner, Lewis, by about four steps. The foot race was academic after that, and the 92-yard touchdown — the longest throw allowed by Brown’s defense all season — put the ‘Noles up 17-3.
After one quarter, the Wolverines were outgained 201-22 and had just two first downs to Florida State’s six. Even after TE Jake Butt hobbled off for the night, they hung in there. And yet both Michigan lines still wound up getting whupped as often as not.
The Wolverines went into the evening having tied for the Big Ten lead in fewest passes of 25 yards or more — “explosion” passes — surrendered, with 1.42 per game. After the game’s first 12 minutes, they’d already given up two such haymakers, as well as a 23-yarder. Explosion plays and turnovers are killer in any game, but especially on a stage like this, against a sparring partner with guys up and down the roster who can really, really fly.
Maybe Peppers’ presence would’ve changed that, lessened the damage. We’ll never know, and speculation is a fickle mistress.
On this night, momentum was, too.
There’ve been better games than the Orange Bowl. But there may not be another one, another roller-coaster, quite like it. And thank the stars.