IOWA CITY, Iowa — Goodbye to the Big Ten Conference bragging rights.
Goodbye to that first win at Kinnick Stadium since 2005.
Goodbye to that undefeated season that every Michigan fan had in his or her sights.
Hello, new day. Hello, new approach.
Michigan now has to reroute itself to reach its ultimate goal — to be a national-championship contender – following its 14-13 loss Saturday night at Iowa, on Keith Duncan’s 33-yard field goal as time expired.
On a day filled with upsets in college football, Michigan became one of the many casualties.
A lot of (unexpected) Ls on here. pic.twitter.com/6jTLzXdyT3
— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) November 13, 2016
“We were really treating every week like a championship week, and that was ultimately the goal, to get to finish the season undefeated,” said Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight, who had a season-low 103 yards on 11-of-26 passing, and was intercepted once.
That won’t happen. Now, that Nov. 26 showdown at Ohio State has just gotten a lot more vital. It’s a must-win if Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten Conference) wants to make it into the College Football Playoff.
So is Saturday’s home finale against Indiana, for that matter.
“I know how these guys respond,” Michigan safety Dymonte Thomas said. “I’ve worked with them through the offseason. I worked with them in the spring. I know that they’re hardworking guys and I know that we’re going to be eager to get back to work.”
There’s a lot to work on.
The loss at Iowa exposed Michigan’s mounting flaws: missed tackles, unnecessary penalties and a shaky performance by Speight, who was plagued by a shoulder issue late in the second half.
And, as Michigan running back Karan Higdon said, just a simple lack of focus. Michigan squandered a 10-0 lead, then squandered a chance to put the pesky Hawkeyes away.
Suddenly, it seemed as if everyone was reveling in Michigan’s first loss.
Even an FCS team had some social-media fun, at the expense of the Wolverines.
NDSU and Michigan both occupied this locker room at Kinnick Stadium this fall. One team walked out with a win… pic.twitter.com/YvuuceRdRR
— NDSU Athletics (@NDSUathletics) November 13, 2016
Needless to say, North Dakota State’s locker room was far less ostentatious than the interior decorating that Michigan did prior to Saturday night’s loss.
— Land Of 10 (@landof10) November 12, 2016
Michigan made that locker room look pretty, didn’t it? Then, they went out and played ugly. You can dress it up and wallpaper it however you can, but Michigan was headed in this direction. Maryland provided a certain blueprint last week by wearing down Michigan’s front seven and forcing the secondary to make plays.
This week, it was Iowa’s ground game that made the Wolverines defense look pedestrian, finishing with 164 yards, including 115 yards on 23 carries by Akrum Wadley.
But it was a costly facemask penalty against Michigan linebacker Mike McCray on Michigan’s final punt that moved Iowa to the 36-yard-line with 1:23 left and revived the Hawkeyes’ final drive.
Five plays and two time-outs later, Duncan lined up with three seconds left. He stepped in, swung his right leg, and changed the season for two teams. Maybe three. Or even four. Or even more.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 13, 2016
“That was a crazy atmosphere, a night game in Iowa, and it’s a tough place to come in and play,” Speight said. “But yeah, we left a couple out there on the field.”
Now, Michigan has to return to Ann Arbor and carefully trace its direct steps towards the postseason.
“We’ve all been talking, and everything is right there for us for the remainder of the regular season and then, you let it kind of play out,” Speight said. “It’s all still right there.”
Higdon, who finished with minus-3 yards on four carries, agreed.
“We know we still have opportunities, even the national championship,” Higdon said. “We’ve just got to win out, do what we’ve got to do and put a stamp on our season.”
With two weeks left in the season, is the pressure off Michigan? Or is there a new kind of pressure, knowing that there’s a less-than-straightforward path to the goal of winning the Big Ten championship?
“Of course,” Higdon said, when asked if Michigan faces a new kind of pressure. “Once you get ahead, you want to stay ahead. We’re still ahead in the race, but it’s a lot closer. A lot closer than 9-0 or 10-0, versus being 9-1.”