This was expected to be a relatively quiet day in college football, but Michigan’s first test against a decent team away from home added to what turned into a wild Saturday.
Michigan took the lead thanks in part to an iffy special teams penalty and repaid the favor late, which helped Iowa find just enough offense to set up a game-winning field goal in a stunning 14-13 upset at Kinnick Stadium.
The No. 3-ranked Wolverines have pulverized foes this season, but the only two games not played at Michigan Stadium were against Rutgers and Michigan State, two teams at the bottom of the East Division.
This is one of the most experienced teams in the country, with seniors and fifth-year seniors dominating the depth chart. It didn’t look like it at times against the Hawkeyes.
Penn State destroyed Iowa a week, rolling up 599 yards and stuffing the Hawkeyes run game. It’s amazing what a little extra emotion and the comforts of playing at home can do.
Facing a much better team along both lines, Iowa find ways to both run the ball against Michigan and keep the Wolverines from their typical success.
Michigan was ahead 10-0 and controlling the game despite not playing all that well. Then Iowa got a punt downed near the goal line and a safety. Then Akrum Wadley started cutting and juking and spinning and the Michigan defense finally met a running back it couldn’t consistently corral.
From when the Wolverines went ahead 10-0 until a field goal made it 13-11, Michigan have six drives without a first down. There was the safety, a fumble on a kickoff return and four three-and-outs.
Wilton Speight had been spectacular the past couple of games, but struggled in this one. He missed three deep balls, which has been a big strength, on throws where the receiver was open. The running game stagnated. Large portions of the playbook, thick and diverse with all sorts of interesting formations and wrinkles, seemed to be forgotten about.
The Wolverines finished with 201 total yards of offense. Speight finished 11 of 26 for 103 yards, an interception and a lingering shoulder injury that could be cause for concern beyond this night.
Michigan’s struggles were far from atypical on a chaotic Saturday.
No. 2 Clemson lost at home to Pittsburgh. No. 4 Washington lost at home to Southern Cal. No. 8 Texas A&M lost at home to Ole Miss. No. 9 Auburn lost at Georgia.
Even No. 7 Louisville trailed in the second half against Wake Forest and No. 10 Penn State was down in the fourth quarter twice at Indiana.
Before Saturday, there was a clear path to the College Football Playoff for five teams. If Alabama, Clemson, Washington and either Michigan or Ohio State could win out, that was going to be the field.
Now the Playoff picture is far less certain. The Wolverines will still likely make it if they beat Indiana, Ohio State and the West winner.
Beating the suddenly surging Buckeyes in Columbus looks a lot tougher after this stumble away from the Big House.