Go ahead and say it: Michigan lost. It’s mortality has finally been exposed, and it was going to happen eventually. Undefeated seasons rarely happen, but one-loss teams are often in championships.
Seven out of the last 10 national champions had a loss, one team even had two (LSU, 2007). The last two champions during the College Football Playoff era (Alabama, Ohio State) each had a loss as well.
Before the 14-13 road loss to Iowa gets a second glance, remember this: if you’re a Michigan fan, nothing has changed.
Before the loss to Iowa: Michigan had to remain undefeated to receive a guaranteed a playoff spot, and hope for other teams to lose had it lost to Ohio State/Indiana/Iowa.
After the loss: Michigan has to win out to be guaranteed a playoff spot.
Yes, Michigan still controls its own destiny so fans shouldn’t fret. The Wolverines need to beat Ohio State on the road to earn a playoff spot. If they lose, they never deserved a College Football Playoff berth in the first place.
There is an issue, though. Michigan will need to play better than it did at Iowa on Saturday night to get past sneaky Indiana.
Wilton Speight took a huge dive
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight had been a finalist for the Davey O’Brien award before Saturday’s game. After completing 11 of 36 passing attempts for 103 yards, an interception and no touchdowns – he’s likely out of that race.
His best options are his deep ball and an ability to thread passes to receivers over the middle. Iowa completely shut down both.
His deep balls were overthrown, underthrown and all-around inadequate for the first time this season. He threw three deep balls to Amara Darboh where Speight, likely, would have scored a touchdown had the passes not been a bit too long.
Speight injured his left arm on the last play of Michigan’s final offensive drive. The injury looked like it could be serious.
All we know is this: if Michigan has to call on a cold John O’Korn in November against Indiana, it could be a lot tougher game. If Speight is healthy, but plays as poorly as he did against Iowa, then consider Michigan’s Big Ten Championship hopes dead.
Why didn’t Michigan run the ball?
Senior running back De’Veon Smith was a non-factor, but true freshman Chris Evans averaged 6.5 yards per carry to lead the team in rushing yards with 58 on just eight carries.
Iowa had allowed 359 rushing yards (599 yards total) to Penn State the week before. The Nittany Lions relied heavily on Saquon Barkley, who ran outside a lot. Four of those runs alone went for 178 yards against Iowa.
For the first time this season, Michigan didn’t exploit another’s team weakness. The Wolverines did not run outside. Instead, they tried to pass, attempting deep ball after deep ball even though Speight’s passes weren’t hitting from the start.
There was a third-and-1 late in the fourth quarter where Michigan ran a toss play that lost three yards rather than handing the ball to fullback Khalid Hill, who has only NOT gained more than a yard on a carry just once the entire season.
Another third-and-2 in the second half saw Michigan pass again. The worst play call was when Michigan was on its own 1-yard line and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno dialed up an unsuccessful play-action pass on the first play, then went for a HB stretch with De’Veon Smith who was stopped in the end zone for a safety. Michigan lost by a single point. So that play might have been the difference.
If Chris Evans would have been handed the ball more consistently in the second half, Michigan could have set up more play action that might have enabled it to drive more methodically.
Michigan dropped the ball five times, and three of them came from senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson. The team’s best offensive player last season has struggled this season. And his last drop ended in an interception on a drive where Michigan was in scoring range.
The defense is still really good, but it faulted under pressure
Michigan hasn’t put up fewer than 14 points all season, so Iowa’s 14 points is still a good defensive day. When Khalid Hill fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half – the turning point of the game – Michigan’s defense could have easily folded, especially since Iowa only had to drive 43 yards to score. Instead, the Wolverines forced a field goal.
The worst stat all season for Michigan came Saturday when Iowa’s Akron Wadley totaled 54 yards after contact.
The defense has been this good all season, no question about it.
But when it mattered most, it failed, allowing Iowa to drive from its own 48-yard line to set up the game-winning field goal in just over a minute and with three timeouts – and even though Iowa had only passed for 66 yards all game.
A terrible face-mask call on linebacker Mike McCray by the referees on a Desmond King punt return gave Iowa an extra 15 yards that ended up being costly.
— Zach Linfield (@ZLinfield7) November 13, 2016
Michigan just got burned on facemask call. Could cost them the game – and season.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) November 13, 2016
You had to think the game was over before the final drive because Michigan was essentially forcing a struggling C.J. Beathard to pass. There was no way Iowa was going to rush on this defense in this kind of moment, right?
Yet, Iowa ran the ball four times on that final drive, which resulted in three first downs – including the dagger that saw a not-so-mobile Beathard scramble on third-and-long to set up a first down with 37 seconds left.
Had Michigan stopped them, Iowa would have attempted at least a 41-yard field goal, instead of a 33-yarder, against the wind. But not only that, Michigan would have had just under 30 seconds to at least have a chance to set up a field goal. Kenny Allen made a 51-yarder earlier in the fourth.
But when that defense had its biggest moment of the season, it failed.
Michigan still has the same situation it had going into this game. Win out, and it’s in the playoff.
This isn’t a team with a goal of going to the Rose Bowl; rather, this team wants to win it all. The players believe they can take on anybody.
Here’s the deal: if Michigan can’t beat Indiana and Ohio State, then they don’t belong in the playoff anyways.
So Michigan is going to have to figure out how to play on the road, but it’s lucky it gets to visit the Horseshoe at noon, rather than a cold night in November.
No team is immortal. And just two are undefeated. With Nos. 2, 3 and 4 losing, the Wolverines picked the perfect night to lose.
They still control their own destiny.