Last night’s game at Iowa will be forever remembered as the one that got away. It was a prototypical game where you look back and go “what if” or “they should’ve done this” and just facepalm in disgust over how winnable of a game it was. It’s not often that you can go on the road as an unranked team, playing the #12 team in the country at night no less, and be in position to win, but Michigan was and gave the game away with a total of 5 turnovers. What’s ironic is that Michigan took the lead less than a minute into the game by taking an interception back for a touchdown, but after that it was Iowa that capitalized on costly mistakes.
For the most part the defense did a great job of keeping Iowa out of the end zone after turnovers, playing more bend but don’t break football. That kept the score relatively close in the second half despite the offense’s struggles outside of one drive at the end of the third quarter. The offense didn’t start moving the ball again until Denard Robinson came in and led Michigan down the field for a touchdown in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Michigan didn’t recover an onside kick, but the defense made a stop and gave the offense a chance to win the game.
Michigan only needed a field goal, but time was limited, especially with Robinson staying in at quarterback. Although Robinson was coming off of a great drive and Tate Forcier had struggled mightily when he played, I would have rather seen Forcier take back the reins. He not only has thrived in situations like this, but he also has experience leading drives in the last minute and is a better passer than Robinson. Yes, he stunk for most of the game and Robinson deserved a shot, but Robinson played like he was under pressure and threw a bad pass downfield that was intercepted. That sealed the 30-28 win for Iowa, and just like I said before, all I could do was think about the “what ifs” that could have changed the game’s outcome.
- Reminiscent of the 2006 Notre Dame game, Michigan started off by returning an interception for a touchdown. Simply throwing in Donovan Warren’s direction usually isn’t a very good idea, and you definitely can’t make a bad throw when you decide to do that. Stanzi did both of those things, though, and Warren caught the ball and ran 40 yards for a touchdown. It was probably one of the easiest interceptions for a touchdown ever, as the pass went right to Warren, who ran it back untouched.
- Iowa needed to respond with a good drive, and getting good field position thanks to a 34-yard kick return helped get things back on track. Conversions on third down also helped get things on track, as that was really the only time Iowa could move the ball. Three times Michigan held Iowa to third down, but each time the Hawkeyes converted. The third time Iowa didn’t move the chains, but that was because Stanzi found Tony Moeaki wide open in the middle of the field for a 34-yard touchdown. Michigan sent the kitchen sink and more, and the tight end simply ran down the field by himself, as safety Jordan Kovacs picked up a different receiver. The touchdown tied the game up and gave momentum to Iowa.
- Michigan continued to unravel on the next drive, starting with a holding penalty on 2nd and 1. Tate Forcier ran for 9 yards on first down, sliding a bit short of the marker. He could have moved the chains but went down early to avoid a hit. Michigan promptly was called for holding on 2nd and 1, which is just a huge kick between the legs considering the situation. After Brandon Minor (no, Brent Musberger, his first name isn’t Travis) ran for a yard on the next play, Forcier made a terrible pass and was picked off by Jeremiha Hunter, who returned it to the 19-yard line.
- The defense, just as it did at times last week, bailed out the offense, making Iowa go three and out. The Hawkeyes did take the lead on a 28-yard field goal, but that was good enough in my book considering how much momentum Iowa had on its side following the turnover.
- Just as Iowa did earlier, Michigan responded with a big drive of its own. Minor got things started with back-to-back gains of 9 yards, and then Forcier found Kevin Koger and Martavious Odoms for 8 and 6 yards. Michael Shaw ran for 5 yards, and then Forcier went for 1, making it 3rd and 4. Forcier found Odoms for what would have been a first down, but the ball came out as Odoms hit the ground, making it 4th and 4. Michigan was on Iowa’s 35-yard line — too far for a field goal and too close for a punt. Given that, Michigan decided to go for it. That was a good decision, because Forcier ran for 9 yards to move the chains. Vincent Smith made an appearance on the previous play but actually ran the ball for 2 yards on the next, and then Forcier founds Odoms again with a great pass, this time for a gain of 21. Minor punched the ball in from 3 yards out for a TD on the next play, giving the lead back to Michigan.
- Riding a wave of momentum, the defense stepped it up again and Iowa went three and out. Brandon Graham provided the exclamation point for the drive, taking down Stanzi for a sack as the opening quarter came to an end.
- All the momentum was on Michigan’s side at this point, but another costly turnover changed that and the entire outlook of this game. Tate Forcier was going to throw a bubble screen, but the ball slipped out of his hand and eventually ended up being recovered by an Iowa player at the Michigan 46. Michigan was getting ready to drive down the field, but a ridiculously unlucky turnover ended up giving Iowa the ball in U-M territory. That play by itself pretty much sums up this game.
- Just like after the first turnover, Michigan’s defense stepped it up, though that only happened after a 22-yard pass to Marvin McNutt. The big pass play put Iowa in field goal range, which is what it came to after three straight incompletions, with the last one nearly being picked off by Donovan Warren.
- Michigan picked up one first down on its next drive but failed to move the chains after that. A 53-yard punt by Zoltan Mesko helped flip the field position, but that would only end up being an obstacle for Iowa.
- If the turnover that was turned into a field goal wasn’t the changing point in this game, then it was on 3rd and 24 on this drive. After an incompletion on first down, the snap bounced off of Ricky Stanzi’s hands and went backwards for a loss of 14 yards on second down, making it third and long. Michigan has struggled in these situations all season long, and last night was no different. Stanzi threw a bomb downfield, and it sailed just over Donovan Warren and Mike Williams. Waiting for it was a diving Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who made the amazing grab for a gain of 47 yards. That play was so deflating, as Michigan not only had Iowa in an awful situation, but the play itself was one where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Two plays later Brandon Wegher jumped into the end zone for a touchdown, putting Iowa on top 20-14.
- Michigan quickly went three and out, and Zoltan Mesko had another punt that went 53 yards. Iowa got a decent return, but that didn’t matter after the next play, because Brandon Graham sacked Stanzi for a loss of 11. This time when third and long came up Michigan made a stop, and the offense took over after a punt and a holding penalty at its own 19-yard line.
- Brandon Minor ran the ball a couple time for 12 and 2 yards, and then Forcier added 2 more on the ground. On the next play he found Martavious Odoms for a gain of 35, putting Michigan at Iowa’s 30-yard line. It looked like they were getting ready to take the lead back before halftime, but then another untimely turnover happened. Minor had the ball stripped and Adrian Clayborn recovered it with 1:19 to go in the half.
- Iowa was content with running the clock out and going to the locker rooms with a 6-point lead, but Michigan called a timeout after second down. There was still time to make something happen if Michigan got a stop on 3rd and 10, but that was a big if that didn’t come to fruition. Stanzi found Johnson-Koulianos for a gain of 11, moving the chains and changing Iowa’s strategy. The Hawkeyes now tried to get in field goal range, and they did get in position to attempt a kick with 3 seconds left. Somehow the play clock expired and Iowa got called for a delay of game, though, backing the kick up to 53 yards out. That proved to be important, because the kick sailed wide left, and it may have been good from only 48 yards out. Still, Iowa led at the half by a score of 20-14.
- Michigan opened the second half with a three and out; Iowa did not. The Hawkeyes came out and started running the ball effectively for the first time all game. Adam Robinson picked up 19 to get the ball rolling. After an 11-yard pass, Ricky Stanzi took off for 12, and Robinson followed that up with gains of 15 and 6 yards. Back-to-back incompletions led to another field goal, but I was glad to see that happen after how easy of a time Iowa was having running the ball. The Hawkeyes now led 23-14.
- Michigan was unable to get anything going after a 15-yard pass on the first play of the drive, but the defense forced Iowa to go three and out on three straight incomplete passes.
- Michigan finally decided to give the ball to Brandon Minor for the majority of a drive, which led to good things happening. Minor ran for 6, 5, and 9 yards, and after a 2-yard run and a 4-yard pass by Forcier, Minor broke off runs of 7, 4, and 12 yards. Michael Shaw came in and ran for 7, getting down to the 1-yard line. That is when Minor came back in and pounded the ball into the end zone, making this a 2-point game.
- Michigan’s defense came up with another stop, this time at midfield, but then it was an awful play all around on the ensuing punt. Not only did Michigan rough the punter, but Greg Mathews also dropped the kick. One of the many Iowa players around him recovered the ball, meaning the penalty didn’t even need to be accepted. Iowa took over at the 16-yard line and quickly completed a 10-yard pass to Tony Moeaki. After an incompletion, a pass to Brandon Wegher moved the Hawkeyes down to the 3, making it 3rd and goal at the end of the third quarter.
- Wegher got the ball and was stopped short of the goal line, making it 4th down. Iowa decided to go for it, not even hesitating on the decision. Stanzi faked a handoff and looked for an open receiver on the bootleg. He probably could have scored if he just ran the ball, but Stanzi thought he had a man open. That is when Stevie Brown appeared and knocked the ball down, nearly intercepting it.
- Although I was ecstatic that Michigan came up with a stop, looking back I really wish Brown didn’t drop the interception. I say that because Michigan looked lost down by its own goal line. Brandon Minor was stuffed for no gain on first down, and Tate Forcier just had to get rid of the ball and was nearly intercepted on second down. One of the biggest non-turnover mistakes of the game came before 3rd and 10 when Minor called timeout because the play clock was about to hit zero. He didn’t want Michigan to get a delay of game penalty, but all that would have done is back U-M up less than half a yard. Having the timeout later in the game would have been much nicer than avoiding a less-than-a-yard penalty. Either way, Forcier heaved the ball downfield on third down after not finding any options underneath, and the pass was incomplete. Zoltan Mesko boomed a punt out of the end zone for 61 yards, but Colin Sanderman took it back 20 yards for a good return.
- Unlike its last drive, Iowa was able to get the ball into the end zone this time. Actually, it only took one play. Stanzi found a wide open Tony Moeaki for the 42-yard touchdown, which put the Hawkeyes on top 29-21.
- Michigan’s next drive was over before it even started, as the play clock ran out before first down. That was like a drive-killer, and Michigan was unable to move the ball at all. Zoltan Mesko continued his great night with another punt of over 50 yards, and Michigan’s defense made a stop after giving up one first down. A personal foul on Iowa after the punt return gave Michigan the ball at the Hawkeyes’ 41.
- Like last week against Michigan State, Rich Rodriguez sent Denard Robinson into the game to give the offense a spark. Well, that and Rodriguez absolutely went off on Tate Forcier for his bad reads, his bad mistakes, and in general his bad play. Unlike last week, Robinson actually did give the offense new life. He rushed for 8, 2, and 5 yards, completed a 9-yard pass to Darryl Stonum, and then rushed for 3, 9, and 7 yards. Michael Shaw ran for 1 yard after a 7-yard pass to Junior Hemingway, and then Robinson took over. He ran for 5 and 3 yards, with the latter carry going into the end zone for a Michigan touchdown. The extra point made the score 30-28 in favor of Iowa with 3:16 left in the game.
- Since Michigan only had one timeout left, it decided to do an onside kick. I personally would have rather seen U-M kick it deep since there were over 3 minutes left, but then again there was only one timeout left thanks to earlier mistakes. The onside kick ended up being a mistake, too, as it went out-of-bounds, giving Iowa the ball on Michigan’s 45.
- The defense stepped it up and forced Iowa to punt, and Michigan got the ball back at its own 17 with 1:30 left on the clock.
- After receiving a few words of encouragement and/or advice from Nick Sheridan, Denard Robinson came out in what usually is Tate Forcier’s time to shine. Like I said earlier, I totally get why Robinson was the QB in this situation. Forcier had been awful for much of the game, and Robinson led the team to a touchdown on its last possession. Even so, Robinson is a run-first quarterback, and with only 1:30 left and no timeouts, you knew he was going to have to throw in this situation. What’s more, Forcier has faced this exact situation twice before, needing to drive down the field in the final minute. The difference this time was that Michigan only needed a field goal. Struggling or not, I believe Forcier was better prepared and better in general for this situation.Rich Rodriguez didn’t see it that way, and I honestly don’t blame him too much. Hindsight is 20/20, and although he obviously would never admit it, I’m sure part of him wishes he could go back and put Forcier into the game. I say that because after a 14-yard completion to Odoms and a 7-yard run, Robinson made the mistake we all knew was coming. He couldn’t find anyone open initially, seemed to panic, and then heaved the ball down the field. He actually had Odoms breaking open, but he went in Stonum’s direction and overthrew him. Iowa’s Brett Greenwood caught it, essentially ending the game.Robinson had to run a pass play since the clock was running, but in that situation he has to know better than to throw it up for grabs like that. He probably could have taken off, and as long as he got a first down or went out of bounds, it would have been fine. The problem is the pressure was on, and I’m sure he could hear the clock ticking in his head. Understandably, Robinson wanted to make a big play, even though Michigan did have time to work its way into field goal range. That’s what Forcier is so good at in this situation. He knows how to pick apart a defense in chunks and when to throw the ball away or simply run out of bounds. Robinson, lacking experience in a pressure-packed situation like this, wanted to make a big play instead. He ended up making a freshman mistake instead, and there was no last-drive magic for Michigan on this night.
It’s no mystery why Michigan lost this game: turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Take back even one of those turnovers that led to a field goal and Michigan wins this game, probably by more than a single point. A couple of those turnovers came when Michigan was driving, one happening in Iowa territory. The others put the defense in a tough position, but like we saw last week, the entire unit responded and stepped its game up, keeping Iowa out of the end zone. Obviously it was in easier situations like when Iowa was faced with 3rd and long that the defense failed miserably, giving up explosion plays that led to or actually scored touchdowns. That was the defense’s downfall, as it played well in general except for a few specific plays. After all, it scored a touchdown to start the game, had a goal line stand, and gave the offense one last chance to win the game. Despite the big plays, you can’t ask for much more out of the defense (well, maybe you can ask for better play by the safeties).
The offense, on the other hand, just baffles me. Some drives it ran like a well-oiled machine, mainly when Michigan put the ball on the ground with a few passes in between carries. And then on other drives the offense looked lost and went three and out or turned the ball over. Zoltan Mesko did a sensational job (he averaged 53.8 yards a punt!) of keeping the field position relatively even save the punt that came from his own end zone, but that was on the coverage team, not him. In the end if Michigan could have eliminated just a couple turnovers, this probably would have been a win by more than a touchdown. Sure, you can go back and say stuff like that after every close game, but unlike last week when Michigan got completely dominated except for the last 5 minutes, this week the total yards stat was fairly even. The big difference was obviously in the turnovers column, where Michigan was -4. In a game where the Wolverines started with an interception return for a TD, turnovers ended up being the deciding factor, except it was the deciding factor for Iowa improving to 6-0.
The timing of next week’s Delaware State game couldn’t be better. After dropping back-to-back soul-crushing games on the road, Michigan will return home to play an FCS team. Obviously we have learned to never take an FCS team lightly, but Delaware State is no Appalachian State. This is a game where Michigan should win 60-0 and the backups should be playing by the fourth quarter. Anything less will be disappointing, though simply winning and making it through the game with no injuries is fine by me. Michigan would improve to 5-2 with the win, just as Penn State gets ready to come to Ann Arbor on October 24. I don’t want to look too far ahead, but Michigan should be playing to clinch bowl eligibility in two weeks. Not only that, but Penn State will be 6-1 and a top-15 team if they take care of business at home against Minnesota next Saturday. It will be Michigan’s chance to get a new winning streak started against the Nittany Lions, and more than anything it will be a chance to win in a big game against a team not named Notre Dame.
Discussion about Penn State will cease until next week, as Delaware State comes to the Big House next Saturday. The game will get started at noon and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.