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Varsity bumbles into another nonconference road defeat

BY
BY COURTNEY LEWIS
Daily Sports Editor
Published September 21, 2003

EUGENE, Ore. - One more chance.

Braylon Edwards dove for an onside kick and then hung onto the ball like the game depended on it - which it did - and Michigan wasn't done yet.

The Wolverines had made a frantic, roller-coaster-ride of a comeback after trailing Oregon by 18 points, finding new life when it looked like the game was surely over. Now the Wolverines were down by four with the ball in their hands and 2:12 left. But Edwards, who had made acrobatic catches and snatched balls away from defenders all game long, couldn't make one last big play. John Navarre's fourth-down pass sailed out of the reach of Edwards' fingertips, and with it slipped away Michigan's last chance.

The Wolverines, unable to overcome crippling mistakes and a lifeless running game, fell to the Ducks, 31-27.

"Bottom line is we need to come out and play Michigan football," defensive lineman Larry Stevens said.

And for the first 40 minutes, the brand of football was a far cry from what Michigan had played in its first three games. In a deafening Autzen Stadium, filled with an Oregon record 59,023 people, the Wolverines' formerly blazing running game fizzled out. Oregon's defensive line repeatedly stuffed Michigan running back Chris Perry at the line of scrimmage, and Michigan finished with minus-three yards on the ground. Turnovers and botched plays marred the Wolverines' offense early, while the Ducks' receivers found holes in the Michigan secondary all afternoon.

"We have no excuses," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "We just made too many mistakes to win the game. We had chances to win. We never stopped fighting, we never stopped clawing and trying to find a way to win, but in the end we just didn't make a play."

The Wolverines opened the scoring with a 78-yard touchdown return by cornerback Jeremy LeSueur after safety Marlin Jackson blocked a field goal attempt at the 22-yard line. But the Ducks had been chipping away at the Michigan defense for 9:18 on their opening drive, and by the time Michigan's offense took the field at 2:11 in the first quarter, it couldn't get anything going.

The Wolverines went three-and-out on their first possession, fumbled the ball on fourth down during their second possession and headed to the lockerroom with just 46 total yards and a 15-point deficit.

Oregon extended its lead to 24-6 before the Michigan offense started to find any rhythm. The Wolverines abandoned their ineffective running game, and Navarre dialed into his receivers. Beginning with Michigan's touchdown drive at the end of the third quarter, Edwards and sophomores Jason Avant and Steve Breaston took over, making clutch receptions to keep Michigan alive. At 4:03 in the third, Avant caught a pass near the 10, dragged a defender downfield and lunged the ball just over the goal line.

On Michigan's next possession, Navarre and Edwards connected on fourth-and-12, and on the next play, Edwards was hit so hard his helmet flew off one way and his do-rag went the other, but he hung onto the ball. Breaston capped the drive with a did-you-see-that diving grab in the corner of the endzone and Michigan pulled within three after a two-point conversion.

"That's just a bigtime team," Edwards said. "We don't have time to get down on ourselves. The game's not over until there's 0:00 seconds on the clock, and until that point you have to play like you're going to win."

Michigan had the momentum in the fourth quarter until Oregon's J.D. Nelson blocked an Adam Finley punt with just under seven minutes left and Jordan Carey returned it to put the Ducks up 31-21. Despite an interception thrown by Navarre, the Wolverines pulled back within four (the extra point on Breaston's touchdown was blocked), and then Edwards recovered the on-side kick that Michigan couldn't take advantage of.

The loss dropped the Wolverines to 11th in the Associated Press poll - one spot behind the Ducks.

Edwards led the team with 13 receptions for 144 yards, and Breaston had two touchdowns and 109 receiving yards. Navarre completed 28-of-55 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns. He threw two interceptions. Perry, rarely used in the second half, finished with 11 carries for 26 yards.

"We came here as a team, we go home as a team," Carr said. "We're not pointing the finger."