BY COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
Daily Sports Editor
Published October 12, 2008
Michigan had been there before.
All the Wolverines needed to do with four seconds remaining was kick a short field goal to keep the game going. But kicker K.C. Lopata hooked a 26-yard attempt narrowly wide left of the uprights to secure Toledo’s 13-10 win and leave the Michigan students sinking to their seats in disbelief.
The Rockets’ celebration on the field may as well have been Appalachian State’s.
“We just did what we had to do,” Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt said on the field, seconds after his team’s win. “We got to love it. We got to love it.”
As in last year’s season opener, this was an opponent the Wolverines should have handily defeated, even though they already had three losses on the books this season. The missed kick sealed the Wolverines’ first-ever loss to a Mid-American Conference team in 25 games. It marked Michigan’s second straight defeat and dropped the Wolverines to their worst record (2-4) in 41 years. And it gave Michigan its worst nonconference record (1-3) since 1982, when the Wolverines were 0-2.
But this time around, as they quickly and silently headed through the Michigan Stadium tunnel and into the locker room, the Wolverines looked less shellshocked and more numbed.
“Quiet. Quiet,” Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson said, describing the postgame locker room mood. “It wasn’t crazy. Just quiet. Sometimes after games, you get guys mad and yelling and screaming and things like that. Not today. Everybody’s just quiet.”
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was also less animated during his postgame press conference, simply saying he was “disappointed” and “embarrassed” instead of elaborating.
And most of the Wolverines players and coaches said the same things as they have after every loss this season.
It comes down to execution. The Wolverines haven’t been able to execute their game plan. Give them 24 hours, and they’ll get over Saturday’s loss and prepare for the next game.
That mantra — and the Wolverines’ issues — were no different after this loss. Freshman running back Sam McGuffie, who ran for 110 yards on 25 carries, was the lone highlight for the Michigan offense. The Toledo offense deliberately stuck to short passes and the Wolverine defense continued to miss tackles.
“They hadn't shown the spread as much, but then again having watched us on film and seeing we had struggled with it, it didn’t really surprise me,” Rodriguez said. “At some point, we tried to make some adjustments, but inevitably playing in space again hurt us at times."
Most importantly, Toledo scored 10 of its 13 points off of Michigan interceptions. Through six games, 68 of the 149 total points scored against the Wolverines have come off turnovers.
The Wolverines (1-1 Big Ten, 2-4 overall) had an opportunity to score after a botched fake punt in the first quarter by Toledo (1-1 MAC, 2-4). But Toledo safety Tyrrell Herbert picked off a pass at the goal line and returned it to the other end zone untouched to set a Michigan Stadium record for the longest interception return.
Michigan’s only touchdown came on a 27-yard catch by junior running back Brandon Minor. Threet threw a quick pass down the middle, and Minor was pummeled by the Toledo defense as he crossed the goal line. He did not return after the play and was later taken to the hospital with a rib injury.
Threet suffered a bruised right elbow before halftime and redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan played the whole second half in his first game action since Sept. 13 against Notre Dame. But Sheridan’s 8-of-16, two-interception performance gave the Wolverines little chance to win. In the first play of the fourth quarter, Sheridan’s pass was tipped by sophomore wide receiver Toney Clemons before Herbert picked it off.
The situation was reminiscent of Sheridan’s performance against the Fighting Irish, when he threw two late-game interceptions, that ended any chance for a comeback in South Bend. And the drive after the turnover again proved to be the difference Saturday. Toledo kicker Alex Steigerwald kicked a career-long, 48-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar before rolling through the uprights — but it gave the Rockets a three-point lead that would stick.
When the Wolverines got the ball back at their own 33-yard line with 92 seconds remaining, they drove to the nine-yard line before Lopata’s failed field goal attempt.
And as it has been in the past four losses, as the Wolverines know but can't seem to fix, the difference in the game came down to failed execution.
“Everything went well, operation-wise,” punter Zoltan Mesko said. “The snap was good. The hold was good. We missed it by inches. I don’t know what went wrong.”