Fourth-quarter resurgence almost saves Wolverines

Saturday, December 31, 2016 - 2:38am

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight threw an interception with 16 seconds left.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight threw an interception with 16 seconds left. Buy this photo
Grant Hardy/Daily

 

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. —  When Mike McCray dove over the pylon in the final minute of the third quarter, the Michigan sideline erupted in cheers. It was the first time a Wolverine found the end zone at Hard Rock Stadium, and it breathed life into the Michigan football team that was now within a score of the Seminoles.

It didn’t matter that it came from a defensive player, or that it took nearly 45 minutes of game time to score a touchdown. It only mattered that the momentum was starting to shift in the Wolverines’ favor.

Michigan rode that wave throughout the fourth quarter — its most impressive quarter of football at the Orange Bowl, and not by a small margin. At the end of the third quarter, the Wolverines had just 135 total offensive yards — exactly half the number the Seminoles racked up in that time frame. But in the fourth, Michigan picked up 107 yards and gained the lead for the first time all game, only to lose by one point, 33-32, after Florida State wide receiver Keith Gavin returned the ball 66 yards to put the Seminoles within striking distance.

After the first half the Wolverines put together, it was almost surprising that it took the Seminoles until the end of the game to lock down the win. Michigan sputtered to a 20-6 first-half score that included just six first downs and two field goals, and its early woes might be placed on a combination of poor quarterback protection and timing.

“I’ve never played quarterback, but I couldn’t imagine being back there, just sitting, and then having the pocket just collapse or having blitzers coming in,” said senior wide receiver Amara Darboh. “And then I slipped on a couple routes that I shouldn’t have, couldn’t get my foot in, so a little bit of both.”

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight said after the game that his internal clock in the pocket was a little too quick in the first half. But in the second frame, he had a better read after getting much-needed protection.

“Yeah, we turned things around,” Speight said. “The defense made a lot of key stops in the second half, which gave the momentum to the offense. We just had to get a couple of first downs, a couple completions, and then eventually pound it in the end zone.”

Even after Nyqwan Murray pulled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Deondre Francois with just 1:21 left in the game, the Wolverines never felt like it was over.

On Michigan’s touchdown drive just over a minute earlier, freshman running back Chris Evans showed a glimpse of what the future might look like after cracking open the game with a 30-yard touchdown run.

“Well, like a run game sometimes does, it can get stopped and you keep pounding away at it and keep chipping away at it and then you start making the four-yard gains and then the six-yard gains and then the 10-yard gains, and then finally, we popped one there with Chris Evans,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “The way I feel about it is it was a heck of a game.”

That energy carried over, and despite Florida State’s final touchdown, Michigan was still in the game for the long haul. On the extra point attempt, freshman safety Josh Metellus scooped up a blocked kick and ran it back for two points to put the Wolverines within one point.

It was finally too little too late for Michigan, though, when redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight’s pass was intercepted with just 16 seconds left in the game on fourth down.

“I felt like we all believed,” Darboh said.  “We came in the locker room, we made adjustments, and we said the second half was going to be our half. Unfortunately, we didn’t start the game the way we should have and the way we planned to. That’s big in football. You have to jump on your opponent. We didn’t do that. But I thought we came back in the second half and fought hard.”

Darboh wasn’t the only Wolverine that thought Michigan had recovered. Speight also believed that the Wolverines “bounced back,” but it evidently wasn’t enough when the Seminoles pulled on their freshly-printed Orange Bowl championship T-shirts and hats.

Even though Michigan flipped the script on its regular-season losses, in which the Wolverines failed to contribute in the fourth quarter, they still hadn’t adjusted enough to close out the final frame.