The 2014 Michigan football season was a weird one.
Coach Brady Hoke fell out of favor as the season went on, slowly de-crescendoing to a 5-7 record with quarterback concussion scandals and embarrassing losses along the way.
But no game throughout the season quite sums up Michigan’s 2014 season like its Nov. 8 matchup with Northwestern. In a game that finished 10-9 in favor the Wolverines, there were hilarious turnovers, struggling offenses and awe-stricken fans displayed throughout the broadcast.
Entering the game, there signs were there for it to be an interesting one between two mediocre teams. The Wildcats had lost 25 scholarship players to injury, had a 3-5 record and had just lost by 41 to Iowa, while Michigan entered at 4-5 and athletic director Dave Brandon had just resigned..
Heck, the Wildcats had a 33-year old walk-on linebacker named Tom Hruby on their team who was an active Navy SEAL. He saw his first ever action on special teams against the Wolverines. An admirable feat, to be sure, but also not something you see every game.
The battle is now affectionately remembered as the M00N game, because the scoreboard read Michigan (M) 0 – 0 Northwestern (N) for much of the matchup.
With the Wolverines and Wildcats set to face off in Evanston for the first time since that fateful evening, The Daily remembers the M00N game.
(Note: Football is an incredibly hard sport to play, which is why we didn’t make it. Everyone who took the field for this game is infinitely more athletic than anybody at The Daily, and some have gone on to have successful NFL careers. Bad football sometimes happens, and remembering it should not be seen as a poor reflection on any individual athlete.)
Situation: First quarter, 12:13 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
Northwestern’s first drive began with a nice third-down conversion on a pitch-and-catch from quarterback Trevor Siemian to wideout Kyle Prater. But the Wildcats stalled out on the next set of downs when an illegal formation penalty set them back and an errant pass from Siemian fell incomplete.
So Northwestern sent out punter Chris Gradone, who hit one off the side of his foot for 24 yards. This isn’t even close to some of the special teams errors we’ll see later on.
Situation: First quarter, 6:25 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
The Wolverines took their relatively good field position after the botched punt and didn’t do much with it. Wide receiver Devin Funchess, perhaps the most talented person on the field, dropped a third-down pass that would have extended the drive.
So, Northwestern took back over and actually strung together a drive that had some potential. Siemian connected with Prater a couple more times to get into Michigan territory, but things stalled out, and the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-two.
They handed it off to running back Justin Jackson, who was stuffed short. The camera flashes to Fitzgerald, who gives a shrug and then claps. This probably summarized everybody’s feelings of the game to that point.
Like, “Man, these first few drives have had some weird stuff happen, but there’s a lot of game left. I’m sure it won’t all be weird! Michigan has momentum now, maybe they’ll score!”
So young, so innocent.
Situation: First quarter, 5:47 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
Momentum is an interesting concept in this game, as you’ll come to discover (or remember). It’s hard to tell who has momentum at any time, because just as one team begins to gain some, it gives it back immediately.
Take this situation, for example. The Wolverines’ defense turns Northwestern over on downs, and the next play is a five-yard run from running back Drake Johnson.
Then, Michigan tries a reverse with Funchess which goes, well, poorly. You can sense something weird coming from before the ball is snapped, when fullback Joe Kerridge nearly eats it while going in motion. And then, sure enough, the weird arrives, as Funchess gets the ball and is immediately swarmed under by the Wildcats.
This set the Wolverines too far back to recover on this set of downs, so they punt. That punt goes 29 yards. Feel the electricity.
Situation: First quarter, 1:37 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
If you were thinking that this game was missing some turnovers, here you go.
This one isn’t all that ugly, as Siemian simply thinks he can get it over Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan. Ryan reads it well and picks it off. One turnover on the board. Not too bad for how things have gone!
As you might imagine, some of this game gets boring. The next few drives are an example of that. The Wolverines fail to seize momentum again by turning the ball over on downs. Then, Michigan and Northwestern alternate punts for the next five possessions. Three of those drives go three-and-out and one of them ends like this:
Situation: Second quarter, 6:59 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
AND THE BALL IS FREE!! Sorry…
Anyways, that’s backup punter Hunter Niswander, who is a righty but has to kick this one with his left foot.
Situation: Second quarter, 1:39 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
Surely, the Wolverines will take advantage of this mistake, as they take over at the Wildcats’ 44-yard line.
The following drive is somewhat promising, until Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner drops back and eyes tight end Jake Butt the whole way. Then he throws it to him anyways and is intercepted by cornerback Matthew Harris.
That’s two turnovers, for those keeping track at home. This is foreshadowing.
Call me Shakespeare.
Situation: Second quarter, 0:55 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
Okay, well that’s three turnovers now.
There’s something about tipped passes leading to interceptions that perfectly incapsulate chaos on a football field. The camera shifts too quickly, assuming the ball will make it past the line of scrimmage. Nobody on the field really knows where the ball is for a half second. It’s just lovely suspense.
Anyways, this tip from defensive end Frank Clark and interception from defensive tackle Matthew Godin.
The hilarity of the first half somehow does not end there.
Situation: Second quarter, 0:27 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
Michigan kicker Matt Wile could have released everybody from M00N with one swing of the leg.
Instead, the Wildcats overwhelmed the right side of the Wolverines’ line, and Wile’s kick barely got off the ground.
With that, it was finally, mercifully halftime. On his way into the locker room, Fitzgerald got the pre-halftime interview.
“We’ve got momentum right now because of that block,” Fitzgerald said.
I just put this in here to emphasize the M00N. Also, my mother loves the great lakes, and especially freighters. Hey, Mom!
Some stat highlights from the first half: Northwestern had nine rushing yards on 19 carries. Michigan got the ball on the Wildcats’ 44, 31 and 35-yard lines on three straight possessions and failed to score on any of them.
On to the second half!
Situations: Third quarter, 13:45 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
It’s hard to find a play that can perfectly define an entire game, but here it is.
Funchess comes in motion from right to left, and just as he’s crossing in front of Gardner, the snap comes and hits him and Northwestern recovers.
It’s just perfect for the M00N game. The sheer sense of “What am I watching?” that you get from this play is so overwhelming you can’t help but laugh.
The play is followed by a perfect shot of a confused fan, and then the next minute or so sees color analyst Ed Cunningham try to find sense in a play — and game — that made none. Somehow there was still football to be played after that.
Situation: Third quarter, 12:19 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
The crowd reaction to his missed field goal is somewhere in between a cheer and a boo and a hearty, hysterical laugh.
It’s at this point that everybody realized how futile this game is. Well, maybe it was several points before this, but it’s all the same.
The Wildcats take over at the 27-yard line, drive down to the 19 and then send out the kicker Jack Mitchell, who is somehow 7-for-8 on the season with a SEASON LONG OF 29 YARDS. That’s an outrageous statistic.
Anyways, he misses it.
And then this was the next play:
“Oh boy,” says play-by-play announcer Mike Patrick, and the whole world nods in agreement.
Situation: Third quarter, 7:32 (Michigan – 0; 0 – Northwestern)
The game was really teetering on going back to boring at this point. Michigan punts, then Northwestern turns it over on downs (that’s the third time this has happened to this point).
Then, the Wolverines go three and out. BUT WAIT. A muffed punt, because it was the only thing missing.
Less than a minute later:
The long national nightmare is over. M00N is over. 37:28 of scoreless football finally ends with Michigan running back De’Veon Smith’s touchdown.
From here, things start to look like a football game again, so I’ll move quickly.
Hahaha just kidding.
Situation: Third quarter, 4:01 (Michigan – 7; 0 – Northwestern)
The Wolverines had started to build momentum and are on the doorstep, looking to go up two scores. Then Gardner throws this pick.
Ibraheim Campbell takes it 79 yards and then gets absolutely lit up at the end. This play really goes to show that even the impressive moments in this game — the interceptions with long run backs that get the crowd excited — end in sadness.
Now comes the most hilarious lack-of-an-ability-to-grab-
The Wildcats are in a good position! How will they respond?
Here’s their first play:
Okay, not great. This play seems to be designed for Siemian to block Clark, which seems unfair. Anyways, Northwestern followed this up by allowing a sack and then incurring an intentional grounding penalty to drive it out of field-goal range.
Situation: Fourth quarter, 7:31 (Michigan – 7; 0 – Northwestern)
At this point, the Wildcats have 109 yards. They have been showing no signs of life on that side of the ball at all.
So, of course, they rip off a 95-yard drive that ends with a field goal.
All jokes aside, this is, actually, where the teams decide to play football again.
Michigan takes the ball back, sustains a solid drive and sets up Matt Wile for a 37-yard field goal with 3:15 left to make it 10-3:
If this game made sense, that would have been enough. The Wolverines would have rode their defense to the win and just gotten the hell out of Evanston. But this game didn’t make sense.
Situation: Fourth quarter, 0:10 (Michigan – 10; 3 – Northwestern)
The Wildcats go all the way down the field again and — despite some really bad clock management — end up with two shots at the endzone with 10 seconds to play.
Siemian, who caught fire late, rolls to his left and finds his receiver in the back of the endzone. Fitzgerald turns around and signals for the two-point conversion immediately.
So this is it. This whole, dumb game came down to one play. Can the Wolverines’ defense stand up one more time? Can Northwestern make one final play?
Situation: Fourth quarter, 0:03 (Michigan – 10; 9 – Northwestern)
Turns out, neither happens at all. Siemian just falls over, and the game ends.
As the game reaches these last seconds, you’re struck by the idea that it will end in the weirdest way possible. Yet, you have no idea how it will happen. But as Siemian hits the ground, it just makes sense. It’s the perfect punctuation to a perfect evening of mayhem.
Northwestern tries an onside kick, but it doesn’t work, and the Wolverines escape with a 10-9 win.
The headline of The Michigan Daily’s SportsMonday edition after this game was “What The Hell?!” That about sums it up.
There is nothing valuable to glean from re-watching this game, other than a strange comfort that there were worse times.
Michigan fans once watched that game live.