MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — On a night when Jourdan Lewis became Michigan’s all-time record holder for career pass breakups, further cementing his status as one of the best cornerbacks in program history, the senior All-American lined up to make a play he makes all the time.
He has haunted opposing receivers on those plays for most of his career. He gets his hands on the ball almost as often as they do, and opponents have simply stopped throwing at him. Entering Friday’s Orange Bowl, receivers had just 10 catches against him, while Lewis had eight pass breakups and two interceptions.
With 42 seconds left in the game Friday, Lewis lined up in the slot against Florida State receiver Nyqwan Murray. On 3rd-and-9 from the Michigan 12-yard line — with the Wolverines up by a field goal — if Lewis could just break up one more pass, he could at least force overtime. But the Seminoles had one more highlight in them.
“He snatched the ball out of the air,” Lewis said after the game. “I turned my head around a tad bit late, and they made a great throw and catch. It was great execution. I just wish I turned my head around.”
Murray caught the game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass from Deondre Francois to end Michigan’s season with yet another classic, as Florida State pulled out a 33-32 victory. In a year with so much promise, the Wolverines will finish with the same 10-3 record they had in 2015.
In the end, that was the story of the Orange Bowl — the Seminoles made more plays than Michigan did, in part because the Wolverines’ best playmaker never took the field.
In Thursday’s practice, do-everything redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers jumped for a ball and felt his hamstring pull. A hour before kickoff Friday, Peppers came out of the tunnel and began warming up, trying to reach a point where he could play.
“They wrapped it, icy hot, pain relievers, you name it,” he said.
He couldn’t run or cut without feeling a sharp sensation. The Heisman Trophy finalist missed his second straight bowl game with an injury.
“Just knowing you could help someway, somehow, and just watching, that sucks even more,” an emotional Peppers said after the game. “You could help the seniors go out the way they deserve to go out.”
Meanwhile, Florida State unleashed its full arsenal of weapons. With the Wolverines within five points early in the fourth quarter, All-American running back Dalvin Cook scampered 71 yards to set up what appeared to be a game-clinching touchdown. After Michigan made a dramatic comeback to take the lead with 1:57 to go, the Seminoles’ Keith Gavin returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards, and Cook hurried into the red zone again, setting up the true game-winning touchdown.
Then, of course, came Murray’s grab. Michigan blocked the extra point, and freshman safety Josh Metellus returned it for two points, cutting the deficit to 33-32 with just 36 seconds left. But Michigan’s magic ran out, as redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight was intercepted on 4th-and-10 with 16 seconds to go.
After the Wolverines spent most of the game digging themselves into a hole, Speight and the offense dug out of it in a matter of minutes. They caught a break with 7:58 to go when a short punt and a targeting penalty gave them the ball at Florida State’s 37-yard line.
Michigan scored twice in the next six minutes, once on an eight-yard pass from Speight to redshirt junior fullback Khalid Hill, and then on a 30-yard rush by freshman running back Chris Evans. Those two drives represented almost half of the Wolverines’ total yards, and Evans’ run comprised a third of their rushing total. Suddenly, Michigan had the lead.
But Florida State’s touchdown was the final blow, dealing the Wolverines another heartbreaking defeat. Their three losses this season came by a total of five points, and they led in the final minute of all of them.
“Sometimes the other team executes a little bit more than other teams,” Lewis said. “That’s what it really was. We didn’t perform as well as we should have, but I’m glad the way that everybody fought, and I’m extremely proud of it.”
In Peppers, Michigan missed its strong-side linebacker, return man and wildcat quarterback, and his absence showed in all three phases. Then, in the second quarter, the Wolverines suffered perhaps their most crushing blow of the game when senior tight end Jake Butt went down holding his right knee and wincing. He walked off to the locker room under his own power with a towel covering his face and did not return. Michigan missed him, too, particularly on third downs and in the red zone.
Florida State, on the other hand, received dazzling performances from its key contributors. Francois threw for 222 yards and a 92-yard touchdown. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker made four tackles for loss and a sack. And Cook finished with 20 carries for 145 yards, setting up three of the Seminoles’ four touchdown drives with long runs.
“If we would have stopped maybe those three, four, five big plays,” said Michigan fifth-year senior defensive end Chris Wormley, “it would have been a little different.”