It was all there for the taking.
With 2:47 left in the fourth quarter, Michigan needed 77 yards. 77 yards to beat a team it can never beat. 77 yards to erase 13 years of bitter, tear-inducing history.
The Wolverines had everything they wanted in front of them. And yet again, for the 13th time in 14 years, they were left stunned, able only to picture what might have been.
It was almost as predictable as watching Charlie Brown get the football yanked out from under him.
“We had a few mistakes offensively, we had a few mistakes defensively,” said Jim Harbaugh, “and we had a few more than they did.”
What made Saturday’s 31-20 loss to No. 9 Ohio State all the more brutal for Michigan? Just how things ended.
After the Buckeyes missed a late fourth-quarter field goal attempt that would have extended their lead to seven, the Wolverines huddled around their head coach. The crowd readied itself in anticipation for a historic drive, the type that can cement one’s legacy here.
That hope disappeared just as quickly as it came.
The staff called for a play-action pass. John O’Korn dropped back, surveying the field quickly, before throwing perhaps the worst interception the crowd at Michigan Stadium has seen in years.
Three plays later, Mike Weber Jr. walked into the end zone and celebrated with visiting Ohio State fans. The majority of the crowd headed for the exits.
After the game, O’Korn took full responsibility. Harbaugh said that the intended receiver, Kekoa Crawford, had run the correct route against Ohio State’s defense. His fifth-year senior quarterback simply misread the coverage.
Just another mistake.
“It was one of those ones that you just see it wrong and as soon as the ball is in the air, you wish you could have it back,” O’Korn said, “and you know what the result is going to be, but you can’t change it.”
Of course, it was a game chock-full of those type of mistakes. There was an overthrown pass on 4th-and-4 that saw Chris Evans, who had been wide-open, lying on the field in pure agony over the incompletion. Naturally, Michigan had only been in that situation because it botched a routine handoff on 2nd-and-1. Before both of those, there was a dropped interception — as easy as the gift the Buckeyes got at the end of the game — that allowed Ohio State to score just seconds later.
Hell, it’s been a series chock-full of those type of mistakes. Every year there’s something.
Wilton Speight fumbling a snap near Ohio State’s goal-line. The defense allowing Curtis Samuel to wriggle free out of the backfield, setting up the play that will forever be known as The Spot. A previous coaching staff sending out the offense in the same formation with the same 2-point conversion play even after the Buckeyes called a timeout, noticing something they didn’t like.
All of those — along with O’Korn’s interception Saturday — are marked indelibly into the identity of this program. Those type of plays have left it on the wrong side of history time and time again.
Michigan easily could have pulled off the upset Saturday. It easily could have pulled off the upset in previous years. Quite simply, it couldn’t execute. It hasn’t been able to execute for too long. And that’s just recipe for heartbreak.
“The hardest part for me is you come here to win this game, and our senior class wasn’t able to do it,” O’Korn said after the game as he broke down crying. “I hold myself responsible for a lot of that, and it sucks, and I can’t imagine a worse feeling right now.”