IOWA CITY – Say what you want about all the things the Michigan football team did during its 30-27 loss at Iowa. It’s what the Wolverines didn’t do that once again sealed their demise.
For the second time this season, Michigan overcame 58 adventurous minutes packed with special teams miscues and spotty offensive execution to have a chance to win the game in the final two minutes.
And for the second time this season, the Wolverines couldn’t find a way to get it done.
With 2:44 left in the game, quarterback John Navarre led his team onto the field needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win his first road game against a ranked opponent.
Navarre, who had just engineered an 86-yard scoring drive out of the shotgun, picked up where he left off with back-to-back completions to Carl Tabb and Braylon Edwards for a combined 23 yards. At midfield – 20 yards away from kicker Garrett Rivas’ field-goal range – things went sour. A Chris Perry run that would have put the Wolverines inside the Iowa 20-yard line was called back because of holding.
Navarre sneaked two plays later for the Michigan first down, setting up 1st-and-10 from the Iowa 47. After a three-yard completion to Jason Avant on first down, the offense bogged down with poor execution and communication. Three incompletions and a delay-of-game penalty on their final three plays gave the Wolverines that familiar feeling in the pit of their stomachs. No national championship, and likely, no Rose Bowl.
“We didn’t make the plays we needed to make to win the game,” Michigan linebacker Carl Diggs said. “Being a close ballgame, you just have to find a way to win, and we haven’t been doing that.”
The Wolverines knew if they wanted to accomplish their goal of a national championship, they would have to make a few of those special plays that elevate a team to another level. For evidence, all they had to do was look at Ohio State’s run to the title in 2002 and Miami (Fla.)’s in 2001.
The Buckeyes won six games by seven points or less, including their miraculous victory at Purdue. It was 4th-and-1 with one minute and 36 seconds remaining, and undefeated Ohio State trailed Purdue 6-3 in West Lafayette. Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel hit receiver Michael Jenkins, now nicknamed “Mr. Clutch,” for a 37-yard touchdown to keep the dreams of the Buckeye State alive.
“It’s a situation I wish everybody in the world could feel,” said Krenzel after his heroic effort against the Boilermakers, “with that kind of excitement, that natural high.”
Navarre, who fell to 0-6 against ranked opponents on the road, has tasted that high so many times, but has never been able to fully devour it.
“We played well,” said Navarre, who passed for 389 yards and two touchdowns on 26-of-49. “It’s just those little things, and we have to take advantage of the situations that we’re in. Sometimes we weren’t doing that. (If) we’re a championship team, we have to do that all the time.”
The Miami defense made a play of its own to keep Miami’s run for the title alive in 2001. Down 12-7 to the Hurricanes, Boston College drove the length of the field to the Miami 9-yard line in the final minute. Eagles’ quarterback Brian St. Pierre dropped back to pass and his throw hit off the back of Miami defensive back Mike Rumph’s knee and ended up in the hands of Miami defensive lineman Matt Walters. After Walters trudged for 10 yards, Miami safety Ed Reed took the ball from his teammate and galloped for an 80-yard touchdown, and Miami held on for an 18-7 win.
The Michigan defense gave up just 295 yards to the Hawkeyes. But thanks to Michigan’s lackluster punt and kickoff coverage, Iowa began drives with the ball past its own 40-yard line six times. In the second half, the Hawkeyes got the ball at Michigan’s 28- and 15-yard line on back-to-back possessions after a Navarre interception and a punt block, respectively.
But even with the field position against them, the Wolverines – led by linebackers Scott McClintock and Lawrence Reid – held the Hawkeyes to two Nate Kaeding field goals to stay within striking distance at 23-20.
“We can’t take anything (positive) from the game,” Diggs said. “We lost. Any time you lose, you’re always down.
“We came out and didn’t give up any touchdowns, but we still lost the game.”
After all the clutch stops the defense made in the third quarter, it couldn’t keep Iowa from scoring what ended up being the winning touchdown in the fourth. Iowa quarterback Nathan Chandler hit wide receiver Ramon Ochoa for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Hawkeyes a 30-20 lead.
“We weren’t tired, we just didn’t make the plays to win the game,” Diggs said. “You have to give Iowa credit. They made the play at the end to win the game. I don’t think anyone was tired. We were pumped and ready to go; we just have to make the plays. The play they made, we can’t let happen.”