IOWA CITY — Did Junior Hemingway make the catch? Did he just become the hero? What did you see?

A snapshot of his catch, frozen in time, shows both of his hands cupping the football, his knee down in bounds in the back of the endzone.

But the referees were watching the replay, asking: Did the ball hit the ground as he landed?

The reality was Michigan lost to Iowa on the road, 24-16. What could have been was harder to swallow.

“I thought it was a touchdown,” Iowa linebacker James Morris said later with a chuckle.

“I was ready,” said Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs. “I think the whole defense was ready. We thought for sure we were going to go into overtime. But it didn’t work out like that.”

Kovacs’s face was expressionless.

He sat there in his first game back from a knee injury, answering questions about the same problems that plagued Michigan’s first loss, against Michigan State. Poor tackling. Missed assignments. Not swarming to the ball.

Before playing Iowa, chatter grew louder that Michigan’s defense was “back.” It had caused 20 turnovers in eight games, allowing an impressive 14.6 points per game.

Saturday, the Wolverines swarmed Iowa running back Marcus Coker on most of his carries. Seventeen of them went for four or fewer yards. But it was those few instances they relapsed — Coker had 94 yards on his other eight carries — that doomed the defense.

Coker ran untouched for a 13-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, extending Iowa’s lead to 24-9. It was the same power-I running play Coker repeated all day, but that time the linebacker got lost in the shuffle.

While Coker romped, Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg was deadly accurate in the play-action pass game. Michigan was hesitant rushing the quarterback in the first half, afraid of being burned by Coker.

Iowa’s final offensive numbers weren’t devastating: 24 points, 302 yards.

But the opinion of those who played was that the defense hadn’t done enough.

Yes, the Wolverines made halftime adjustments, increasing the pressure on Iowa’s play-action passing game. As a result, Iowa punted on four of its five possessions after the break.

Yes, Michigan forced a key three-and-out with about two minutes remaining. Had redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Ryan not gotten off his block and tackled Coker for a loss on 3rd-and-short, Hemingway would’ve never had his chance.

And yes, it all could’ve been much worse.

That’s how the defense played all season. It gave the offense a chance to win the game. But this time, it didn’t win the game itself.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke was disappointed his defense couldn’t stop one of Iowa’s three redzone trips, allowing three easy touchdowns. And those magic turnovers — those that always seemed to come at the most opportune time — never came.

“We didn’t cause any turnovers, I don’t think,” Kovacs said. “That was the turnover battle. That was the difference in the game.”

They had done all they could, yet not enough. But Michigan still had a chance to tie the game.

“Yeah, (Hemingway) caught it,” Robinson said after the game. “Of course I thought my teammate was in (bounds).”

“I thought he caught it,” added Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen. “I thought his feet were in, and I thought he caught it.”

Nielsen was the Hawkeye who blitzed Denard Robinson, untouched, in the second quarter. Robinson escaped Nielsen briefly, and then dropped the ball while scrambling. Nielsen fell on it.

The miscue gave Iowa a field goal and a 17-6 lead.

Bad got worse on the next drive, as Robinson threw his 12th interception of the season, in the red zone no less.

“Trying to make a play and put the ball on the ground — that led to a field goal,” Hoke said after the game. “And then the interception down there going in. You know —”

Hoke chuckled to himself, lamenting in his own way.

“It does swing (the game), when you have the ball and don’t score.”

The slow start stung more, against a middle-of-the-pack Iowa defense that had a leaky run defense and the Big Ten’s third-worst pass defense.

“Turnovers always hurt,” he continued. “The thing that we missed today though was — we didn’t get any (turnovers) back.”

Two turnovers could’ve buried the Wolverine offense, but inexplicably, they wouldn’t have mattered if the call went Hemingway’s way in the final seconds.

“You know, I’ve got the worst seat in the house,” said the winning coach, Kirk Ferentz. “It looked from where I was standing, it looked like (Hemingway) came down on the white and then seeing the replay made me feel a little bit better.”

“I don’t have a great seat,” said the losing coach, Brady Hoke. “But the one (referee) in the back thought he did and the other (referee) thought he didn’t.”

During Hoke’s halftime interview, he thought Iowa’s cornerback had hit the intended receiver before the pass arrived on Robinson’s interception, which could have prompted a pass interference call.

“Yeah, we want the call, we want them all,” Hoke said on TV.

After the game, he looked like a man who had lost faith. His eyes were glazed. Like something had been taken from him — either the game or his confidence in his team.

Before Hemingway’s play, the officials had already called off a would-be touchdown on Michigan’s final drive. Junior running back Vincent Smith appeared to have run for an 82-yard touchdown on the first play, but replays showed his elbow was down.

The group had also picked up a pass interference call on Iowa that came the play before Robinson fumbled the ball in the second quarter.

But Robinson still had his chance at redemption, having orchestrated another heroic final drive. The ball was at Iowa’s three-yard line, and Michigan was down 24-16 with 16 seconds left. Robinson had four chances to tie the game, pending the two-point conversion.

His first attempt at Hemingway sailed out of the endzone.

On second down, 12 seconds left, Hemingway drifted downfield. Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde had his back turned to Robinson, who lofted the ball towards the back of the endzone, again heading out of bounds. This time, Hemingway shifted his body, nudging Hyde aside.

The rest is fuzzy.

The call on the play was an incompletion. In the eye of the beholder, Hemingway either caught the ball in that frozen snapshot, end of story, or the catch was nullified because the tip of the ball touched out of bounds when he landed.

“I caught that (one) no ifs ands or buts about it!!!!” Hemingway tweeted after the game.

The only opinion that mattered was that of the replay official who confirmed the incompletion, sending Kinnick Stadium into frenzy.

Chatter after the game centered on Hemingway’s missed opportunity, rather than Robinson’s two incompletions after that — the second of which could’ve been called pass interference on the defensive back covering Roundtree.

Say Hemingway did catch it. Michigan would have still needed a two-point conversion, because holder Drew Dileo’s dropped PAT earlier still hung over its head. And what about overtime? The Wolverines’ problems in regulation, in both red zones, could’ve spoiled it.

Yet, all anyone wanted to talk about was Hemingway’s would-be catch.

“The referee said he wasn’t in,” Robinson said, for once preventing his smile from shining through. “Man, there’s no — there’s no. We can’t (put) the game on the officials. We’ve got to do it ourselves.”

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