Don”t call it a comeback. Because it didn”t happen.
The Wolverines were looking to make history. They”d never come back from 23 down at halftime. Let alone against Ohio State.
This week, many Michigan players and fans will look to the second half of Saturday”s game and claim that Michigan blew its chance for the win by getting down 23. While that”s true, there was still a lot to be desired from Michigan”s second-half performance.
Despite a final score of 26-20 (a 20-3 Michigan advantage in the second half,) the Wolverines had many problems executing when the game was still in reach.
There was Marquise Walker”s inexplicable drop in the endzone. Down 23-7 late in the third, quarterback John Navarre threw from the 10-yard line. The ball hit Walker in the chest but bounced off. On the next play, Hayden Epstein missed a 27-yard field goal.
For the half, Michigan was just 3-5 from the red zone. Clawing back, that will rarely cut it.
“We did a great job in the second half of executing, but we weren”t perfect,” said tailback Chris Perry. “You”re never going be perfect, but in that case, we needed to be perfect and we didn”t do that.”
Much of Michigan”s second-half advantage was due to a conservative style of play by Ohio State. The Buckeyes played the half not to lose, which was good enough, considering the lead. The offense couldn”t get anything going due, in part, to an injury to running back Jonathan Wells but the defense made the stops when it had to, intercepting two more Navarre passes.
“In the second half,” said receiver Ronald Bellamy, “we said we wanted to play together, to make some plays, to get back to the game because we knew we would get the ball back. In the second half, we fought hard, but give credit to O-State. They fought hard, too.
“Execution. That”s what it comes down to. Whoever executes the plays wins. They executed more plays than we did.”
“We came out here today and we played a great team like Michigan and you know that no matter what happened in the first half, we knew we had to come out here and play a good second half of football because it”s always a game in the end,” said Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel.
Opportunity blocked: Michigan has worked this year to dispel the notion that blocked punts are noteworthy occurrences. Seven times this season, the Michigan punt-rush team has gotten a hand in front of a punted ball, often resulting in a momentum surge for the Wolverines.
So Saturday afternoon, when Michigan didn”t block Ohio State”s punt with 20 seconds left in the game, it was understandable to see many disappointed Michigan fans, people who have forgotten over the course of the season how tough it is to get a block.
Anthony Jordan did get one block for the Wolverines in the fourth quarter, which led to a touchdown. But he knew that his efforts weren”t good enough.
“I”m really disappointed that we couldn”t get the last one,” Jordan said. “The first one was good but one of the last ones could have really helped dig us out of the whole.”
While Walker has been one of the Wolverines” stars on the punt rush, he spent the entire game returning the kicks.
“I”m not surprised because Marquise is a guy that can do a lot of things once he gets the ball,” Jordan said. “Since we were rushing 10 people, we needed someone back there who could try to get at least some positive yards back there.
“We did talk about bringing him up and rushing 11, we just felt it was best because we have a lot of other guys who have blocked punts this year. We feel that we have a good punt rush team, with him back there also.”
Central Florida, here they come: With the loss, Illinois clinched the Big Ten championship outright, and will receive the conference”s BCS berth. By beating Ohio State, Michigan would have tied for the title and gone to either the Sugar, Fiesta or Orange Bowl.
The Wolverines will probably head to either the Outback or Citrus bowl, both of which are on Jan. 1, 2002.
While Michigan is the Big Ten”s No. 2 team, which should send it to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl, the Wolverines were there last year, and twice in the last three years. Therefore, they might head to Tampa for the Outback Bowl.
“We”re still going to go to a bowl game, we still have to practice, we still have to play,” said offensive lineman Tony Pape. “It”s a tough loss, but you”ve just got to move on.”