Michigan’s all-time leading passer returned from injury to play with Michigan’s all-time leading rusher in an attempt to cement their legacies in front of Michigan’s all-time second largest crowd.
But in their final game at Michigan Stadium, a group of the Wolverines’ finest seniors failed once again to do what it couldn’t do three times before. And coaching his final game in the rivalry, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr failed once again to top Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
By losing to Ohio State, 14-3, Chad Henne, Mike Hart and others did more than lose a final trip to the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten Championship and the chance to cap off an improbable turnaround of a season.
Instead, the senior class marred its legacy with two haunting figures:
0 and 4.
“We had a chance to win the championship here, and we didn’t,” senior safety Jamar Adams said. “That should say it all.”
And if it doesn’t, the game’s statistics sure do.
In a performance harkening back to Michigan’s Snow Bowl victory over Ohio State in 1950, the Wolverine offense mustered just 91 yards. Yes, the offense many believed would be unstoppable managed merely a field goal in its biggest game of the season. In the second half, it had the ball past midfield just once.
Quarterback Chad Henne, who willed the team to three victories this year, suffered from his own shoulder injury and his receivers’ dropped passes to an 11-of-34 performance. Running back Mike Hart, who sparked the team with a guarantee earlier this year, carried the ball 18 times for just 44 yards. And tackle Jake Long, who held together an offensive line battling injuries all season, allowed a rare sack and saw his teammates pulverized by the Ohio State defensive line nearly every drive.
“We didn’t get anything done,” senior center Adam Kraus said. “So it’s all on us. Defense played great. Played their butt off. And we hung them out to dry.”
That defense held an Ohio State team content pounding the ball into the line to 14 points. Gripping to an 11-point lead for the final seven drives of the game, Ohio State drove no further than 36 yards on any of them.
But it was only the first drive (quick as it was) of the half that mattered.
After an illegal block in the back negated an Ohio State punt return for a touchdown, running back Chris “Beanie” Wells broke through for a 62-yard score to increase the Buckeyes lead to 14-3.
Although Michigan still had nearly an entire half to close it, it would get no closer.
“The fact is they beat us these last four years. That’s the measure of who is better or not,” Kraus said. “That’s the way I look at it. And we didn’t win. They were the better team today.”
The loss marks the first time since 1963 Michigan lost four in a row to Ohio State. It also brings a bitter end to the senior’s careers at the Big House, where they all accomplished so much individually, but, ultimately, failed ever to bring it all together.
And it ends what had been an incredible turnaround by the Wolverines. From National Championship contenders to pretenders to right back in the Big Ten race, Michigan saw moments – Henne’s heroics – that made the season much more special.
But those will be relegated to footnote status in a season that will largely be remembered for its bookends: Traditional powerhouse falls in one of the greatest college football upsets ever.
And: Lloyd Carr, in his final regular-season game as head coach, loses to the Buckeyes, defeating them just once in his final seven years.
With the regular season over, Michigan still has a bowl game to play. The seniors have never won one of those, either, so they’ll get another shot this year .
Where exactly has not been decided. But one thing is clear: Pasadena will never have seemed further away.