Watching Iowa’s third-string tailback, Jermelle Lewis, continuously run over Michigan linebackers and safeties embarrassed the Wolverines; they knew an imposing running game was coming, but seemed as helpless as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest in trying to stop it.

Paul Wong
Joe Smith

Feeling the ball slip through their hands in crucial situations frustrated Michigan wide receivers and tailbacks.

And listening to Iowa fans drown out the Michigan faithful with chants, screams and songs of celebration at the end of Saturday’s game made the final minutes seem like decades for anyone involved in the Michigan program.

If it didn’t, it should have. After all, it seemed Michigan had waved the white flag long before Nate Kaeding drilled a 22-yard field goal with three minutes left to put the finishing touches on what turned out to be the most lopsided loss at Michigan Stadium in more than 30 years.

“I’ve never been in a butt-kicking like that,” said fifth-year senior defensive end Dan Rumishek.

Unlike the loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl last January, which could perhaps be attributed to a differential in talent and team speed, this 34-9 loss hurt the Wolverines more because of the way they were beaten.

The Wolverines were outplayed and outcoached. They allowed a Big Ten equal to come into their house and push them around – and then celebrate afterwards.

Gone was the heart shown when the Wolverines willed out two last-second, big-game victories against Washington and Penn State.

Gone was the swagger and confidence the offense used to push Illinois around a month ago, and to engineer game-winning drives against the Huskies and Nittany Lions.

Gone was the pride that usually comes with donning the maize and blue.

And as a result, gone are any hopes of smelling the roses in Pasadena.

“It’s a frustrated team,” Rumishek said.

But now, more than ever, it also needs to be a resilient team.

Because no matter how embarrassing the loss to Iowa was, the Wolverines can’t roll over and die. They can’t afford to fall apart at the end of the season like last year – when they loss three of their final five games. This Homecoming loss may not hurt as much months from now if Michigan wins out, beats Ohio State and finishes the season 10-2 with a BCS bowl victory.

But the drubbing could mean everything if it signifies Michigan’s falling out, and the spark for another 8-4 season – or worse yet, another season with losses to Michigan State and Ohio State.

It’s all up to the Wolverines to decide.

“We’re not making excuses or feeling sorry for ourselves,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We’re going to come back and be the best football team we can be. We’re not going to change everything we’ve done.”

While Carr shouldn’t throw everything he’s installed into the fire, something has to change. Most of Michigan’s flaws on defense were exposed by an Iowa team that was definitely talented, but not that much better than Michigan.

This time, the countless missed tackles by the Wolverines, the soft zone coverage that allowed Iowa to exploit the middle of the field and the inability for Michigan’s defensive front to put pressure on the quarterback couldn’t be overlooked because the Wolverines caused turnovers.

The traditional bend-but-don’t-break mentality isn’t always going to work. Especially when Michigan’s offense abandons the running game and leaves the defense stranded on the field for more than two-thirds of the game.

“We screwed our defense today,” Ron Bellamy said.

The Wolverines may have screwed themselves out of a potential Rose Bowl berth and Big Ten championship – as Iowa must now lose twice in its final three games.

But how Michigan responds from such an embarrassing loss will determine whether the Wolverines screwed their season.

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu

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