IOWA CITY — With the end of Iowa’s Homecoming, the Wolverines couldn’t have been more relieved to finally be coming home.
Michigan’s second straight road loss was abruptly decided by a last-second interception, meaning the Wolverines found themselves on the field with no choice but to watch the aftermath of another failed comeback. The Kinnick Stadium field filled with black-clad revelers, frantically waving their Hawkeye gold pompons in celebration as they swarmed the turf.
Rushing the field wasn’t necessarily what was expected after the No. 12 team in the country couldn’t even cover the spread against unranked Michigan. In fact, nothing about the last two minutes of Saturday’s game felt familiar, thanks to a questionable coaching decision that found largely untested freshman Denard Robinson under center instead of “I-don’t-get-nervous” Tate Forcier, who has led three last-minute comebacks this season.
But the progression of the game’s first 58 minutes looked far too similar to another game this season:
The Wolverines started strong after intercepting a pass during the first drive of the game, which helped them put quick points on the board. But Michigan started to fall behind fast due to nonexistent pass coverage and the inability to make third-down stops.
Even with a painfully weak secondary, however, the defense seemed to wake up once the opposing team drove within field goal range. That meant the other team often had to settle for three instead of seven points.
And it also meant Michigan was down by just two scores late in the game, which, in dramatic fashion, set the scene perfectly for its quarterback to be the savior.
Of course, though, he and the team came up just a little short.
Michigan State 26, Michigan 20.
Iowa 30, Michigan 28.
Different score, same formula. But Saturday’s game had a much more puzzling aftershock.
Rodriguez was animated and upset on the sidelines during much of the game, seemingly directing some of his vitriol toward the benched Forcier. After it was all over, the freshman quarterback — who is generally one of the most eager on the team to talk — was the last player to leave the Kinnick Stadium visitors’ locker room, his head down, averting eyes and obeying orders from his coach not to talk to the media.
The coach himself was short and sarcastic during his postgame press conference when asked about the quarterback situation, and the rest of his players either pleaded ignorance or didn’t want to talk about it.
“I’ve got two outstanding quarterbacks, three quarterbacks, and we did it,” Rodriguez said. “That’s not the story of the game. All right, next.”
Quarterback questions aside, even with the cadence of the first 58 minutes similar to that against Michigan State, Saturday’s two-point loss to Iowa was more poignant. Led by senior Brandon Minor and a running game that returned to form Saturday (195 yards, 10 first downs and 3 touchdowns) after hibernating in East Lansing (28 yards, 4 first downs and 0 touchdowns), the Wolverines seemed to be in control against Iowa more often than they were against the Spartans.
“We didn’t deserve to beat Michigan State,” senior offensive lineman David Moosman said. “I think we had a shot at beating Iowa.”
But that shot at a win was jeopardized by excessive turnovers. Though fumbles and interceptions were two of last year’s fatal flaws, they hadn’t been a major issue this season — until Saturday. Excluding Robinson’s game-sealing interception with 46 seconds left in the game, the other four turnovers accounted for six of the Hawkeyes’ 30 points.
But the damage could have potentially been worse. Three of the Wolverines’ turnovers gave Iowa (2-0 Big Ten, 6-0 overall) the ball in Michigan territory, but Iowa kicker Daniel Murray missed a field goal on one possession and the Hawkeyes couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-goal from the Michigan 1-yard line on another.
Those missed opportunities helped keep Michigan (1-2, 4-2) in the game. But in the end, the extra chances only fueled the Wolverines’ second straight heartbreak.
“I would like to say many of our games won’t go down to the wire, but I have a feeling a whole bunch of them will,” Rodriguez said after Michigan’s 36-33 comeback win against Indiana. “At least I hope they do.”
Even after losing two last-minute road games by a combined eight points, it’s clear Rodriguez has gotten what he hoped for.