Two missed calls ... yes, missed calls ... hurt Michigan, but are not why it lost
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Let's just get it out of the way, shall we?
Michigan receiver Junior Hemingway made a catch in the back of the end zone to set up a potentially game-tying two-point conversion attempt with less than 10 seconds left against Iowa.
The Wolverines never got that chance, though, as the officials — one of whom initially indicated touchdown, another incomplete pass — ruled Hemingway landed out of bounds. They reviewed the play in the booth, but did not overturn the call, despite replays indicating Hemingway indeed was in-bounds.
The video wasn't conclusive enough to overturn the call — the play was so close, the initial ruling would have stood upon replay whether the call was incomplete pass or touchdown — so the verdict is unsurprising. But, there's not much doubt where Hemingway landed.
"I caught that 1 no If ands or buts about it!!!!" he tweeted minutes after the game.
Even Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde, who was defending Hemingway on the play, seemingly agreed.
"I thought he made a good play, but the review says otherwise," Hyde said.
Despite the missed call, Michigan still had two shots at the end zone from Iowa's 3-yard line. And, after an incomplete pass, it lined up for a conclusive fourth-down play.
This time, quarterback Denard Robinson went to Roy Roundtree, who already caught a game-winning touchdown pass this year against Notre Dame. This time, he dropped the ball on a quick slant, but was interfered with in the end zone. Right?
Officials didn't see it that way, though, and the Hawkeyes rushed the field with their hands raised as Michigan's Big Ten title hopes dropped in a 24-16 loss Saturday in Iowa City.
This game, though, was lost long before two missed calls. Michigan coach Brady Hoke didn't make excuses after the game, opening his postgame news conference simply: "That's why you have to play 60 minutes of football."
The Wolverines (7-2, 3-2) didn't.
Yet, it will be those dramatic final moments that will sting the most.
Hoke fell short of criticizing the officiating, but left little to the imagination.
When asked multiple times whether Hemingway was in-bounds, Hoke would only say, "I don't have a great seat, but I know one (official) in the back thought he did, and the other guy thought he didn’t."
Hoke was asked if he was surprised that pass interference wasn't called on the last play, on which replays show a defender with his arm draped around Roundtree.
Hoke responded, "Were you?"
"Well, yeah, I was," the reporter said.
Hoke just nodded his head.
Those two calls stalled an otherwise efficient final drive from a set of plays Michigan calls "NASCAR." It went 79 yards in 14 plays and just more than 2 minutes, and it gave the Wolverines four shots at the end zone from Iowa's 3-yard line.
But it was the moments that led up to that final drive that necessitated it in the first place — and, judging from how poorly Michigan played, it was lucky to be even in that position.
The Wolverines opened the first half by allowing their third first-drive touchdown in as many weeks, then closed it with consecutive Robinson turnovers. An interception stalled a drive at the goal line and a fumble turned into three Iowa points.
There were missed tackles and missed assignments. The freshmen linebackers played like freshmen linebackers.
Michigan fell behind 24-9 in the fourth quarter on a 13-yard run by Iowa's Marcus Coker, and failed to slow the tailback for much of the day — despite knowing it was coming. Coker rushed 32 times last week for 252 yards.
Against the Wolverines, he had 29 carries for 132 yards, chunks of which came on more edge containment issues by Michigan. Coker was a known commodity, and edge containment was a known bugaboo. Yet, the Wolverines were helpless.
On offense, Michigan was punchless for much of the game. It finished with 323 yards, which outgains only Tennessee Tech among Iowa opponents this year.
That sounds bad. It's worse when listing those other offenses: Iowa State, Louisiana-Monroe, Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Pitt all outgained the Wolverines. That's not optimal.
The talk over the next few days will be about those final, gut-wrenching plays, calls and noncalls. There's no doubt Michigan came up on the short end there, and will have this team asking "What if?"
But there's no doubt it put itself in that situation.
That's the biggest "What if?" of all.