Wednesday, October 7, 2009


When Tate Forcier walked onto the field with just under five minutes remaining and Michigan down by 14 against Michigan State, I had long ago conceded defeat. Michigan just didn't have it on Saturday.

There was a killer fumble by Darryl Stonum at the Michigan State 12-yard line early in the fourth quarter, there was a 41-yard scramble by Kirk freakin' Cousins, there was a botched quasi-fake punt inside UM's 20-yard line ... oh, and until Michigan's final two drives, the vaunted running game had produced a total of minus-8 yards. It was ugly and it was frustrating, and I mostly just wanted it to be over.

It wasn't over.

For the next five minutes, Michigan went back to being MICHIGAN, primarily because Forcier realized that the only way UM had a chance was for him to put the team on his back and carry it. Michigan had 146 yards on its final two drives; Forcier accounted for every single one, including the tying touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with 0:02 on the clock.

We all know what happened after that: The game was over when Chris Rucker came up with the ball on UM's third play in overtime. Forcier gets away with a lot of crazy shit because he's very accurate and very smart (and sometimes lucky), but this time, the football gods just couldn't take any more.

It's usually easier to accept defeat when you acknowledge it in advance, which I suppose is what happened near the beginning of the fourth quarter. Sometimes you just know when your team isn't going to win, and Saturday was one of those days. For some people, this leads to the whole "I'd rather get blown out than lose a heartbreaker" meme, which is understandable. I often feel the same way.

But watching Forcier nearly pull off his third fourth-quarter comeback in five career starts gave the whole thing a different tone. The euphoria when Roundtree grabbed that ball in the back of the endzone felt like ... well, it felt like a win. It was as if Michigan had lost a game, then won a game, then lost another all in the same day. It was almost too much to process in such a short period of time, and at the end of it, all I could think was, "Damn, that would have been a hell of a win."

Michigan didn't deserve to win that game -- not even close. Total yards were 417-251 in favor of MSU, and that's after UM racked up the aforementioned 146 yards in the final 4:47. But at the end of the day, playing against a team that absolutely had to win to salvage any hopes of a respectable season -- in Forcier's first career road game, no less -- UM came within a single play of leaving East Lansing with a perfect 5-0 mark.

They didn't, of course, which is what makes the whole thing confusing. Can I really be satisfied after watching such a disastrous performance for 55 minutes? Should I be devastated after watching UM come so close to winning only to have it ripped away? I honestly don't know.

What I do know is that there are varying levels of pain surrounding every loss, and after I had turned the TV off about 0.0002 seconds after Larry Caper high-stepped into the endzone, I didn't feel the pain I've felt so many times before. I was sad that there wasn't enough gas in the tank to complete what would have been an incredible comeback, but the fact that I even had the opportunity to feel that sadness entirely because of Forcier's clutchness (yes, I'm making up words now) gave me a strange sense of satisfaction that pretty much canceled out everything else.

A loss for Michigan this year was inevitable -- no realistic fan thought this team had any chance of going undefeated -- but a particular movie line came to mind as the game was headed to overtime:
"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
Forcier gives me hope. Inevitability always beats hope the way rock always beats scissors, but that doesn't mean I can't be happy that hope once again exists after a yearlong absence.

My outlook for this Michigan team hasn't changed much from the beginning -- 7-5 is still the most likely scenario -- but there'll never be a more exciting 7-5 team in the history of football, and that's good enough for right now. Some day soon I'll be back to yelling about the playcalling and throwing imaginary bricks at the officials, but it's hard to get too worked up when an 18-year-old is holding your team together with grit/moxie/whatever you wanna call it.

Other thoughts on the game:

* Forcier's final pass was a bad one, but when I read things like this from ESPN's Pat Forde ...
Less than 90 minutes after the Wolverines lost in overtime to Michigan State, 26-20, The Dash got a text from Forcier declaring, "I take complete fault for that loss."
... I just want to turn into Robin Williams from "Good Will Hunting" and tell him "It's not your fault" over and over until he understands how much he's appreciated. He never would have had the opportunity to make that mistake without putting together one of the gutsiest drives I've ever seen -- he was literally gasping for air for the final minute -- but that just shows what kind of leader he is and sort of explains how he's able to do some of the things he does. He looks at every play and every game as his personal responsibility, and he'll be damned if he's gonna let everybody down. It might lead to a disastrous mistake now and then, but that's the kind of guy I want at quarterback.

* I'm torn on the fake punt. It wasn't actually a "fake" punt, but a read play Michigan used several times last year that calls for the punter to take off if there's enough of a gap on the outside to pick up a first down. It usually still ends with a punt, but Zoltan Mesko ran the ball twice last season, and each run resulted in a first down. On Saturday, though, there was nowhere to go. Mesko clearly wanted to run the ball there, but by the time he realized that it really wasn't an option, it was too late. I don't have a problem with the run/punt read play in general, but if you're thinking about trying to get the first down there -- on a fourth-and-inches play when you're down by two scores -- just line up and go for it.

* The right side of Michigan's line is killing the offense. David Molk won't be back at center for at least a few more weeks, and while David Moosman is doing a perfectly fine job there, Mark Huyge (normally the right tackle) at right guard and Perry Dorrestein (normally a backup) at right tackle are just getting dominated. Michigan's only decent gains on the ground Saturday were sweeps to the left -- where MSU's front seven couldn't exploit the obvious weaknesses on the right side -- and the passing game basically became a rollout/scramble fiesta because Trevor Anderson was often greeting Forcier before he even had a chance to set his feet. At this point, I'd prefer to see a backup guard (John Ferrara, perhaps) in the lineup so Huyge could move back to tackle. Why weaken both positions on the right side when you only have to weaken one?

* The only thing sweeter than a Michigan win would have been Mike Valenti's reaction to the Spartans blowing a 14-point lead in the final minutes and losing to their most-hated rival. I'm pretty sure "PUCKER PUCKER PUCKER" would have been involved, and it's really a tragedy that the world didn't get to experience yet another comic masterpiece.

* It's clear now that Mark Dantonio's sole purpose is to beat Michigan, which will certainly endear him to a lot of MSU fans but really won't do anything to further the goal of becoming UM's equal. It's not like there's been a lack of focus on Michigan in the past -- I'm pretty sure it was John L. Smith who had a countdown clock installed in the MSU locker room -- but there's been an incredibly predictable letdown either before or after the Michigan game every single year, and it's pretty obvious that nothing has changed in that regard (do you think the Spartans would've lost to Central Michigan if they had played with the type of intensity they showed Saturday?). That Michigan-centric focus has led to a gratifying win, a year's worth of bragging rights, a whole lot of job security for Mark Dantonio ... and a 2-3 record. Congratulations.

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