Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Victors: Team 137, Game 10

Saturday, 12 November 2016 @ Kinnick Stadium
Iowa 14-13 Michigan (№ 2)
9-1, B1G 6-1

Coming into the season, the strength of Team 137, the 2016 squad of the valiant Wolverines, was presumed to be the defense. No one yet knew that the defense would become Uncle Don's Murder Machine, an even deadlier, stingier unit than Team 136's defense under then-defensive coordinator D. J. Durkin, but the defense was less of a question mark than the offense. With the exhaustion of grad transfer Jake Rudock's N.C.A.A. eligibility, who would be the Michigan quarterback? Houston transfer John O'Korn or Rudock's backup Wilton Speight? Speight won the job over O'Korn by a whisker just before the start of the season; week by week, Speight matured into a serviceable quarterback, not a world-beater, but a quarterback who rarely put Michigan's magnificent defense into untenable situations: "Mr. Efficiency," some pundits called him. As 2016 rolled on, the "Fighting Harbaughs" had an offense that put up often gaudy numbers—no fewer than forty-five points in any of the first four games, an astronomical seventy-eight against Rutgers, & fifty-nine against Maryland. On a windy day in Iowa City, against a tenacious Hawkeyes squad that had had a disappointing season, none of that earlier offensive acumen would be on display.

The defeat was a whole-team affair; we all contributed. The once-powerful offense was hapless most of the day, looking competent only on a first-quarter touchdown drive & finishing the day with a paltry two hundred one yards of offense. An ill-conceived & extremely poorly-blocked run deep in our own end led to De'Veon Smith being tackled in Michigan's own end zone, giving Iowa a safety. Speight threw poorly, finishing the day eleven of twenty-six (11/26) with no touchdowns & an interception; the ugly & inopportune interception just when we were looking to put the game away late in the fourth quarter. The special teams, normally a strength, were a mixed bag. Kicker Kenny Allen made a career-long field goal (fifty-one yards!), but the second-half kickoff was fumbled & recovered by Iowa, who gained their first lead of the game witht he ensuing field goal. A facemask penalty in the waning second gave Iowa exquisite field position from which to kick the game-winning field goal. The defense did everything that could be asked of it, including thwarting Iowa on the two-point conversion attempt after the tenacious Hawkeyes' lone touchdown, but the offensive & special-teams ineptitude gave Iowa too many short fields in which to operate, allowing their field goal kicker to negate the Murder Machine's inherent advantages.

On a weird day in college football, Michigan was not alone among top-five clubs in losing, & so did not suffer tremendously in the follow week's poles. More ominously, though, we had failed our first significant road test of the year. Of the previous nine games, only two had been played outside the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium, but neither of those could be considered a real test, as they were at the alien Scarlet Knights of Rutgers & the dastardly Spartans of Michigan State, two clubs that between them would finish the year with a solitary B1G win (& that only because "Moo U." defeated the State University of New Jersey in a conference game one of the otherwise winless-in-conference-play clubs had to win). Michigan's next road game would come in the most hostile of all environments—Ohio Stadium, "the Horseshoe," home to the hated Buckeyes of Ohio State.

I watched the Iowa game at Xanadu in *shudder" Ohio; normally I sojourn to Xanadu to watch the Michigan State game alongside my brother, but those plans were scuttled this year by the Michigan State game coinciding with Hallowe'en weekend. The embittering, embarrassing defeat at Iowa was a night game, meaning I went to bed Saturday night still demoralized & angry. Blessedly, I awoke on Sunday smiling, grateful for the very existence of Sunday, the day we cannot live without, thanks be to Our Lord & Savior for His glorious Resurrection, which assures those who follow Him of eternal life. I like (college) football, I care about football, but it is only a game. Losing a game, even an important game, is never the end of the world.

Next: The wily Hoosiers of Indiana, & Senior Day at the Big House.

Go Blue!

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