Michigan football thought it had done it.
After trailing for 58 minutes and having no answer for Florida State’s defensive front, the Wolverine offense came back from the dead and took its first lead with 1:55 remaining.
Unfortunately, a short kickoff led to a huge return for Florida State and the Seminole offense won the game on a touchdown pass with 32 seconds left to claim the 2016 Capital One Orange Bowl.
Thanking the Seniors
First, I want to say what an honor it has been to watch this group of seniors evolve over the years and take this program back in the right direction. This group went through a huge change when Jim Harbaugh took over for Brady Hoke and they completely bought in from day one.
This group brought back the pride the fan base has missed for a long time and has put the program back on the map. For that, I say thank you and we all wish you nothing but the best going forward.
Now, looking back at Friday night’s contest, that was one of the greatest games I’ve ever watched.
Michigan could not have gotten off to a worse start.
The U-M defense was on its heels from the get-go, and the offense — especially the offensive line — looked lost. Trailing 20-6 at the end of the third quarter, Michigan needed some points and linebacker Mike McCray answered with a pick-six to give the team its first ounce of hope.
After a rushing touchdown by FSU quarterback Deondre Francois, the Wolverine offense answered the bell with a touchdown pass to Khalid Hill to cut it to a one-score game. A stop by Michigan’s defense got the ball back with five minutes remaining and freshman running back Chris Evans made several FSU defenders look silly on his way to a 26-yard touchdown run to give U-M its first lead.
There it was. Michigan had done it. There was no way our defense and special teams would allow the Seminoles to snatch this victory away.
Not so fast.
Senior kicker Kenny Allen, who had previously kicked every ball out of the end zone, left his last one a tad short. The Florida State freshman seemed confused and hesitated for a moment, but brought it out when he looked like he was going to take a knee.
What appeared to be a mistake, froze the Michigan kick team and allowed the freshman into Wolverine territory.
On the final possession, Michigan got the match-up it wanted with Jourdan Lewis covering FSU’s Nyqwan Murray. However, the senior cornerback couldn’t get his head turned around quick enough and allowed his first touchdown reception of the season on the game’s biggest play.
For the record, the touchdown pass in the second quarter was on Dymonte Thomas, not Lewis.
If it wasn’t for the breakdown on the kick return, I firmly believe Michigan would have won. The Wolverines had plenty of opportunities, however, but didn’t play with a real sense of urgency until the fourth quarter.
Playing without superstar Jabrill Peppers hurt the defense immensely and Jake Butt getting hurt didn’t help the offense either.
Remember the Struggle
While this one will no doubt sting for a long time, it’s amazing to think how far the program has come in such a short period of time.
Two years ago, Michigan had finished a 5-7 season and had never been lower. Now, Michigan fans can at least hold their heads high knowing our team never gave up and competed at a high level.
43 seniors played their final game on Friday night, but those were all Hoke’s players after all and appeared to maximize their potential this season. While they played their hearts out, it was obvious this class lacked the elite athleticism it takes to reach a championship level.
Too many times, linebackers weren’t quick enough to clog a hole or offensive lineman were man handled by pass rushers much shiftier than them or a wide receiver couldn’t break away from his defender.
That will all start to change next season.
It is well documented that Harbaugh will do whatever it takes to land a recruit, and for good reason. The teams that recruit higher typically win the most. Playing in a cold weather state, Harbaugh has had to out-work the competition to bring in top athletes and it appears to be paying off.
Michigan brought in the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class last season and currently has the 4th ranked class this year. These classes include recruits much more athletic than those brought in by Hoke, and are the type of playrs Harbaugh can see playing on Sundays in the future — he has a pretty good NFL resume to back his eye for talent.
New Type of Player
Ben Gedeon, Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan were good linebackers, but guys like Josh Ross, Drew Singleton and Jordan Anthony are much faster and are the type of athlete championship teams have on defense — check with Alabama.
Kyle Kalis, Erick Magnuson and Ben Braden were decent offensive lineman, but Michael Onwenu, Ben Bredenson and Caesar Ruiz are players that can create more holes for running backs and give quarterbacks time to throw.
Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson were quality receivers, but Donovan-Peoples Jones — the nation’s top high school receiver — is what a team needs to truly stretch the field and make plays.
De’veon Smith was a work horse and ran with everything he had, but lacked elite speed and vision needed for a top running game.
Former top-ranked running back Kareem Walker will surely bring a lot of expectations next season. If Harbaugh can pull off this year’s top runner, Najee Harris, the two could form a legendary duo and give Michigan something it has lacked for a long time.
My point, Michigan is only going to get better when Harbaugh gets all of his own players for his system. Many “experts” think the team will take a step back next season after losing so many seniors, but since when do only senior players lead to success?
Ohio State plays mostly underclassmen and made the playoff. Why? Because those players are superior athletes and are players Urban Meyer hand-picked.
If Harbaugh can get us this far with Hoke’s guys, imagine what he can do with players from his master plan.
U-M fans are hungry for a championship and many thought this was the year. But I’m telling you, the fun is just getting started.
You will have your title soon enough.