Since the Michigan Wolverines have more wins than any other program in the history of college football, there have obviously been some amazing moments. However, there have also been some really bad ones. Not all the bad moments were actually a football game, but a game had something to do with them.
The Worst Moments in Michigan Football
A Sparty Two-Fer
On October 25, 2014, the Wolverines rolled into East Lansing sporting a not-so-impressive 2-3 record. They would eventually finish the season 5-7 in what would be Brady Hoke’s last season leading the men in blue. Someone in the locker room decided it would be a good idea to plant a stake at midfield BEFORE the game and got buy-in from others. Michigan then went out and got smoked, 35-11.
Spartans head coach referenced the stake planting in his post-game interview when asked why State decided to go for a last-minute touchdown instead of taking a knee. The question begs to be asked why anyone would decide to plant a stake on the field of a hated rival before a game when you come into it with a losing record?
The very next season, on new coach Jim Harbaugh’s first manning the sidelines, Sparty traveled to Ann Arbor for the annual showdown. Michigan controlled the game throughout but was unable to put away the Spartans. Nursing a 23-21 lead with the clock winding down, the Wolverines faced a fourth down and short near midfield. Michigan punter Blake O’Neil received a good enough snap but bobbled the ball and was smothered by Michigan State special teamers as he tried to pick it up. Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson picked up the ball and ran into the end zone virtually untouched. Game over. 27-23 State. Shock filled the Big House in a moment that will live forever in infamy.
There Is Always Hope Until There Isn’t
Michigan fans always dream of three things every season. Beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten, and win the national championship. While mathematically two of those three goals remained intact after the 2014 season opener, realistically all hope was lost because the team was just not good enough to accomplish any of those goals.
Michigan opened the 2014 campaign against Notre Dame in South Bend on September 6, 2014, in a nationally televised night game. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner went 19-32 for 189 yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions. The Michigan running game managed only 100 yards on 35 carries. Defense and special teams were no better. An 0-1 record is one thing, but Michigan lost 31-0 in a game that wasn’t even that close. Fans of the Wolverines knew the team was in for a long season and they were right.
November 16, 2016. Michigan entered the annual version of “ The Game “ in Columbus undefeated and looked very impressive in the process. Ahead 17-7 late in the third quarter, Michigan had a big gain on a screen pass called back due to a penalty. On the next play Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted. The tide had turned.
In what turned a probable Michigan victory into a dogfight, regulation ended with the teams tied, 17-17. After both teams scored a touchdown in the first overtime, Michigan could only manage a field goal in the second overtime and lead 27-24 with the Buckeyes now getting their chance at the Michigan 25-yard line. Three plays yielded nine yards. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett then called his own number on fourth down and appeared short of the first down. His body appeared to be at the line to gain but the ball looked short based on how he was holding it. The referees called it a first down and the call stood upon review.
On the very next play, Curtis Samuel galloped 15 yards to the end zone. 30-27 Ohio State. National championship aspirations for Michigan gone in an instant. Sadness, anger, and bitter disappointment are all words to describe the fanbase, coaches, and players.
Embarrassment At The Big House
Some called it the upset of the century after it happened. It wasn’t. The opponent was actually pretty good. But this was not supposed to happen. Not to Michigan. Certainly not at home and not in the opener. The Wolverines came into the 2007 season ranked fifth in the nation and were picked to win the Big Ten. Give head coach Lloyd Carr credit for being the last Michigan coach to bring a national championship to Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, this game is also a part of his legacy.
Appalachian State, a small FCS school in North Carolina came into The Big House on September 1, 2007, and stunned the Wolverines, 34-32 in front of over 109,000 shocked fans. To add insult to injury, Michigan had a chance to win at the end but had a field goal blocked on the final play of the game. It was the first time an FCS school had defeated a ranked FBS school and Michigan dropped all the way out of the top 25. Naturally, it was the lead story for ESPN, and Sports Illustrated put a picture of the game on its cover. This was not the type of recognition Michigan welcomed or was accustomed to.
On November 24, 1973, Ohio State and Michigan met in Ann Arbor with everything on the line. Both teams were undefeated. Ohio State was ranked #1 in the country and Michigan was # 4. The Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl berth, and a possible national championship were at stake. There’s that word again.
Ohio State controlled the first half and took a 10-0 lead to the locker room. At the end of three quarters, the score remained the same but momentum had started to shift in Michigan’s direction. After a Mike Lantry field goal cut the deficit to seven, Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin scored on a short touchdown run to tie the game, 10-10.
Michigan got the ball back and moved into fringe field goal range. Lantry barely missed a 58 yard field goal that would have won the game. Ohio State then threw an interception giving the Wolverines one more chance. This time Lantry missed a 44-yarder that wasn’t as close as the 58-yard attempt a few minutes earlier.
Most people expected Michigan to be selected to go to the Rose Bowl in a vote of conference athletic directors. Even Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes seemed resigned to the fact. Until two years prior, the conference had a rule that no team could go to the Rose Bowl in consecutive years. There was also possible bad blood over Michigan’s attempt several years before to keep Michigan State from joining the Big Ten. In a vote that surprised many and was shrouded in secrecy, Ohio State was awarded the Rose Bowl by a 5-4-1 vote.
The one was an abstention. Had the vote been 5-5, Michigan would have gone to the Rose Bowl. Instead, they went nowhere because the conference had yet to adjust their rules allowing more than one team from the conference to go to a bowl game. Michigan fans, coaches, players, administrators, and anyone who called themselves a supporter of the team were outraged. Head football coach Bo Schembechler was fit to be, well, tied.