Michigan-Iowa: Late Game Decision a Topic of Contention on U-M Campus

Julie ReichlmayrContributor IOctober 13, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 05:  Tate Forcier #5 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates with Denard Robinson #16 after Robinson ran for a long first quarter touchdown against the Western Michigan Broncos on September 5, 2009 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Wolverines suffered a heart-wrenching 30-28 loss to Iowa this past weekend. 

Glued to televisions from North Campus to South University to Main Street and beyond, University of Michigan students anxiously wondered if the Forcier would be with us.

Well, he was, and he wasn’t.

Iowa effectively pressured Michigan’s throwing game, resulting in limited outlets in the form of any available wide receiver.  

The defensive effort resulted in a loss of some potentially big plays. 

Not to mention the five turnovers (four of which were unforced) and three fumbles.

Once again, the late game decision was made to introduce Denard "Shoelace" Robinson into the game in the fourth quarter. 

In the final minute of play, Robinson threw a pick that sealed a victory for the Iowa Hawkeyes. 

I would say that Michigan fans stood in disbelief, but a flashback to last week’s game prevented this mindset. Similarly, Tate Forcier had thrown an interception that resulted in Michigan’s first loss of the season.

Looking at the glass half full, this overtime result had only been achieved due to Forcier’s earlier decision making and last minute touchdown passes. 

For many reasons, including such late-game performances by the freshman phenom, many were in disbelief when Forcier was removed in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. 

Furthermore, it appeared Rich Rodriguez was upset with Forcier—game footage on and off the field seemed to indicate this.

As the Detroit Free Press commented, "Rich Rodriguez appeared angry with Tate Forcier the series before Robinson entered the game. Lisa Salters’ sideline report for ABC even indicated that Forcier didn’t understand why Rodriguez was so upset. 

"If it was only subpar play, does that negate Forcier’s previous five weeks of success and heroics, denying him a chance to show his crunch-time calm again?"

This question is a point of controversy among students on the University of Michigan campus. Most students are equally as torn a few days post-game as when the actual play was called. 

Undoubtedly, Forcier struggled the entire game. He was 8-for-19, including an interception. Robinson managed to score on a three-yard run late in the fourth quarter before he threw an interception to free safety Brett Greenwood.

Both quarterbacks made mistakes and had their share of freshman moments. Again, "teachable moments" seems to be reiterated within each game-time performance.

In Monday’s press conference, Rich Rod was clearly irritated with consecutive quarterback questions from the press.

When asked who would start at quarterback this week, Rich Rod muttered a “here we go” in response to the questions he knew were coming.

It appeared late in the fourth quarter that Rich Rod reportedly “grabbed” Tate Forcier, ready to go back in the game, and instead sent Denard Robinson in his place.

Rich Rod simply stated, “Tate made a few mistakes as a freshman will make…Denard gave us a spark at the time.” 

The coach reiterated that the entire offensive line played pretty solidly. They’re a talented, active front, and they held their own.

He also added that there were some different reads in the Iowa game, and this instigated some changes that needed to be made dealing with the quarterback position in particular.

Whether these “changes” constituted a valid excuse to remove Forcier from the game is debatable.  Many students are upset that Denard was given the final moments of play because of Forcier’s past stellar late-game performances. 

Truthfully, this pattern does seem relevant. Forcier threw game-winning touchdowns both in the Notre Dame and Indiana game, and performed admirably in the final moments of overtime in the Michigan State game.

Forcier has proven time and again his nerve-less abilities in close-game situations.

Furthermore, Robinson is inconsistent in his passing game, while Forcier has the game-time experience in close matchups.

On the other hand, Rich Rod’s late-game decision to utilize Robinson was not based off of false pretenses. The quarterback led a drive that brought the game within two points. 

The momentum was there. The “spark” was ignited. Rich Rod made the call he believed would best benefit the team and perhaps lead to a Michigan victory.

Even though Tate Forcier’s past late-game performances were solid, there was no guarantee that he would be equally impressive in the final moments of the Iowa game. After all, this was an entirely different game for the freshman phemon.

Forcier made plays that were rushed, throws that were off base, and even seemed to confuse the game-time announcers. The number of unforced errors was embarrassing. 

Furthermore, Tate was probably still not 100 percent recovered from his shoulder injury, and it was confirmed after the game that he suffered a “little” concussion that threw off his game.

As earlier stated, there were also different reads than previous games that compelled a change in quarterback strategy.

In that moment, during that play, Rich Rod ultimately carried faith in "Shoelace," and gave him the chance to carry the previous touchdown energy for the rest of the game. 

Whether Rich Rod “got caught up in the moment” after Robinson’s previous touchdown run, is unclear. Whether the final interception was a misread by the wide receiver or the quarterback himself (most likely both), and whether Tate Forcier’s presence would have altered the final outcome, is uncertain.

What is certain is that the call was made, for better or worse.

If sole blame is placed on Denard for a loss to Iowa, then equal blame must be put on Tate for the loss to Michigan State.

Against a decidedly much stronger Iowa team, Michigan held their own. No individual is at fault—it is after all, a team effort.  It betrays Michigan tradition to consider the game anything else.

Certainly, the debate of who made the "right" or "wrong" call and how the game "would" have transpired, will continue.

It’s upsetting that this dispute is even so contentious to begin with.

I stand by Rich Rod’s decision, the team’s actions, and heck, even that last minute misread for one reason: I truly and completely trust that this team and these coaches make decisions in the best interest of the team.  

A young team is still a young team. There will be mistakes. There will be unforced errors. There will be disputes and misconstrued notions.

What is more important is that the intensity, commitment, and faith in the team and with the team will continue. This season is far from over.

In the postgame press conference, Rodriguez admitted he was not happy with the two losses. 

“There are moments we’d like to have back…but I’ve been really happy with our guys’ preparation, their focus, and their intensity. The road games, the guys were ready to play and ready to play hard. I don’t think this team will continue to not be a work in progress.”

I urge students and fans everywhere to forget the "wrong" or "right" associated with the final moments of this game.  A two-point margin is nothing to be ashamed of against a top-15 program, with one of the strongest defensive lines in the country.

Delaware State will hopefully prove a confidence boost for a young Wolverine squad—an undeniable “work in progress” who needs campus support now more than ever this season.