While Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan State both managed to eke out tough wins against mid-level conference opponents on Saturday, No. 15 Michigan had a much tougher go against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
Down eight points late in the fourth quarter, thanks to a botched extra point earlier in the first half, quarterback Denard Robinson and his Wolverines teammates got the ball at their own 18-yard line with 2:15 remaining.
Despite a rash of inaccuracy and the resulting incompletions—Robinson ended up 4-for-13 on the drive—each of the four completions ended up in big first downs to Martavious Odoms, Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Roundtree again. All told, Robinson and the Wolverines had moved the ball to the Iowa 3-yard line with 16 seconds remaining.
That was when things got interesting.
On first down, Robinson attempted a timing pattern to the right that was…well, poorly timed. He missed Junior Hemingway by a country mile.
On second down, Robinson again aimed his throw at Hemingway to the quarterback’s right. The receiver attempted to react and adjust to the poorly thrown pass in the end zone, and Hemingway made a remarkable stretch to reel in the ball at the back of the end zone. The referees ruled Hemingway out of bounds as his momentum carried him out after he appeared to have caught and controlled the pass.
But was Hemingway’s knee down with the ball controlled in his arms before he landed out of bounds?
It sure appeared so, and ESPN’s play-by-play man even went so far as to say, “I think that’s a touchdown,” before the referees came back.
The refs soon did come back. The ruling on the field was upheld. Incomplete pass. No touchdown.
Yes, it was a tough call, but the replays showed Hemingway with the ball controlled in his arms well before he landed out of bounds. His knee was down in bounds with the ball secure.
But the referees didn’t see it that way.
Third down, Michigan.
On third, Iowa got pressure up the middle on Denard Robinson, forcing him to scramble to his left and out of the pocket. Robinson threw a weak ball toward double-covered Vincent Smith in the end zone, but it was well underthrown, and Smith couldn’t come up with it in the tangle of arms and legs.
Fourth down. Two seconds remaining.
Robinson received the ball from center and aimed for Roundtree on a quick slant across the middle, but the ball was batted away by the defensive back covering Roundtree.
Of course, replays showed that the defensive back was, in fact, on Roundtree. He had his hands all over the Wolverines receiver, but the referees were again afraid to make a pass-interference ruling, and the penalty flag stayed in the pocket of the back judge.
The most dynamic quarterback in the country, and you can’t score in four tries from the 3-yard line?
Saturday was a sad showing from the Michigan offense. Certainly it wasn’t helped by two embarrassingly awful referee calls on two tight plays in the last 10 seconds of the game, but despite those decisions, Michigan didn’t deserve to win this game.
Regardless of where you stand on those two controversial plays, Michigan lost 24-16, fell to 7-2 and will now have a huge uphill battle to reach the Big Ten championship game.