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Flawed Michigan still controls destiny in Big Ten East

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

 

Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling intercepts a ball intended for Iowa wide receiver Jerminic Smith late in the fourth quarter.

Iowa City, Iowa — There they were, thousands of Iowa fans rushing the field after Keith Duncan nailed a 33-yard winning field goal with no time left to upset Michigan on Saturday night.

But Michigan, which suffered its first loss of the season, 14-13, still had to get off the field. As the players did, they saw and felt the celebration at their expense.

“It hurts,” safety Dymonte Thomas said after the game. “You get upset in their hometown and all their fans rush the field in front of you. They’re yelling and screaming and stuff. Nothing you can do about it.

“You congratulate them and keep moving and just try to make sure it don’t happen it again.”

The season is not yet over, although Michigan has fallen from the elite group of unbeaten teams.

Michigan is 9-1 (6-1 Big Ten) and controls its future if it wins its final two games, at home against Indiana on Saturday and on the road at Ohio State, to win the Big Ten East and earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game. And a victory in the Big Ten title game likely would put Michigan in a national playoff game.

Michigan dropped two spots to No. 4 in the AP poll and will await Tuesday’s release of the College Football Playoff rankings.

In the aftermath of a difficult loss for the Wolverines, what seems more intriguing than poll rankings is how this team will recover after being dealt a gut-punch. It was only their second trip outside of the state and their first big challenge at night, and it was a poor performance across the board with the exception of Kenny Allen’s kicking.

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They had a season-low 201 yards of offense, and the Wolverines’ top-rated defense was asked to do more than it had all year. After a curious Michigan timeout with 34 seconds left, the Wolverines allowed Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard to convert on third-down-and-7 with an 8-yard run up the middle to the Michigan 15-yard line to set up the game-winning score.

Covering Iowa’s pink locker rooms with Michigan paraphernalia before the game was cute, but nothing can cover up some apparent flaws this late in the season. Quarterback Wilton Speight, after three straight games of excelling, had his worst performance in a tough setting. The running game never gave Michigan a boost and mustered 98 yards. And special-teams errors — back-to-back roughing the kicker calls, a fumbled kickoff return and 10 men on the field for the final field-goal attempt — were glaring.

Can Michigan recover and win out? Obviously, that’s what will be found out the next two weeks, but the Wolverines and their coach, Jim Harbaugh, spoke positively, as expected, about rebounding.

“We’re all going to do our jobs,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of my job. I’m not the only on, but a big part of my job is to make sure we respond.”

Speight said the team would approach the loss as it does a win — it will move on quickly.

“It will be behind us,” Speight said. “We enjoy the wins for a couple hours. We’ll be (upset) about this, mourn this a little bit, and just like a win it’s on to Indiana and put it behind us.”

The team, he said, never looked at possible scenarios if they were to lose.

“Before (the loss), we didn’t really look at it, ‘OK, we have some margin of error,’’ Speight said. “It happened, so now we say, ‘Everything is fine, we’re going to move on, and if we win out, we’ll be OK.’

“But it was never, ‘OK, we have one slip up and we do that, it’s all right.’ That was never our mindset.”

The Wolverines, who won their first nine games, are certain they will rebound from this loss.

“We’re going to bounce back,” safety Dymonte Thomas said. “We worked really hard in the offseason. We know if we win out what lies ahead of us. So we’re going to get back to work (today) and take care of Indiana and take care of Ohio State.”

Why is he so sure they will shake this off?

“I’ve played with these guys for pretty much four years,” Thomas said. “But the thing is, I just know how these guys respond. I worked with them in the offseason, I’ve worked with them in the spring, and I know they’re hard-working guys and I know we’re going to be eager to get back to work. I know my teammates and I trust them, and we’re just ready to get to work.”

Certainly, no team wants to endure a loss, but in some cases, it can serve as a wakeup call. Last season, for instance, Ohio State loss to Michigan State at home and then pummeled Michigan in Ann Arbor the next week.

It’s all how a team responds.

“It allows us to see how strong we really are,” Thomas said. “It allows us to see how we’re going to bounce back and respond. Every team is going to face adversity throughout the season. The best teams are the ones who can overcome adversity.

“I have faith in my guys, and I believe we will respond.”

chengelis@detroitnews.com

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Big Ten East picture

* Michigan wins if it beats Indiana and Ohio State.

* Ohio State wins if it beats Michigan State and Michigan, and Penn State gets one more loss.

* Penn State wins if it beats Rutgers and Michigan State, and Michigan gets one more loss.

Indiana at Michigan

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ESPN / WWJ 950, WTKA 1050

Records: Indiana 5-5 (3-4 Big Ten), Michigan 9-1 (6-1)

Line: Michigan by 28