Michigan coach Lloyd Carr shakes hands with Oregon coach Mike Belotti - without much enthusiasm - after the 22nd-ranked Ducks defeated the third-ranked Wolverines.
EUGENE, Ore. - Michigan looked inward for reasons why the nation's third-ranked team left here with a loss.
“We just made too many mistakes to give ourselves a chance to win,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said following No. 22 Oregon's 31-27 win over the Wolverines yesterday at Autzen Stadium. “We had our chances, we never stopped fighting, but in the end we didn't make a play.”
Michigan fell into a 21-6 hole at halftime but rallied to within three points early in the fourth quarter and then watched its final hope die with an incomplete pass on fourth down at the Oregon 41-yard line with 33 seconds left.
“It's not surprising; we didn't play well as a team on defense, and the offense didn't play well,” cornerback Jeremy Lesueur said. “We didn't do what we had to do; we just didn't play well.”
Michigan running back Chris Perry, who entered the game as a Heisman Trophy favorite, had 26 yards on 11 carries. Michigan finished with four yards rushing on 19 carries.
“We knew they would load up on the run and they put eight guys in the box,” Perry said. “It all falls on my shoulder. When we run the ball well, everyone gives me praise, so when we don't, it's my fault.”
Oregon had all the momentum and a 15-point lead at halftime as Michigan had one net yard rushing in the first half. Michigan came out throwing in the second half, as Perry had only two carries in the final two quarters.
The offense seemed rejuvenated after halftime as quarterback John Navarre threw for 273 yards and almost brought the Wolverines back. With Michigan trailing 24-6, Navarre threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jason Avant with 4:03 left in the third quarter.
Michigan's next drive also ended with a touchdown, as Navarre threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Steve Breaston. When Navarre and Braylon Edwards connected for a two-point conversion, Michigan had pulled within 24-21 with 11:04 left in the game.
Michigan was forced to punt from its 27-yard line on its next series and Adam Finley's kick was blocked by Keith Lewis and recovered by Oregon's Jordan Carey in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Ducks ahead 31-21 with 6:55 left.
Michigan running back Chris Perry bobbles the ball after being hit by Oregon's Kevin Mitchell during the first half.
The crowd of 59,023 - the largest to ever witness a college football game in Oregon - started celebrating when Ducks defensive back Justin Phinisee intercepted Navarre with 5:02 remaining, but the Wolverines still had life. Michigan stopped Oregon on fourth down at the Michigan 34, and five plays later, Navarre threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Breaston with 2:18 left on the clock. The extra point was blocked, but Michigan only trailed by four points.
Michigan recovered an onside kick at its 44. The Wolverines moved the ball to the Oregon 44 before Navarre was sacked for a nine-yard loss. On fourth-and-seven at the Oregon 41, Navarre threw an incomplete pass that sent the Wolverines home with their first loss of the season.
Navarre completed 28 of 55 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Edwards had 13 catches for 144 yards.
Oregon had 380 yards of offense, with 233 coming in the first half. The Ducks continued to use two quarterbacks, as starter Kellen Clemens was 15-for-23 for 160 yards and Fife was 5-for-8 for 93 yards.
Michigan made the first big play of the game when Marlin Jackson blocked an Oregon field-goal attempt and LeSueur returned it 78 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to put Michigan ahead 6-0.
The Wolverines fell behind for the first time all season when Oregon's Terrence Whitehead scored on a 19-yard run with 13:44 left in the second quarter to give Oregon a 7-6 lead.
Michigan attempted a fake punt from the Oregon 42 on its next drive, but Scott McClintock fumbled the snap and the Ducks recovered at the Michigan 49. Three plays later, Fife scored on a 15-yard run to put Oregon ahead 14-6 with 10:01 left. Oregon forced Michigan to punt and Steven Moore returned it 61 yards for a touchdown to give Oregon a 21-6 lead.
“They had a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown and in these kind of games, those are big plays,” Carr said.
Trailing by 15 at halftime, the Wolverines planned out a comeback that almost came true.
“We felt we could win the game at the end,” Carr said. “We needed to go out and play like we were capable. We did, we just came up a bit short.”