ANN ARBOR - The wind whipped, rain changed to snow and back to rain, and temperatures stayed in the 30s yesterday at Michigan Stadium.
Appropriate enough. The Wolverines have been ice cold all season, especially at home.
UM was bounced 21-14 by Northwestern yesterday in its 2008 home finale, cementing its fate as loser of more games in a season - eight - than any team in school history. The Wolverines (3-8, 2-5) also set another dubious school record with five home losses, and had their five-game winning streak against the Wildcats snapped.
How's that for momentum heading into Saturday's annual showdown against Ohio State?
"Every loss is tough," UM coach Rich Rodriguez said. "When you lose as much as we've lost this year, it makes it extremely difficult. I know the fans are frustrated and a lot of them are disappointed, but so are we."
The Wolverines were again burned by killer turnovers, devastating mistakes on special teams, and some big pass plays by the opponent. Those missteps were present from the outset.
Wolverines safety Stevie Brown opened the game by intercepting Wildcats quarterback C.J. Bacher on third down and returning it to the Northwestern 8, but UM kicker K.C. Lopata had his 23-yard field goal try blocked shortly thereafter.
Northwestern punted on its second series, but returner Martavious Odoms muffed the punt - he let a live, bouncing ball hit off his leg - and Northwestern recovered at the Wolverines' 39. Running back Stephen Simmons capitalized with a 21-yard touchdown run on third-and-18.
"We're not good enough to play poorly at times and have spots where we're not playing well and overcome it," Rodriguez said, citing a familiar theme. "Today was kind of the same scenario as some other games this year."
UM took a 14-7 lead into halftime thanks to quarterback Nick Sheridan's three-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and Mike Williams' blocked punt in the second that Ricky Reyes scooped up and ran three yards for a score.
Then, more mistakes.
After Wolverines punter Zoltan Mesko had his punt partially blocked to open the third quarter, Northwestern took over at the UM 40 and scored on a 17-yard pass from Bacher to Ross Lane.
Following another UM punt - the Wolverines had four three-and-outs to start the second half - Bacher connected with Eric Peterman for a 53-yard touchdown pass.
Rodriguez pulled an ineffective Sheridan for Steven Threet, who engineered a first down before Northwestern forced a fifth consecutive punt.
It was shortly after that kick when the game could have turned in the Wolverines' favor. Donovan Warren intercepted Bacher at the UM 41 early in the fourth quarter and took off for what looked like a touchdown return down the sideline. But as Warren was on his way to the end zone an official blew his whistle, having determined that Warren stepped out at the Northwestern 44.
"I felt like I was in-bounds trying to make a play and get to the end zone," Warren said.
The Wolverines drove to the 23, but Threet's third-down pass sailed over Mike Massey and was intercepted in the end zone.
Threet had UM on the move on its next series, but suffered possible head and knee injuries near midfield with 4:21 to go. Sheridan re-entered and drove to the Wildcats' 31, but missed passes on third and fourth down.
The Wolverines got the ball back with 1:46 left on their 42, but Sheridan threw four consecutive incomplete passes that sealed UM's fate.
Overshadowed by the loss was the performance of Wolverines running back Carlos Brown, who rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries after sitting out since Sept. 27 with a sprained foot.
But even Brown stumbled yesterday. He seemed to have trouble with his footing and slipped to the turf on some plays that appeared destined for big runs.
"I wish I could go back out there right now and change a couple things," Brown said.
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