THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo
ANN ARBOR - In between signing autographs outside of the Big House, Tate Forcier grabbed two awestruck children, pulled them over a temporary gate, and posed with them for a photo.
Yesterday's unofficial count of happy University of Michigan fans: Two.
The Wolverines blew their best remaining chance to achieve bowl eligibility in another hard-to-stomach loss, this time to Purdue by a count of 38-36.
With a 5-5 record, including a 1-5 Big Ten mark, UM must pull an upset over the next two weeks to even have a look at a bowl game. Matchups against two nationally ranked opponents - at Wisconsin and home against Ohio State - do not favor the Wolverines.The third quarter was severely unpleasant to the Wolverines, who saw their 17-game home win streak to Purdue snapped. Over its last three games, UM has been outscored 75-12 after halftime, including 28-6 yesterday.
After scoring a touchdown but missing the extra point to go ahead 30-17, the Wolverines' next offensive possession began with them trailing 31-30.
The Wolverines have yet to match last year's Big Ten win total of two and have dropped three Big Ten games by a combined 10 points. Both points are enough to make a grown man cry, and yes, tears were shed in the locker-room, according to a couple of players.
"It was kind of dead at first, but then Zoltan [Mesko] said something and I spoke up," said defensive end Brandon Graham. "We just said let it go. We have to deal with it like we've been doing."
The Boilermakers, who can make a bowl game if they win out, scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Purdue stunned UM by executing an onside kick
after a Ralph Bolden 10-yard rushing score. The Wolverines then allowed a 54-yard score on the next play when Joey Elliott found Cortez Smith flying past Troy Woolfolk and Jordan Kovacs, giving Purdue its first leads since 10-7.
Instead the home team ran three plays and punted.
Coach Rich Rodriguez said there is no excuse for his return team to be unprepared for an onside kick as they are repeatedly instructed to watch the ball being kicked and then to not commit a penalty.
"That's the first reminder and the last reminder," Rodriguez said.
One could debate whether it was even the most detrimental miscue made by UM's special teams. Jason Olesnavage, who had already set a career-high with a 51-yard field goal, missed his first extra point of the year after a Tate Forcier 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Olesnavage also missed a 48-yard field goal early in the fourth. UM could not reconcile for the failed point-after kick as Forcier was sacked by Ryan Kerrigan on a two-point conversion trying to tie the game with 2:10 remaining.
The conversion attempt was preceded by Brandon Minor's third touchdown run. But alas, his best game of the season - 154 yards on 19 carries - was wasted.
Forcier played his best game in weeks, throwing for 212 yards and a touchdown, but he made a critical error when his option pitch to Minor in the third quarter was knocked down and recovered by Brandon King. Bolden scored on a 19-yard run the following play.
Trailing by eight with 4:38 remaining, UM got desperate on a fourth-and-10 and it nearly paid off when Carlos Brown, as he was being tackled, tossed the ball to lineman Mark Huyge who ran seven yards to PU's 5. A lengthy booth challenge determined it was an illegal forward pass which cost UM five yards and gave possession to the Boilermakers.
Rodriguez defended the decision to not kick a field goal that if successful would have cut the lead to five.
"We're down by eight and we're not stopping anybody and we're trying to tie the game," he said.
Purdue (4-6, 3-3) amassed 494 yards of total offense, including 367 through the air by Elliott, who had two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Wolverine defense has allowed too many long gains and too many conversions on third down, which Purdue was 7 of 15 in. Rodriguez, who usually works primarily with the offense, admitted after the game he has taken a more active role in defensive planning.
Contact Ryan Autullo at:
or 419-724-6160.42.28188 -83.74848