Of The Decade: Worst Plays Part II

Submitted by Brian on July 28th, 2010 at 10:51 AM

Previously in this series: ESPN Images, Michigan's offense, Michigan's defense, and the first half of the body blows.

6. Roy Roundtree is tackled at the one yard line

Early in the third quarter of the 2009 Illinois game, Michigan is leading 13-7 when Tate Forcier hits Roy Roundtree on a seam up the middle. The safeties are out of position and Roundtree sets sail for the endzone, Terry Hawthorne in tow. Hawthorne tackles Roundtree at the goal line; the play is initially ruled a touchdown but correctly called back on replay. Four attempts from the one are stoned; instead of being up 20-7 Michigan is up 13-7. From there the defense gives up 31 points to a terrible team, causing mass chaos.

This, unlike everything else on the list, was not something that directly lost a game. It's actually a great play, a strike down the middle of the field that set Michigan up with a first and goal from the one. Michigan's chances at winning the game went up after it, also unlike everything else on the list. In now way should Roundtree be held responsible for getting tracked down at the one after seventy yards. Sometimes the other guy is just faster than you.

It was what happened afterward that enshrines this play in Michigan infamy. Up until the exact moment Roundtree's knee hit the turf Michigan was on track to recovery from the 3-9 season. Preseason projections of a 7-5 and a crappy bowl game were well within reach, as Illinois was sure to pack it in after going down 20-7 early in the third quarter and Purdue was flailing around. Michigan's losses had been acceptable: a whitewashing at Penn State was ugly but the other two were at MSU in overtime and at Iowa in a two-point game. Big deal, first and goal, let's put it in:

That happened. Then the defense caved in, allowing 31 second-half points.

In the aftermath, this blog got locked down, I talked about how my soul-dong had been crushed, and Rodriguez's job came under serious threat for the first time. If this year is the end for Rich Rodriguez—and Michigan sets off on another awkward transition—the beginning of that end was right here.

5. Spartan Bob

Michigan State scores a last-play touchdown to beat Michigan after the home timekeeper freezes the play clock early. Larry Stevens is roped to the ground like a pig in a poke, too, but… yeah. The cheat was blatant enough for ESPN to break it down frame-by-frame and declare Michigan hosed. State "wins" 26-21.

Once back at the dawn of time I was playing Tecmo Super Bowl against my brother. As it is with brothers, games were intense, unsporting things in which I, the older, invariably prevailed. Once, though, I called the crazy reverse flea-flicker play deep in my own end in an unusually tight game. My brother tackled the receiver at about the two, but after he'd pitched the ball back to the quarterback. Tecmo Super Bowl glitched spectacularly, though, and did its little ditty as it declared my receiver to have taken a game-sealing safety.

Enraged, I immediately hit reset.

That was this play-type substance, except the glitch was an intentional act and life, as of yet, has no reset button. Compounding matters is that Larry Stevens was spectacularly held—a primary reason Jeff Smoker had eons of time to find TJ Duckett. End result: rage like has never been seen before or again in a certain rental house belonging to a friend of a friend on Plymouth. As a blubbering Bobby Williams wept through a post-game interview I swore little demons into existence as I declared my eternal hatred of the man. Eventually I stormed outside so I would not be kicked out.

In football, you might not get justice all the time—see the 2005 Alamo Bowl, please—but at least when you don't there is the tiny consolation that the gibbering sack of incoherence that robbed you of justice didn't mean it. This is something wholly different.

4. Nick Sheridan hurls a wobbly duck in the general direction of four Utah defenders

With under a minute left in the first half against Utah, Nick Sheridan drops back to pass and, under little pressure, lofts a mortar that four Utah players have a better shot at than the best-positioned Michigan receiver. Brandstatter groans "oh, no, Nick." Utah intercepts it and punches it in a few plays later.

This did end up in a rankling Utah touchdown that extended the Utes' lead to 12; that touchdown would end up being the winning points after Michigan scratched its way to a competitive second half. So it was a game-losing play.

But that was small potatoes compared to what the play represented. First of all, the whole idea was preposterous, a terrible throw into triple coverage in a situation where caution was a priority. Worse than that was the back-foot windup Sheridan deployed to chuck an artillery shell 30 yards downfield. Such was its accuracy that any of three Michigan receivers could have been the target-like substance; such was its pace that if one Utah secondary member didn't pick it off another one would have found it gently tickling his fingers as it nuzzled its way into the crook of his arm.

As Michigan Stadium settled into a halftime funk, the hivemind thought: we are so fucked. In one searing instant Sheridan erased all the foolish hopes Michigan fans had that their walk-on quarterback could be anything approximating functional and exposed the vast talent deficiency that's driven Michigan to the bottom of the Big Ten. If there was ever an oh, shiiiiiiiiiit moment for Michigan football, this was it.

The next week this ran through my mind as I told WCBN that the upcoming Notre Dame game was "critical for bowl eligibility." It wasn't but only because that wobbly-duck-induced panic was so, so right. There were probably worse things that happened in 2008, but as the indignities piled on each other numbness sets in; the Sheridan interception was the knockout blow. The rest was just kicking a man on the ground.

3. Anthony Thomas fumbles for no reason whatsoever against Northwestern

Leading Northwestern 51-46 in the craziest game ever played by the Wolverines, Anthony Thomas bursts through the Wildcat defense for a game-clinching first down, then drops the ball without being touched. Northwestern recovers and scores to win.

I didn't actually see this play live. Michigan was playing Michigan State back when the CCHA was the Big Two and Little Ten and if there was anything I hated more than Ron Mason's brand of energy-sapping anti-hockey it was how unbelievably good Ryan Miller was. Michigan State games at Yost were pure bloodsport, so I headed out. The final quarter of this game is the only Michigan football I've missed since my enrollment.

This was a good thing, because when I finally found out what had gone so terribly wrong with the force sometime during the first period I was in disbelief. Michigan needed a first down to seal the game. Anthony Thomas broke through the line and could have guaranteed a Michigan victory merely by falling over. Instead he dropped the ball without a Northwestern player so much as touching him, allowing the unstoppable Wildcat offense the opportunity to win the game. If I had actually watched this live I probably would have died. Even though I never had the raw emotional experience of it, finding the clip was a sickening experience. There should be "I Survived The Anthony Thomas Fumble" t-shirts.

The costs were severe. Michigan finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten with Purdue and Northwestern, sending the Brees-led Boilers to the Rose Bowl. There they lost to the 10-1 Washington Huskies. Michigan had to settle for a Citrus Bowl date against Auburn.

2. Shawn Crable blocks the outside guy

The Horror: trailing 34-32 with hardly any time left on the clock, Chad Henne throws a hopeless moonball to Mario Manningham that Manningham actually comes down with, setting up a makeable field goal. That field goal is blocked because Crable and Greg Banks split like a cheap zipper, allowing an opponent to run unimpeded at the kicker.

I'd already started my exit from Michigan Stadium before the moonball that set Michigan up with an improbable final attempt at evading the biggest upset in the history of college football*. I was disgusted and given the situation, the slight chance of winning the game was less of a priority than not getting stuck in the Stadium longer than a nanosecond after it ended. So I watched the final drama from the aisle. 

crable-horror-1_thumb[1]
crable-horror-2_thumb[1] 
crable-horror-3_thumb

I didn't even know that an Appalachian State guy had picked the ball up and started trucking for the endzone until Tuesday. I was already stalking my way home.

*(At least for the next few weeks, anyway. Before the season was out not one but two bigger dogs rose up and overcame. Syracuse and Stanford, we thank you kindly.)

1. Shawn Crable goes helmet to helmet on Troy Smith.

Ohio State, 2006: Michigan trails by three late in the fourth quarter of a game with no defense and finally manages to get Ohio State into a third and long. Troy Smith drops back, but can't find anyone. Smith gets pressure and bugs out, flushing up out of the pocket and scrambling uselessly on third and forever. Shawn Crable comes up to knock him out of bounds; in doing so, he bashes Smith helmet to helmet, drawing a 15-yard flag that extends the Buckeye drive. OSU would score a game-clinching touchdown.

The previous play has much to recommend it as the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone outside of a Lars Von Trier movie, and, yes, even if Crable pulls up Michigan is a long way away from actually beating Ohio State. Michigan's last ditch touchdown drive that allowed them an onside kick required a terrible fourth-down pass interference call to be successful and for much of that drive Ohio State's strategy was to give up yards as long as it bled the clock. Up only three, OSU would have been considerably less accommodating unless Jim Herrmann was pulling a Mission: Impossible stunt on the opposing sideline.

But if you're looking for a moment at which Michigan ceased being Michigan, this is it. Ohio State had evened, then tilted the balance of the rivalry their way in the first few years of Jim Tressel's tenure but a Michigan win in Football Armageddon would have made it 2-3 in the Tressel era with the all-important Biggest Game Ever in Michigan's corner. They would have put up more of a fight against Florida if only because the left tackle was Jake Long and would not have been a turnstile all night. In some extremely abstract sense Bo's death would have been avenged, or something. The five hours I was stuck in Columbus afterward, waiting for a man not named Skeeter and wondering if I was actually going to strangle him with my bare hands, would have been almost pleasant.

None of that happened. The next three things to happen to Michigan football were another uncompetitive Rose Bowl against USC, The Horror, and the Post Apocalyptic Oregon game. The Bo era had persisted through a couple coaching changes, 8-4 malaise, and the Year of Infinite Pain; it ended at the same time I crumpled to my seat in the OSU student section.

Dishonorable mention

That play against Ohio State(2007) … a John Navarre pass deflects off the bottom of Braylon Edwards's foot and is intercepted by USC in the 2004 Rose Bowl (2003) … Hayden Epstein misses a 27 yard field goal against UCLA in a 3-point loss (2000) … KC Lopata misses a 27-yard field goal against Toledo in a three-point loss (2008) … Steven Threet throws a 100-yard pick six in that same game (2008) … Washington blocks a would-be game-clinching field goal and returns it for a touchdown (2001) … on the next play a Navarre pass is batted skyward by a Michigan receiver and Washington returns that for a touchdown, too (2001) … Marquise Walker drops a sure touchdown during Michigan's storming second-half comeback in the 2001 Edition of the Game … John Navarre promptly throws a game killing interception afterwards (2001) … Tennessee's Jason Witten outruns the entire Michigan secondary at some point during the 2002 Citrus whitewashing (2001) … Braylon Edwards is called for offensive pass interference against OSU (2002) … Chad Henne wings an interception directly at a ND safety when he had Avant open for a touchdown (2005) … Henne fumbles on a QB sneak from inside the one in the same game (2005) …virtually any defensive play during the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game (2007) … Tate Forcier chucks a terrible interception in overtime against Michigan State (2009) … Denard Robinson chucks a terrible interception on the last drive against Iowa (2009) … Mike Williams lets a deep post behind him on third and thirty-seven in the same game (2009) … Forcier gives Ohio State a free touchdown to start the 2009 Game (2009) … and then throws five interceptions (2009).

Comments

Tubes

July 28th, 2010 at 11:21 AM ^

It's tough to see Crable at #1 and #2, but you could argue that neither were his fault.

Against OSU, it is hard to fault a guy for trying to make a drive-stopping play on 3rd and long.  At the speed that play happened, it's probably not very easy to determine exactly where your helmet is going to make contact (also Troy Smith ducked his head in at the end).

On the blocked FG, he should not have been on the field.  Period.

Hail-Storm

July 28th, 2010 at 2:30 PM ^

Troy Smith was one of the most elusive players in the country and had burned UofM the year before on plenty of broken plays.  I also thought he looked like he lead with his shoulder, and as you mentioned, Troy ducked his head making the helmet to helmet happen. I was still suprised that they threw the flag on that.

Yostal

July 28th, 2010 at 11:04 AM ^

This was not as painful as yesterday for several reasons:

  • I knew it was coming.
  • The comment section had already predicted the list.
  • I honestly remembered all of these, as much as it hurt.
  • There is not another Top 6 coming tomorrow.

So yes, I am going to find the positives in this instead of yelling Dr. Smith-like "Oh the pain, the pain of it all!"

Mason

July 28th, 2010 at 11:12 AM ^

Wow that was hard to read.  After reading that I realized my heart was racing and I felt slightly sick to my stomach.  Those are memories I would seriously like to forget.

So... how many days until UConn again???  I could really use a "There Are..." post right about now.

Jebus

July 28th, 2010 at 11:12 AM ^

That Thomas fumble was the most inarticulately angry I have ever been in my life.  I was living in New Hampshire, missing my girlfriend (now wife), and home, and resigned to watch U-M on a tiny TV.  When the ball came out, I got out of the papasan chair I was sitting in, then hurled it across the apartment, shattering the chair into a thousand shards of bamboo and rage.  My roommate came out of her room at the noise, saw my face, and went back inside to wait for the storm to pass.

JeepinBen

July 28th, 2010 at 11:35 AM ^

My favorite parts of the MSU clip:

The BTN announcer was talking Winston up like he was the best big back in the history of man. He's 240lbs! He's a tank! This should be good!

Winston starting to get up after the hit, then having to take a minute and stay down...

+1 for helping us all through a difficult time of the offseason

mbee1

July 28th, 2010 at 1:08 PM ^

Game turned out great for Michigan, but had the worst play I've seen live. Michigan controlled the whole game until PSU scored to cut the gap. On Michigan's next position, Henne scrambled and the PSU defender just took the ball from him and walked in for a TD. Never again did I yell for Henne to scramble.

dangar

July 28th, 2010 at 11:15 AM ^

what about the purdue game in 2000. i recall Lloyd being conservative as always and running the ball 3 straight downs to burn purdue's TO's. it back fired as UM had to punt and gave brees the ball to score the game winning TD.

i cant believe that didnt make the cut. they even led 28-10 at one point.

bsb2002

July 28th, 2010 at 11:17 AM ^

A-Train was not untouched.  you can almost see it on tape, but trust me i had a perfect view live.  as he is going through the hole, the nw player getting crushed on the outside by our fullback swats his arm out and knocks the ball free.  a-train didnt even see him

caup

July 28th, 2010 at 11:36 AM ^

The NW D-lineman definitely knocked the ball out in his final desparate attempt to do something useful as he was getting pancaked.  I am 100% sure of this.  (Actually, I'm kind of surprised Brian didn't know this.)

Of course that almost makes it worse doesn't it?  I mean, here we have a guy getting crushed to the turf and he throws his arm out and he just so happens to hit all ball with A-Train streaking past him.  WHAT ARE THE EFFING CHANCES OF THAT!!!???

The aughts were WAY MORE pain than joy.  WAY MORE.

His Dudeness

July 28th, 2010 at 11:17 AM ^

That Crable hit made me scream, hang my head in drunken sadness for 15-20 minutes after the game and then go vomit. As an added bonus I had hit on a very pretty girl earlier in the day and got her number. I called her repeatedly to secure a date over the following week until I got a Swingers-esque "Don't ever call me again" message on my phone one day. Like dad always said; you can't have the good without the beer, or something. I don't know, I was probably drunk.  

caup

July 28th, 2010 at 11:40 AM ^

...I immediately think of the "ESPN OMG HOW GREAT IS THIS HIT!!" highlight (shown over and over and over again) of the USC LB hitting the UCLA QB with a much more blatant helmet to helmit hit along the sideline.  Exact same play as the Crable hit except twice as blatant. What was the call on the field in that game????  Nothing. No flag. 

GAHHHH!!

Crime Reporter

July 28th, 2010 at 11:22 AM ^

I found myself reflecting on how I reacted while seeing these moments live. I can honestly say my blood pressure was through the roof.

The A-Train fumble was one of the worst. I remember being at my parents house watching it. I was so pissed afterward I got in my car and drove the hour and a half back to college. That was a scary drive.

I was at work when The Horror happened. I agreed to work that day because I figured the game would be a breeze and I would catch highlights later. Well, I heard what was happening so I went to a Rivals message board to get updates, since the Big Ten Network was new and we didn't have it. I felt like my dog died when that FG was blocked.

J.W. Wells Co.

July 28th, 2010 at 11:30 AM ^

Like Brian, the only of those that I missed live was the Thomas fumble, because I too went to Yost.

My dong hurts so bad after the rehashing.  It didn't just get punched; it got punched and then clawed by the world's largest and angriest lobster whose claws had been refitted with cobra venom.  I just want a month's worth of ice.

chitownblue2

July 28th, 2010 at 11:35 AM ^

I gotta say - Sheridan's pick against Utah doesn't even rate for me. What are we without that? 4-8? Woooooo. We had gotten sort of blatantly outplayed most of the game, and were only in it by virtue of "The Best Pass Steven Threet Ever Threw". That play among the rest of these is like a gnat flying in a texas-sized cloud of winged piranhas.

imafreak1

July 28th, 2010 at 11:47 AM ^

That play was probably picked because it was the moment when we knew we wuz screwed. It's as good a realization point as any. 

If I was to pick the most painful moment of 2008, it would probably be that hideous horrible awful series in the second half of the PSU game when Sheridan came in. Michigan had a chance and then the  angel of death enveloped us in her wings. Michigan's offense went pathetically backwards--luckier to just survive with each play. The announcers kept repeating (incorrectly) that Threet was not hurt. Michigan fans everywhere went insane.

It was the first moment I questioned RichRod--based on the incorrect belief that Threet was not injured. There was just no way he could have chosen to put Sheridan in without Threet being injured.

Sopwith

July 28th, 2010 at 12:17 PM ^

I didn't think we were that screwed even at the time because I figured the learning curve would be steep and I thought Utah was a lot better than they were getting credit for (no, I had no idea they would be undefeated, No.2 in final polls-good).  In retrospect by season's end, I was amazed how close that game was.

The Threet go route to Hemingway in the same will forever live on me for as the "The Play Where The World Turned To Color" courtesy of the 2009 Sometimes When You're On vid. 

jmblue

July 28th, 2010 at 5:19 PM ^

We would have won that game with Threet.  That was the only halfway decent performance Sheridan ever turned in and even then he threw about five passes that were dangerously close to being picked off. 

Geoff

July 28th, 2010 at 11:38 AM ^

I literally almost collapsed after the A-Train fumble. I was so excited from the previous score and that fumble just crushed me.

Heisman212

July 28th, 2010 at 11:39 AM ^

Aside from the 2008 beating they have not beat us outright. You could say 2007 nut Henne's arm was really messed up. Besides that same damn near put up 60 on Florida in the bowl when they were healthy. I know they make a big deal about Tressel's record against us but he should really be 4-5 vs us. We so should of came away with a National Title in that decade!!!

OysterMonkey

July 28th, 2010 at 11:57 AM ^

But Michigan hasn't outplayed OSU since 2003. They deserved to win every single game. The closest U of M has come to yardage parity was last year's game, which was basically even. The others weren't even close. Even the 2005 game where Uof M had them down nine in the fourth quarter, OSU had 160 more yards.

That's the part that's so frustrating. Losing is one thing, but getting outplayed year after year....

At some point it has to change, right? Right?

OysterMonkey

July 28th, 2010 at 3:09 PM ^

But it would be hard to claim that we deserved to have won that game (whatever that means anyway),  if we played them basically even for 52 minutes but then gave up 160 yards in 8 minutes.

I'm just saying it's not like the losses to OSU were due to fluky plays, or poor officiating, or anything like that. They were better. Which sucks.