ATLANTA — Sitting in the bowels of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, not even an hour after his college career ended in unceremonious fashion, Grant Perry had no interest in talking.
“How do I feel right now?” he asked sarcastically, eyes welled with tears. “How does it look like I feel?”
And, really, how else could he feel?
This was a team with so much potential. It could have shut down every rumor that Jim Harbaugh isn’t long for Michigan. It could have ended the national perception that the Wolverines aren’t near competing for a national title. It’s hard to put a ceiling on it.
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And even after losing to Ohio State, Michigan still could have come out of the Peach Bowl with momentum. Next year still would have looked bright with Urban Meyer gone, Shea Patterson in year two and a New Year’s Six bowl victory to boot.
Instead, the Wolverines got ran out of the building, to the tune of 40-15. Florida out-prepared, out-executed and out-efforted Michigan — beating them up and down the field. Say the Wolverines didn’t get up for an exhibition after losing to the Buckeyes if you want, but that doesn’t change the scoreboard.
“We just gotta continue to execute and get better,” Tarik Black said. “That’s all it comes down to. Just executing the plays that are called. And doing our job. There’s maybe some missed assignments on the field that we need to correct. We gotta execute those plays. They came out and they played a better game today and that’s all it was.”
The same thing could be said about both other losses. That’s how a 10-win season — with arguably Harbaugh’s best team since he’s been in Ann Arbor — will come to be remembered for lost opportunity. Grant Perry knows it. So does the entire roster.
“I think going off last year you can say that it’s a success,” Jon Runyan Jr. said. “But for our golden standards, no, I don’t really think it was. We lost three really key games at times that we needed it.”
Even after four years of Harbaugh, two of them with the talent to win the Big Ten or more, the Wolverines still can’t get over the same hump. In the next nine months, we’ll hear some talk about who looks good in camp, how badly the team wants redemption and maybe even something about completing a revenge tour this time around.
It will be hard to buy any of it.
The answer is far from simple. This team had its flaws, and did a good job adjusting on the fly throughout the season. These weren’t three losses stemming from the same issue.
“I think they’re all different games,” Runyan said. “You can’t really lump them together. It’s not just a unit. It’s a family at a time. Whether it be Ohio State or this game, it’s the whole team.”
On Saturday, it certainly was. The defense allowed big plays at inopportune times. The run game, without Karan Higdon, failed to make headway. Shea Patterson was intercepted twice and sacked five times. The defensive line didn’t get nearly enough pressure. This loss can’t be blamed on any one person or group. Michigan didn’t play to the moment. As a group. Again.
Next year, still, could be the year. All those positive factors — Patterson returning, Meyer leaving, an elite recruiting class — are still at play.
“My feeling about the team is we’re right there at the top,” Jim Harbaugh said, “but we have to put it over the top. Especially in big games at the end of the year.”
Until the Wolverines actually do that though, it’s hard to believe they will.