Sunday, February 18, 2007

Examining a Michigan Debacle: The 1996 Choke-Job at Northwestern

Setting the Stage: UM came into this game 4-0 ranked #6 in the country. NW was 3-1, ranked #22, after losing their first game of the year to a Wake team that finished 3-8. NW beat UM at the big house the year before and was looking for an unprecedented winning streak against the Wolverines.

What Happened?: UM was in control and was up 16-0 starting the 4th quarter. A 2TD lead that required 2 two point conversions to be successful in order to tie, sounds like it should have been an easy win for Michigan. However, it turned out to be a choke-job loss. How did this happen?

Bottom Line: 2 mins into the fourth quarter NW finally gets on the board with a TD run from some guy named Levelle Brown. So what do they do? Go for 2 of course. And of course it is good as D'wayne Bates catches a pass and the score becomes UM 16 NW 8. Now the Wildcats only need a TD and the 2 pointer to tie.

So UM is going to get the ball back and all they have to do is run the ball and kill some time, just eat up 13 minutes and protect the football. Sounds easy. However upon getting the ball back UM decides to fumble on the first offensive play and give the ball back to NW. The debacle is now in full swing.

The Mich defense defies the odds and some how holds NW to a field goal. The score is now UM 16 NW 11. 10 mins and 46 secs remain.

Michigan is going to get the ball back, again all they need to do is kill some time and avoid turnovers. NW needs to score to win and all Mich needs to do is hang onto the football. Somehow the Scott Dreisbach manages to not turn the ball over but without any momentum the Wolverines can't get anything going and forced to punt.

Surprise, surprise the punt is crap! NW gets the ball on their own 40 and a shortfield. Somehow the michigan defense prevents the wildcats from getting a TD instead holding them to a field goal. The score is now UM 16 NW 14. 5 mins and 25 secs remain.

Again Mich justs needs to run some clock and avoid doing anything stupid (which at times has proven to be very hard for the Wolverines during crunchtime). Michigan manages to kill some clock and is now forced to punt.

1:45 remains in the game all NW needs is a fg for the win. However they will need to go at least 50 yards for this to be an easily makeable kick. However for UM the 1996 defense did some foreshadowing of what the 2o05 Mich defense would be like (very porous during the opponant's last drive of the game). NW drives easily to midfield, but Michigan holds. It is now 4-13, now or never for the Wildcats. And Steve Schnurr finds Brian Musso for the first down and the ball is now on the Mich 35 with a minute to go.

It was all academic from here, Mich knew that they had choked, and NW knew they just had to get a few more yards and kick the FG. And that's what happened as NW won on a 39 yarder with 8 seconds to go.

Inside the Numbers: Fumbles - UM fumbled 5 times losing 3 (including that very costly 4th quarter fumble). NW fumbled three times but only lost one.
4th quarter yards - UM gained a whopping 28 yards in the 4th quarter, compared to NW's 172.

Debacle Classification: Choke-job, plain and simple. What else can you call blowing a 16 point lead in the 4th quarter and failing to score a single point (besides Sparty-esque)?

Up Next: 1996 UM 3 Purdue 9