The following is the next in a series of fictional game stories predicting the outcome of Michigan’s 2017 football season.
Maryland upsets Michigan for biggest victory in years
College Park, Md. – Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh said he could sense getting his talented, but young, team focused this week was a challenge. With fans and the media already looking past Maryland, and to the closing games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, that’s usually danger time for a top college football program.
On Saturday the danger became real for the seventh-ranked Wolverines.
The Terrapins pulled off their biggest win in a decade, taking advantage of several Michigan miscues in a 24-20 victory in front of a rare sellout crowd at Byrd Stadium. It’s the first time Maryland has beaten a top 10 team since an upset of then No. 8 Boston College, quarterbacked by Matt Ryan, back in 2007.
“I’m speechless, other than to say I’m so proud of our program and no doubt this is a signature win,” said Maryland Coach D.J. Durkin, who was Jim Harbaugh’s original defensive coordinator at Michigan before getting the job. “I know firsthand how tough it is to beat a Jim Harbaugh-coached team; especially one playing as well as they did the past two weeks.”
The loss doesn’t officially eliminate the Wolverines from the East Division race, but it does severely damage their hopes of finally making it to a Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan no longer controls its own destiny, and needs Ohio State to lose twice and Penn State at least once to even be in a tie-breaker situation if it wins out.
“These are tough lessons young teams need to learn,” Harbaugh said. “We have a talented, resilient team. So I have no doubt they will learn from this and bounce back. But for now, I just want to congratulate D.J. and Maryland for beating us fair and square. Tomorrow we’ll get our guys in the film room and look at the mistakes we made, but today is about giving Maryland’s team the credit they deserve.”
With Harbaugh planning a film session on Michigan’s mistakes, the Wolverines would be wise to prepare for it to last a while.
The Terrapins didn’t really do anything special in the game. They were out-gained, 357-301. They only had one scoring drive of longer than 60 yards. The stat sheet says they looked every bit like the average football team their record would indicate.
However, Maryland was opportunistic on Saturday. And the Wolverines gave them plenty of opportunities.
A poorly shanked punt and a muffed punt return were two mistakes that set up points for the Terps. Michigan kicker Quinn Nordin also missed two field goals in a game for the first time all season, to top off what was a nightmare afternoon for the maize-and-blue special teams.
“Obviously we’ve got to play better on special teams than that,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan only had two turnovers, but they both came at the worst possible time. Wilton Speight was intercepted on the first drive of the game to set up a Maryland touchdown.
“After the way they manhandled us at their place a year ago, we needed a good start and that gave us confidence,” said Maryland defensive lineman Jesse Aniebonam, who terrorized the Wolverines all afternoon. In fact, his pressure on that play is what forced Speight to hurry the throw and led to the pick.
Then, with Michigan poised to score a go-ahead touchdown in the waning moments of the third quarter, Chris Evans took a big hit from blitzing safety Markquese Ball. That forced a fumble to kill the drive.
There were also four holding penalties on the Wolverines. Two of which nullified key third down conversions that eventually forced Michigan to punt. Harbaugh, never shy about sharing his thoughts on the officiating, said he thought they were good calls.
“I mean I’ll let you know out there if I think the officials are blowing it,” Harbaugh said. “Our coaches upstairs said they thought they were all good calls. We just lost our technique at the worst times. That’s a focus issue.”
Speaking of focus, expect the Michigan coaches to be focused this week on the points the Wolverines left unscored on Saturday. At the same time, Harbaugh says he’s not worried about motivating his young team, despite seeing their title hopes take a big hit.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for,” Harbaugh said.
Michigan (8-2) next travels to Camp Randall to face Wisconsin (9-1), which can clinch the Big Ten West Division title with a victory. Maryland (5-5) will be on the hunt for bowl eligibility when it travels to Michigan State.