IOWA CITY — Sometimes, Wilton Speight puts a little more air under the ball and hits the receiver in stride for a touchdown.
Sometimes, the referee doesn’t call the facemask penalty. Sometimes, the fumble rolls out of bounds or the bobbled pass falls harmlessly to the ground.
And sometimes you lose to Iowa.
The dream of a perfect season ended Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium. It ended with the pillars of this Michigan football team crumbling almost simultaneously — the high-powered offense going three-and-out, the rarely penalized unit committing a key infraction, the elite defense getting gashed up the middle, the veteran coaching staff sending out 10 men for the final play.
The result was a well-deserved one. And maybe it was a necessary one. Teams grow through adversity, and Michigan had spent the better part of the season in the comfort of its home stadium.
It’s not so easy when 70,000 screaming fans make it hard to communicate your play call. Or when you’re outdoors in Iowa at night, and every hit hurts a little bit more. You lose your focus, Karan Higdon admitted. The base plays that worked suddenly don’t.
“We get everyone’s best shot,” Speight said. “Being who we are, and the coaches that we have, the attention that we bring, it’s championship week for us, but it’s literally everyone’s championship game when they play the Michigan Wolverines.
“We knew it was going to be a hostile crowd, and we were going to take their best shot. They got the better of it tonight.”
Michigan was a three-touchdown favorite, yes. The Hawkeyes had just been blown out by Penn State, and the transitive property of college football basically guaranteed a Wolverines win, right? Iowa beat Rutgers by seven, for crying out loud!
But winning every game is really freaking hard. Just ask Clemson. Or Washington. Or Ohio State. Or anyone in the country except Alabama and Western Michigan (row the boat!).
Barring a serious letdown next week, Michigan will play for a Big Ten Championship. It will travel to Columbus with a chance to avenge a decade of suffering against a bitter rival. Win The Game, and win in Indianapolis, and the Wolverines will be in the College Football Playoff just two years removed from a 5-7 season and a coaching change.
Any Michigan fan would’ve taken that scenario in a heartbeat back in August.
The Wolverines aren’t perfect; the past three weeks have proven that. They don’t have the greatest defense of all time, or an unstoppable machine for an offense. They’re also not as bad as they played Saturday.
Sometimes you just lose to Iowa.
Alejandro would like to apologize for covering this game. (Games he covers always end poorly.) He can be reached at ByAZuniga@gmail.com or on Twitter @ByAZuniga.