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The 2017 Michigan Wolverines were closer than you think

Two drives can define a season.

Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The difference between 8-4 and 10-2 seems obvious, but the reality allows for variance. For example, Washington State finished 9-3 last season, but lost those three games: 37-3, 58-37, and 41-14; Michigan’s season was slightly different.

The Wolverines were the most inexperienced team in the country last season and seemingly only had better luck than Maryland in terms of quarterback health. Did coaching mistakes and inexcusable plays on both sides of the ball happen? Yes. Was Tim Drevno still present? Physically, yes; mentally, it’s up for debate. Did Penn State senselessly beat Michigan into a maize and blue puddle? Sadly, yes.

2017 is a year all Michigan fans have tried to forget, but my inner sadism finally got the best of me. In my thirst for anything football, I reluctantly began watching Michigan’s All or Nothing Amazon series last week. Quickly, I realized there was far more to be optimistic about from last season than I had previously thought.

Air Force v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

I decided to go back and watch key games in their entirety from the 2017 season (score another one for sadism) to see if my optimism had merit or if I was just caught up in the episodic sensationalism. Through a contextual lens and nuanced viewing, my optimism was in fact warranted.

In the two biggest games of the season, all other mistakes aside, Michigan had the ball late with an opportunity to win. Wisconsin is another injury plagued story, but by my summation, Michigan was two drives away last season from being 10-2.

(For those of you if weak constitutions and no desire to revisit the darkness, I understand, so here’s a hype video and have a great week.)

Michigan State (10-3) - Final Score: 14-10

Fourth quarter, 5:51 remaining, U-M possession on its own 35-yard line, down 14-10

Michigan’s defense forces another stop. The Wolverines’ defense had not conceded a single first down in the second half to this point.

The offensive struggles (five turnovers) and tumultuous weather had forced Michigan into a conservative attack late in the second half. However, the monsoon rain had subsided at this point, but the conservative play calling persisted.

Shotgun formation, inside run. No gain.

Shotgun formation, six-yard completion to a curling Sean McKeon.

Shotgun formation, inside run, loss of three yards.


Simply put, the coaching staff did not trust John O’Korn after three second half interceptions. Michigan would receive the ball one last time with 34 seconds remaining. Thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty and Michigan State’s prevent defense, the Wolverines drove and had one last prayer inside the Spartans’ 40-yard line. The John O’Korn pass fell incomplete.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Ohio State (12-2) - Final Score: 31-20

Fourth quarter, 2:47 remaining, U-M possession on its own 27-yard line, down 24-20

The Michigan defense forced Ohio State into a field goal attempt and Buckeye kicker Sean Nuernberger was kind enough to pull it wide left.

Michigan had been too conservative against Michigan State, but that was not the problem here.

Play-action pass, John O’Korn launches a 30-yard bomb to a wide open...Buckeye safety. Ohio State tacks on another score for good measure and we all die a little on the inside. Michigan continues its worst stretch in the rivalry’s history.

Michigan failed to capitalize on two critical possessions last year and it cost them both rivalry victories. The foundation from last year returns (17 starters) with a year’s worth of scars and lessons to build upon. Not to mention, someone named Shea Patterson is now on campus.

Football is a game of inches, season of moments, that leaves an enduring legacy only in the form of the black and white wins and losses. Every team’s seasonal legacy could come down to a few drives.

What will Michigan’s legacy be in 2018?