Quinn Nordin put all of his rocket leg into the 57-yard, last-second field goal right before halftime. It grazed just over the crossbar and the possibility of the biggest win — by far — of the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan started to glimmer in the distance.
But at some point in the locker room, the magic ran out.
Mac Jones tossed deep ball after deep ball to his cadre of NFL receivers while Shea Patterson overshot the Wolverines’ own. Alabama scored to begin the second half and was in complete control from there, nearly tripling Michigan’s yardage in the final 30 minutes and rolling to a 35-16 Citrus Bowl win.
For the Wolverines, it was much of the same. Occasional stretches of creativity and offensive cohesion weren’t enough to make a statement against the nation’s elite — the elite team in the nation, really.
That being said, it wasn’t the blowout that many might have anticipated, even though it once seemed to swing that way. Giles Jackson took the opening kick back to midfield before a disappointing three-and-out, which the Crimson Tide promptly answered when Mac Jones hit on an 85-yard TD bomb to Jerry Jeudy. Here we go again.
But the Wolverines’ offense started finding a rhythm. Their depleted defensive line held its own. Their offensive line moved Alabama at the point of attack. Josh Gattis schemed players open and Michigan executed, ripping off chunk after chunk and looking generally speed-in-spacey.
We’ve seen that before this season. But against Bama?
That Bama spent most of the half playing on its heels. The Wolverines finished the first half with 286 yards of offense and 16 first downs. They had the ball for 20 minutes. The only problem was not finishing deep in Tide territory, with the exception of a 7-play, 85-yard first-quarter drive capped off by a Nick Eubanks TD, but few could complain when Quinn Nordin drilled a 57-yard field goal to end the half with Michigan up 16-14.
That positivity didn’t last long. Jones hit Devonta Smith for a 42-yard touchdown on the Tide’s first drive of the second half. Down by five early in the fourth quarter, Hassan Haskins ran for a first down to the Alabama 30. If Michigan had one shot, this was it — but Patterson promptly took a 13-yard sack and pushed them out of field goal range.
The Tide scored again, and Patterson was picked off with six minutes to play, effectively ending things.
Two plays after this flea-flicker from Shea Patterson to Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan was in the end zone:
Cool play from Michigan. Basically a direct snap flea flicker. pic.twitter.com/X4CboAGmfy— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) January 1, 2020
MICHIGAN TIES IT UP!— Abdul Memon (@abdulamemon) January 1, 2020
Good for Nick Eubanks has he said a few days ago he would return for his 5th Season! pic.twitter.com/iQQUKnI739
Nordin’s third field goal of the half, tied for the longest FG in Michigan program history:
Quinn Nordin with the 57 yard bomb.— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) January 1, 2020
Michigan 1H ML (+190) ✅pic.twitter.com/3bgubX5BwL
As for positives from Michigan’s fourth straight bowl loss, that was about it.
It’s hard to complain too much about a loss to Alabama, but it’s just as hard to not look at the defeat with a gut-wrenching twinge of “what-if?” And that twinge will linger for at least the next nine months.