GLENDALE, Ariz. — There were multiple miscues for Michigan football in the 51-45 loss to TCU in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl on Saturday.
From the two pick sixes thrown by quarterback J.J. McCarthy, to very questionable play calls, to questionable officiating decisions — the Wolverines often found themselves on the short end of the stick. But the majority of the issues in the semifinal were self-inflicted by the maize and blue.
After the game, head coach Jim Harbaugh noted that both teams had their miscues, but TCU took the most advantage. Had just one thing gone differently, the Wolverines could be Los Angeles-bound. Instead, they’re heading back to Ann Arbor.
“We were one short of executing the touchdown, the turnover,” Harbaugh said. “They made their fair share of mistakes. We made ours. They made their big plays. We made our big plays. And we just had one fewer big play, one less misfire.”
The game started rockily for Michigan. Donovan Edwards rumbled for a 54-yard carry on the first offensive play for the Wolverines. TCU held near the goal line, forcing a fourth-and-2. Then the maize and blue ran a bizarre play call.
Despite having the nation’s best offensive line two years running, Michigan went for obfuscation rather than playing bully ball. In other words, it got cute.
Generally, Michigan would run a dive play that close to the goal line, but instead put the ball into freshman tight end Colston Loveland’s hands behind the line of scrimmage. It appeared the goal was for him to throw a pass to J.J. McCarthy, but with surging defenders, he ran in the backfield before being tackled on the 10-yard line, turning the ball back over to TCU.
Given that the Wolverines have generally had success by being straight-forward, why did the offense opt for trickery?
“Because we thought it would work. I take full responsibility for it not working, and should have had something different called,” Harbaugh said. “Put that one on me. They had it wired and they had it well-defended. Sitting here now, definitely wish I would have called a different one.”
There were other issues, like Kalel Mullings’ fumble at the goal line — a play that perhaps shouldn’t have happened, as it appeared that wide receiver Roman Wilson had gained control of the ball, after bowling it, as he fell across the goal line. The touchdown was overturned, and Michigan gave the ball right back on the next play instead of cutting into the growing deficit.
Additionally, the final play of the game for Michigan was a series of miscues on its own, with center Olu Oluwatimi snapping the ball too early, which caused J.J. McCarthy to fumble. Left tackle Ryan Hayes came up with the ball and pitches it to running back Donovan Edwards, who pitched it to tight end Colston Loveland. Loveland was brought down behind the line to gain, but appeared to be on the bad end of targeting. The officials reviewed the play for targeting, yet came away saying that it hadn’t occurred.
Harbaugh didn’t have an instant reaction to either after the game, but simply gave his explanation of what happened.
“I mean, I’ll take a closer look at it,” Harbaugh said. “Last play, they were looking at targeting and they ruled that it wasn’t targeting. The touchdown, Roman, that they ruled it didn’t get in the end zone.”