Glendale, Arizona. — Michigan small receiver Roman Wilson echoed what most of his classmates said in shape or fashion Saturday in the dismal Wolverines locker room.
For the second year in a row, Michigan beat bitter rival Ohio State and win the Big Ten championship. But for the second year in a row, the Wolverines lost in the College Football Playoff semifinals, and this was one of TCU’s shattering 51-45 in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl.
“There are too many mistakes, too many times where we had chances and we didn’t play it up or mess up,” Wilson said. “I mean, they’re a good team. I still think we’re the better team, but they got the best of us. All they did in the movie was the way they played in the game. So we weren’t surprised. We just didn’t get it done.”
Small offensive guard Zack Zenter was more succinct.
“We didn’t cut into some small details. We hurt ourselves … We beat ourselves up there,” Zenter said.
One by one, the Michigan players did their best to assess their second straight semifinal loss in the CFP, which saw the Wolverines fall behind early and try to catch up the rest of the way. The Wolverines trailed 21-3 in the second quarter and 41-22 late in the third quarter and continued to fight back. In the end, they were unable to overcome two interceptions returned for touchdowns, three cases of first and goal that produced a total of three points and a rushing defense (ranked third nationally) that lost 263 yards on the ground.
“For us to be the defense, giving up 51 points is not up to our standards,” said senior defensive back Mike Sainristel, part of a Michigan defense that has allowed seven plays from scrimmage of 15 yards or more. “I think that’s just a summary of the game. We didn’t play at our level.”
Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns and kept giving the Wolverines back every time it looked like they might be out of the game. But his two interceptions returned for touchdowns proved costly, as was Kalel Mullings’ fumble at the TCU 1-yard line in the second quarter. On the play before Mullings fumbled, Wilson caught what Michigan thought was a 51-yard touchdown pass. But the play was reviewed, and the officials ruled his knee was at 1.
“I thought I was in, but I don’t know,” said Wilson, who caught five times for 104 yards.
The loss added to Michigan’s woes in the postseason. The Wolverines have now lost six straight bowl games. They lost 34-11 to Georgia a year earlier in the semi-finals.
But this, given the Wolverines’ mistakes, hurts the most, according to the players.
“I’m sure in hindsight, maybe when I’m older, I’ll appreciate, you know, winning a Big Ten championship and all that for the second year in a row and beating Ohio State for the second year in a row,” Mullings said. “But, right now, man, it’s like there’s a lot left on the table for us.”
Senior linebacker Mazie Smith said that the Wolverines waited too late to start playing “supplemental football,” and that despite the ups and downs on offense, the defense eventually let it convert to penalties. Prior to Saturday’s game, Michigan had never given up more than 27 points in a game all season.
“I mean, I just looked up and said, ‘There was a lot of going off, you know what I’m saying?'” Smith said. “I was like, ‘Damn, that might be as many kickoffs as we’ve had all season.’ But at some point, the scoreboard doesn’t matter. You just have to occupy your heart. “
Smith also dismissed any talk that Michigan underestimated CSU and thought it could push around the two-horned frogs physically.
“You look at TCU, and they’re playing good football,” said Smith. “They have great goalkeepers. They have great tackles. They have a good center, and they have a real big back [Emari Demercado] who runs like derrick henry. So I look at them like they’re playing, these boys can play. … This is a college football playoff, and you’re not going to get there by sucking.”
As bitter as the loss was for the Wolverines, they said it would push them even harder this season.
We’ll be back, Wilson said. “This is going to be the new starting point for this programme, the culture, the new guys and everyone here, just the dedication and hard work that everyone is putting in. This could be the new future for us.”
“That’s what we’re supposed to do, go out there and get it done in these games.”
“There were big plays, fouls made, by both teams,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “We just had one less than we needed. They had one more, and the difference ended up in the game.”
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