Over the last couple days, MGoBrian has compiled a (painful) two-part list of the worst Michigan plays of the last decade, and while it is certainly painful to revisit those moments, it’s actually somewhat cathartic to see many of my worst memories all in one place. I don’t have much of a gripe with anything that did or did not make the cut, but I wanted to expand on two plays — both from the 2007 Oregon game — that only earned “dishonorable mention.”
It’s tough to overstate just how devastating the opening-game loss to Appalachian State was — after the tremendous 2006 season, hopes were sky-high entering 2007 and the mindset on campus was that this was a team destined for, at the very least, a BCS bowl game. Those hopes were dashed in such horrific fashion in the season opener that it almost didn’t feel right when, the very next Saturday, my friends and I once again donned our maize, hosted a tailgate, and made the trek to the Big House for a potential bounce-back game against Oregon.
There was a strange mindset entering that game. We had seen rock-bottom, a loss so inconceivable that we called it simply “The Horror,” but a lifetime of watching Michigan football had taught me that there was never a game the Wolverines could not win — remember, this was before the collective optimism of our fans had been beaten out of them by the 2008 and 2009 seasons. So we stood, still expecting to see a team worthy of their preseason #5 ranking and fully knowing that nothing could be worse than the week before — in retrospect, our semi-optimism was simply denial, but we foolishly set ourselves up for more bitter disappointment.
Despite a Chad Henne interception on Michigan’s first drive, the Wolverines were able to take an early 7-3 lead after the defense stopped Oregon inside the ten-yard line and Henne capped off the ensuing drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Arrington. This was exactly what the team needed: maybe our defense was figuring things out, and we all knew the offense could score points with all the NFL talent at our disposal. More optimism ensued, but it would quickly be crushed by Dennis Dixon and the high-flying Ducks offense.
Oregon’s next drive lasted all of two plays. The first was a four-yard pass that brought them, after a poor kick return, to the 15-yard line. The next, well, it was this:
As we watched Brian Paysinger torch Brandon Harrison and sprint to the end zone right in front of our seats in the student section, it hit us like a bag of bricks: the opener wasn’t a fluke, and we were in for a long, long day. The two-point conversion that Oregon converted afterward was just some extra salt in the wound (and honestly, I didn’t remember until I watched the video how they scored those two points at all — I’m pretty sure I was too busy cursing our secondary and tearing my hair out to notice).
The final blow to my sanity came in the second quarter, with Oregon holding an 18-7 advantage and driving once again. They had already added a second touchdown, set up by a Jonathan Stewart run on a Statue of Liberty play that gave the Ducks a first down deep in Michigan territory. That stung. With the ball on the Wolverine nine-yard line, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti decided to twist the knife that had already pierced our Maize and Blue hearts:
When Dennis Dixon waltzed untouched into the end zone after faking the Statue of Liberty play, it was like watching someone toy with a child while playing them in a video game. I had seen Michigan take some bad losses, but nothing had ever compared to the helplessness of watching a then-unranked team (this was before people realized that Dixon and Stewart, along with the rest of the Ducks, were a force to be reckoned with) amass 624 yards of offense — in the Big House, no less.
I take pride in sticking out home games to the bloody end, but I must admit that I left Michigan Stadium just a few minutes after Dixon’s run. On the first Oregon play after a Michigan three-and-out, Dixon hit Derrick Jones with another touchdown bomb, giving them 14 points in a span of just 38 seconds. That play would rank right up there with the above two had it not come after hope had been lost, but instead it was just the final confirmation that it was time to leave, to go lick my wounds at home and steel myself up for a season of turmoil.
The missed field goal at the end of “The Horror” has its rightful place at #2 on Brian’s list, but for me, I can’t separate the pain of that game from the utter despair of the following week, when we learned that we were, indeed, in a lot of trouble. On my personal “worst plays” list, Oregon toying with our defense has a special place reserved in the top ten.