Michigan Beats Iowa Like Iowa Beat Michigan, 20-17

Times Staff Writer

The freeze frame you want from this game is eerily like the one you saved from last year’s. The ball is hanging high between the goal posts, as if on a string, and the lighted scoreboard in the background shows this: 0:00. In the same frame, the northwest stand of the stadium has emptied. You can just see the students in the corner, covering the turf in memorable and colorful celebration.

Picture it for a while, or at least until Michigan and Iowa play again. And they will. They have to, they’ve got it down so pat.

It was all anybody could speak about after fourth-ranked Michigan (6-0, 3-0 in the Big Ten), beat eighth-ranked Iowa (5-1, 2-1) on a game-ending field goal, 20-17. Never mind that it was a great finish, just that it was an identical finish.


“It’s pretty sick the way it was like last year,” admitted Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh.

Said Iowa nose guard Dave Haight: “It’s like a movie, everything so exactly alike. The ball turned over, lining up for a last-second field goal, the kick good and the mob on the field . . . except we didn’t have the ball.”

Yeah, but for that detail the game was spookily reminiscent of Iowa’s 12-10 victory over Michigan at Iowa City last season, when a 29-yard field goal decided it with no time left. This year, it was Michigan kicker Mike Gillette who, after three timeouts, calmly kicked a 34-yarder.

Gillette standing on the sideline during those timeouts is not a bad freeze frame, either, if you can have the dialogue that goes with it. Iowa Coach Hayden Fry, trying to shake the sophomore, calls a timeout. “He’s trying to ice you, kid, you know that,” Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler says.

Gillette, bouncing on the balls of his feet, to Schembechler: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

For a tense finish, things are actually kind of loose down on the Michigan sideline. After the first two timeouts, TV calls for a third, leaving Schembechler wondering why TV could not have done whatever it is that TV does during the first two. “Probably Ara (Parseghian) talking,” he says, laughing to himself.

It’s a wonder anybody could be so loose with two 5-0 teams trying to determine, almost certainly, the Big Ten representative to the Rose Bowl, and only five seconds on the clock. This was the conference class here and, supposedly, conference destiny.


But Gillette, who normally only kicks when the distance exceeds 45 yards, saved more than Michigan Saturday. He saved a game that, while interesting, was bad. It was full of things like pitch-outs to invisible men and other, more normal miscues. It was not error-free football. There were three fumbles and four interceptions, pretty evenly divided. In a horrendous 32-second stretch in the second quarter, there were three turnovers.

“Maybe a little tight,” Schembechler suggested.

If so, it was a gamelong tightness because Michigan’s winning field goal, after a drive of 34 yards, came following an Iowa fumble in Michigan’s end of the field. It was a good pitch from Iowa quarterback Mark Vlasic, but it did a slow dance on Richard Bass’ fingertips. Andy Moeller recovered it for Michigan.

Still, Michigan’s destiny was hardly assured. On their previous possession, the Wolverines watched Pat Moons’ 27-yard field goal attempt sail wide.

But the way it worked out was nice, not just if you like Michigan but if you like to see games decided on plays made instead of missed. And previous failure was bleached right out of the picture when Michigan marched down on the final drive. At first, Michigan was thinking touchdown, and it almost had one. A Harbaugh-to-Gerald White pass was recalled from the end zone on a clipping call.

A couple of Jamie Morris runs for 9 and 5 yards, a screen pass to Morris for 5 more and Michigan was suddenly in position to win. Not even Fry’s psychological ploy could stop the Wolverines.

Throughout the game, other things had. While Iowa was building a 10-3 lead on its first two possessions, Michigan was showing a strange disregard for the ball.

Harbaugh, the NCAA leader in efficiency rating last season, was not behaving efficiently. In the first quarter, he made the pitchout to no one. “Jamie (Morris) was supposed to be there,” Schembechler said, “but still, I’d think you’d want to check the ol’ peripheral vision . . . “

Explained Harbaugh: “Somebody was getting in my face real quick. I just wanted to deal it.”

At halftime, following an error-riddled second quarter, Schembechler berated his players, collectively and individually.

“He was not a happy camper,” Harbaugh said. “He went right down the line. But it might have cleared a few cobwebs. He has a way of doing that.”

For whatever reason, Michigan resumed the game with a passion for excellence. It scored on its first two possessions and looked as if it might run away with the game. Then Harbaugh’s pass was tipped into the hands of Dwight Sistrunk. This time, Iowa, behind quarterback Mark Vlasic, was able to profit. Vlasic, scrambling, found Robert Smith in the corner of the end zone to tie it up.

“I didn’t want a tie,” Schembechler said.

But somebody finally did something right. The Michigan defense showed magnificent resolve on the next Iowa drive, stopping the Hawkeyes on fourth and one at the Wolverine 10. Iowa’s next possession ended with the fumble into Moeller’s hands and set the stage for Gillette.