Relive the Roses
Jan. 7, 2008
By Jason Krump
The halftime statistics revealed why WSU was tied and could have very well been ahead.
Throughout the season, the Cougars had featured a quick strike offense, averaging a time of possession of less than 30 minutes a game. Conversely, Michigan's offense was a ball control unit with a possession average of over half the game.
Those tendencies were flipped during the opening 30 minutes of the Rose Bowl.
The Cougars held the ball for over 16 minutes and had 36 offensive plays compared to Michigan's 27. WSU was able to control the ball largely due to the fact that its defense held Michigan to no conversions in five third down attempts.
Only a small amount of sunlight remained on the Rose Bowl field at the onset of the third quarter when Michigan took possession first, gaining the initial chance to reverse the first half trend. The Wolverines were able to drive to the Cougars' 37-yard line, but that's where the drive stalled. However, Michigan seemingly gained the field position edge when Jason Vinson's punt was downed at the one-yard line.
Disaster almost followed for WSU when Ryan Leaf botched the center snap, but he managed to recover his own fumble and gained two yards in the process.
The near debacle began what became a 9-play 99-yard drive that ended with a Shawn Tims' 14-yard touchdown run. The run came off a reverse and was capped when Tims dove for the right pylon at the Michigan end zone.
Just like in the first half, WSU had jumped out to the advantage at the beginning of the second half. The momentum gained, however, was stymied a bit when James Hall broke through the middle of the line and blocked Rian Lindell's extra point attempt.
The rest of the momentum was erased on Michigan's next possession.
"Looking at film it didn't look like that complicated of an offense to handle but the thing that you don't really consider is it doesn't really matter what an offense does if they execute efficiently," Duane Stewart said of Michigan's offense. "They had really similar plays but they just executed them exactly the way they were supposed to."
Up to this juncture of the game, Michigan's offense execution had been inconsistent. Now it began to click.
On a first-and-10 on its own 42, the seventh play of a drive that began at the Michigan 20, Brian Griese rolled to his right, and, just before being smothered by Shane Doyle and Gary Holmes, unleashed a pass downfield that connected with Tai Streets for a 58-yard touchdown strike. With the successful extra point conversion, Michigan had taken its first lead at 14-13, and, for the first time, the game's initiative.
Trailing for the first time, the WSU offense was unable to respond and was forced to give the ball back to Michigan with 1:46 remaining in the third quarter.
Michigan ended this drive with another touchdown pass from Griese, his third of the game, to put the Wolverines ahead 21-13. This was coming by way of a 23-yard pass from Griese to Jerame Tuman off play action.
The difference with this touchdown from the prior two was that, while the first scores came suddenly from big plays, this score culminated a 14-play drive that ate up over five minutes of the clock and included three third down conversions.
Facing its largest deficit of the day, WSU inherited the ball on its own 20 with 11:21 remaining. On the first play, Michael Black re-entered the game, attempting to try out his sore right calf. It was not to be. After a run for no gain, Black limped off the field and would not come back.
"If Michael Black had stayed healthy that whole game we would have had a Rose Bowl win," Bill Doba said. "It was the difference in keeping the ball away from their offense."
But after a 19-yard pass to McKenzie gave WSU a first down, Leaf faked to DeJuan Gilmore and then lobbed a pass down the right side of the field to Gilmore, who had slipped out of the backfield. Gilmore made the over the shoulder catch and raced down field for what would be a 42-yard gain. The big play put WSU in a position to cut its deficit to five with a Lindell 48-yard field goal.
There was 7:25 remaining when Michigan began its next possession and was immediately faced with a third-and-11 situation an its own 18.
On a play that would be a critical blow to WSU's hopes for victory, Griese stepped up in the pocket and shook off Dorian Boose, who had grabbed his shoulder pad but was unable to hold on. Escaping from Boose's grasp, Griese scrambled upfield, and dove for the marker at the 29. With the confirmation of a measurement, Griese got the first down by a little less than half a football length.
Thus began an agonizing sequence for Cougar fans, as Michigan steadily erased the clock and converted three more third down plays in a drive that would eat up nearly seven minutes of the clock.
The WSU defense, which had been able to stay off the field for much of the first half, now found itself unable to stop Michigan when it needed it most.
"They started to smash the ball right down our throats," Chris Jackson said. "Our defensive linemen started to get tired and that's when they started to control the clock on us and change our game plan. Instead of playing our type of football we ended up playing theirs."
Finally, at the Cougars' 20, the defense held on a third-and-seven. But only 39 seconds remained, and it would be even less when Michigan lined up for a field goal on fourth down, but instead opted to pooch punt, which rolled out of bounds at the WSU seven with 29 seconds left.
Dusk had settled in and as sunlight had faded, so seemingly had the Cougars' chances to pull the upset.
Two incomplete passes eroded five more seconds off the clock, but, on third down, Leaf connected with Nian Taylor, who may have gotten away with pushing off Charles Woodson. In fact, the official had pulled the flag from his pocket but chose not to throw it.
Regardless, the reception was good for 46 yards. Nine seconds remained, and, after a delay of game penalty, the Cougars had the ball at their own 48.
From the shotgun formation, Leaf completed a pass to tight end Love Jefferson at the Michigan 40, who immediately lateraled to running back Jason Clayton; however, instead of running out-of-bounds, Clayton opted to cut back inside and was tackled at the Michigan 26.
The hook-and-ladder play produced a 26-yard gain and a first down, but it also took seven more precious seconds off the clock.
Because of the first down, the clock was stopped at two seconds to move the chains but would restart once the ball was ready for play. Leaf and the offense immediately ran up to the line and once the officials started the clock, Leaf took the snap and spiked the ball.
But the sequence wiped out the remaining two seconds off the clock.
"It didn't come down to the two second play," Jason McEndoo said. "The key to the game was when Michigan had the ball for seven minutes and didn't score. The best way to keep an explosive offense off the field is another offense. By them keeping the ball it hurt our scoring chances."
"Who know if it takes two seconds to throw a ball into the ground to get one more play but that would have been fun to see," Ryan McShane said.
And if there was time still remaining, what would have the play been?
"Both Ryan and I knew what the call would have been," Mike Price said. "He asked what we would have run and when I told him he said, `I knew it.' "
The play that was called was "596 switch," a corner route in the end zone.
"It was a fun intense game," Leaf said. "You never know what could have happened if we would have had another second or two.
Even amidst the bizarre circumstances to the game's ending, Price saw a coaching opportunity present itself.
"I ran to Ryan and said, `Don't say a word about spike against officials,'" Price recalled. "It was a coaching opportunity I had. Ryan handled himself with class all year long and he handled himself great.
"It was a tough way to end a great game. Neither team deserved to lose."
On a complete reversal from the first half, Michigan held the ball for 18:29 of the second half. Even more telling was that the Wolverines converted 10 of 12 third down opportunities during the final 30 minutes and rushed for 112 yards, as compared to 54 in the first half.
"When they just kept running, and running, and running, and running, and running, we got tired," Stewart said. "It was as simple as that.
"We just started wearing down," Stewart added. "As good as the defensive line was, we just started wearing down because they kept running the ball. As the game progressed, they started getting more yardage on their run plays."
Despite the disappointment of being on the short end of the 21-16 score, the Cougars could take the satisfaction of playing the No. 1 team in the country down to the game's final moments.
In a sense, the game, and the 1997 season, lives on 10 years later . . . and in the future.
"We definitely played them better than any team could have played them," Leaf said. "I hear it still runs on ESPN Classic. I have never watched it. My dad says I'd be pretty mad if I watched it. I'll let it loom in my memories of what that game was. Maybe someday, if I ever have kids, we'll sit down and watch it."
"It was a special year, you can't put a price tag on a year like that," McEndoo said. "You live in the moment but hang on to your memories. That's where you are 10 years later. We were all living in the moment then, but making memories at the same time."
Relive the Roses
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