The undefeated season was preserved, as a Big Ten foe gave the Wolverines a run for their money.
Michigan Football’s Greatest Comebacks Countdown: 10. Iowa (1997)
The Wolverines went on to win a national championship. But it was very close to being derailed.
Starting a new series featuring Michigan’s greatest comebacks in the last 30 years. We start looking back on a game where a ranked Iowa Hawkeyes team came to Ann Arbor with upset on the mind, and nearly got it.
10. 5 Michigan vs. 14 Iowa (1997)
- Final score: Michigan 28 – Iowa 24
- 1997 record: 12-0 Finished: AP – 1st (National Champions), Coaches – 2nd
- Why it was important: Big Ten Conference game, ranked matchup, preserved undefeated season
It was the sixth regular season game for the Wolverines, and they were facing (oddly) a high-powered Iowa offense. The two teams traded three-and-outs on the first three possessions before trading turnovers — first a Brian Griese pass that was intercepted by Iowa’s Kerry Cooks, then Hawkeyes QB Matt Sherman fumbled the ball, giving the Wolverines the ball at midfield. But, that led to another three-and-out and another Iowa turnover, with Sherman’s pass being intercepted by Marcus Ray.
The scoring didn’t start until the second quarter, and it was Iowa that struck first. Brian Griese first pass of the quarter ended up being costly, as it was intercepted by Plez Atkins deep in Iowa territory. The Hawkeyes drove to midfield, and then running back Tavian Banks took it the rest of the way, going 53 yards for an Iowa touchdown.
A couple of possessions later, Michigan struck back. Brian Griese hit Tai Streets for a 9 yard gain, and tailback Chris Howard quickly tallied 14 yards. Griese hit tight end Jerame Tuman for 14 then 18 yards, before the A-Train, Anthony Thomas, added 15 on two carries. The drive ended as it started: with Griese connecting with Streets, this time for a 15 yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-all.
The teams traded more interceptions, with Sherman being picked off, once again, by Marcus Ray (who aptly jumped the route), while Griese’s pass intended for Tuman came up short, and went straight into the arms of Iowa’s Ed Gibson, who returned it 64 yards to the goal line. Michael Burger scored on the next play for the Hawkeyes, giving Iowa a 14-7 advantage.
Michigan’s Howard fumbled on the next possession, and the two heavyweights couldn’t do much, with subsequent three-and-outs. It looked like the Wolverines would punt the ball and Iowa would take a knee to end the half. However, some spectacular maneuvering by Iowa punt returner Tim Dwight would see him go from midfield all the way to the endzone as time expired. The Hawkeyes would take a 21-7 lead to the locker room at halftime.
But the Wolverines would answer. Clarence Williams carried the ball three times while Griese would hit him through the air twice for 23 more. Then, wide receiver Russell Shaw sat all alone in the endzone, and Griese made the easy pitch and catch to cut the deficit to 7.
And even that wouldn’t last long. On Michigan’s last possession of the 3rd quarter, the A-Train got rolling, took the handoff off-center and cut to the left sideline, en route to a 58 yard gain, nearly scoring if he wasn’t caught from behind. On three tries, Michigan couldn’t punch it in, but then on 4th and goal, Griese kept the ball and jumped over the pile to tie the game at 21. But on the next kickoff, Jay Feely’s kick was returned 72 yards, which set Iowa up for a field goal – 24-21 Hawkeyes.
Nothing doing for either team for the first half of the 4th quarter. But Michigan got the ball back with 7:25 remaining, and Griese hit Tuman twice for 20 then 15 yards. Thomas added 15 more on two carries, and the Hawkeyes were flagged for a personal foul, half the distance to the goal on the latter, giving the Wolverines the ball at the 7 yard line. Three plays later, Griese rolled to his right and found Tuman in the back of the endzone to give Michigan a 28-24 lead with 2:55 remaining.
Iowa would make a valiant effort to take the game with time expiring, crossing midfield before Sherman hit Tavian Banks for a 30 yarder downfield, to the Michigan 26. However, on the next play, the Wolverines would seal it, with Sherman’s pass being woefully underthrown into the hands of Michigan LB Sam Sword with only 0:33 remaining.
And Michigan’s national title hopes remained alive.
Leaders in Blue
Brian Griese – 15/26, 165 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT, 1 rushing TD
Anthony Thomas – 20 carries, 129 yards
Chris Howard – 13 carries, 83 yards
Jerame Tuman – 7 rec., 85 yards, 1 TD
Russell Shaw – 2 rec., 26 yards, 1 TD
Tai Streets – 2 rec., 24 yards, 1 TD
Dhani Jones – 9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
Sam Sword – 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery
Charles Woodson – 6 tackles, 1 PBU
Rob Renes – 5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
Clint Copenhaver – 4 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack
Marcus Ray – 2 tackles, 2 INT