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Northwestern bemoans missed chances in 3-OT loss to Michigan

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian looks pass during first half an NCAA college football game against Michigan EvanstIll. Saturday Nov. 16

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian looks to a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: November 17, 2013 12:19AM

Northwestern’s 27-19 loss to Michigan at home on Saturday took three overtimes.

By coach Pat Fitzgerald’s estimation, his defense dropped some seven potential interceptions.

Twice Northwestern had a chance to stop Michigan on fourth down during the last drive of regulation before Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons sent the game into overtime with a 44-yard field goal that tied the game at 9 as time expired.

Three times the Wildcats settled for field goals in regulation, going without a touchdown until the first overtime. Tony Jones dropped a ball that likely would have netted Northwestern a touchdown in the first half.

The Wildcats forced a fumble on Michigan’s eventual game-winning drive and didn’t recover the ball.

And after all that, Fitzgerald summed the game up in two words: “Missed opportunities.”

He might have been talking about Saturday, but those words encapsulate the entire season. Northwestern can bake the cake; it’s the icing the Wildcats struggle to perfect.

Since the start of the conference play, Northwestern hasn’t been able to make key plays in the fourth quarter. Against Ohio State, it was a failed fourth-and-one conversion. At Iowa, the Cats committed a dumb penalty that negated a would-be game-winning drive.

Two weeks ago against Nebraska, the inability to stop the Huskers on 4th-and-15 set up the game-winning “Hail Mary.”

Lesson learned, right? Not this team. Not this year.

The Wolverines had two identical fourth-and-four plays on the final drive and the Wildcats missed assignments. Northwestern’s defense was great all day, except for those plays.

“As a defense, we understand that we need to make those plays,” middle linebacker Damien Proby said. “We’ll harp on that tomorrow on film.

“There’s no defensive player in the world who, if you win a game 9-6 [in regulation], would not be happy with that. But we can’t let it happen to where it gets to overtime.”

Michigan did its best to hand Northwestern the game.

In the fourth quarter with a fourth-and-two on the Northwestern four-yard line, the Wolverines failed to covert. A field goal would have tied the game.

Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the second overtime on third down.

Yet the Wildcats didn’t seize any opportunity. It appeared as if they were almost afraid to fail. They played like a team that came in with a five-game losing streak.

Maybe because they were. Or maybe because they couldn’t ­believe it.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” kicker Jeff Budzien said after going 4-for-4 on field goals. “It’s shocking, it’s depressing. If you’d told me we’d be 4-6 at this point, I would have laughed at you.”

So, a once-promising team that was expected to contend for the conference championship has to win its two remaining games to ­become bowl-eligible.“If there’s game to play, there’s games to win,” Fitzgerald said. “And that’s got to be your approach and your mind-set.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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