Michigan seemed to do just fine against Penn State on Saturday night. It was itself that it couldn't overcome.
Though the stat sheet says otherwise, the final score is all that matters. And in a 28-21 loss to No.7 Penn State, the Wolverines proved once again Napoleon was right about trying to fight two-front wars. Especially on the road.
There will be lots of apologist talk about Michigan's gritty, gutty comeback from the 21-0 hole it dug itself, and that's true for the most part. But that's also like claiming you're a hero because you rescued yourself from the one-car accident you caused. All that matters is the Wolverines couldn't get out of their own way long enough to take a game Penn State was willing to give them.
The end result is a second conference loss, which likely means the school's longest championship drought will continue. The long-awaited trip to Indianapolis continues to elude them. The brutal -- and sadly mostly true -- memes about the Jim Harbaugh era will continue to hover.
There's no point re-itemizing that list of lamentations. Michigan fans know it chapter and verse now, but in case they forgot any there will be plenty of national media trolls...err...pundits who will gladly serenade them with the ghoulish chorus on loop in the days ahead, as basketball season blessedly beckons.
If you would've told Michigan fans before the game the Wolverines would have more than 400 yards of offense while holding the Nittany Lions to less than 300, and nearly double Penn State in first downs, every Michigan fan would've predicted a paradigm-shifting victory. Instead, what they got was another in an endless stream of paradigm-confirming defeats.
That paradigm is this: Michigan wins every game, except the ones that matter most when it matters the most.
This was cemented in another shaky first quarter that ended up deciding the game. The Wolverines had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game on the first play of the game. What followed in a boondoggle first fifteen minutes was two offsides penalties and a false start. If Michigan were simply competent in the first quarter, it likely would've won this game.
Now you know why the Wolverines have been out-scored in the first quarter on the road against ranked teams, 63-3, under Harbaugh. No, that's not a misprint. It's one of the most tragic statistics in Michigan football history. For it signifies a stunning lack of poise from its players, and preparation from its coaches.
By the time Michigan stopped pointing the proverbial gun at itself, it was buried, 21-0, midway through the second quarter.
But then the Wolverines mounted an impressive scoring drive to get on the board, and followed that with a defensive stop to get the ball back before the half. When that drive stalled at the Penn State 40 on 4th-and-6, Harbaugh decided to go for a field goal from Harrisburg rather than go for it -- one of several perplexing game management decisions.
Like Josh Gattis calling an inside zone run into a blue wall on 3rd-and-4 on a third quarter drive that had promise, before that play call predictably went nowhere. Like Don Brown leaving a 218-pound safety in man coverage against Penn State's most explosive player, which resulted in what ultimately turned out to be the winning touchdown.
However, give the Wolverines credit for battling back, and they had the ball with a chance to tie it in the final minutes, until Ronnie Bell was guilty of the fifth drop by a Michigan receiver. This one in the end-zone on 4th-and-goal.
A frustrating end to what was a breakout performance on a national stage by Bell, who dropped a very catchable ball after some creative gun-slinging by Shea Patterson. And that was the story of Patterson's night. He wasn't perfect, but he was more persistent and productive under pressure than he has been all season. He played well enough for the Wolverines to win this one.
Yet in a cruel twist of fate, his vaunted wide receiver corps too often let him down on the night he was finally on. Just as the Michigan defense let down on the final possession and permitted Penn State to run out the clock, rather than give their offense the ball back one final time on the night they were finally a threat to make it count.
Once more, Michigan doesn't make the plays championship programs make, which is why it's not a championship program.
How many times in recent years have Michigan fans seen their offense unable to run out the clock with a late lead? Then they were forced to watch a former Michigan prep star, K.J. Hamler, dart for the game-clinching first down.
There seems to be no end to such indignities inflicted upon the Michigan fan-base. If the football gods believed such a traditionally spoiled group required some humbling after decades of victors valiant, they made their point long ago. It's just punitive torture porn at this point.
At halftime, Harbaugh told ABC's sideline reporter this was going to be "Michigan's finest hour." It almost was.
But that's what Michigan football is these days -- almost was.