By Andy Andersen
Saturday the Wolverines prevailed in a very tough battle against OSU at home. Combative, competitive, and closer than it perhaps had to be, “The Game” turned out to be the long sought after signature win that the program has been seeking for several years. Coach Hoke has the best first season record at Michigan since Fielding Yost.
While this win was not as unexpected as Bo’s 1969 win over the hordes of Woody Hayes, and will not resonate at that larger than life level, it will live on even though this was not a top ranked group of Buckeyes, a team of the Century, by any measure. It was a great and entertaining game in its own right.
Appreciation of this win will be a cornerstone for the Hoke era to build on, the capper to a great regular season. It points to a restoration of toughness, of playing the full sixty minutes, of meeting adversity head on, of better than average coaching, of improvement over a season, and team effort. The Buckeye is off our collective Wolverine backs.
Coach Hoke on the high scoring game: “They’ve got a talented football team, and I think their offense with [Dan] Herron and [DeVier] Posey and Braxton Miller and that offensive line — I think they are really good. They did a nice job protecting and play-actions and throwing the ball past us a little bit, and we can’t do that. We haven’t given up big plays all year, and we gave up a couple big plays. But I thought the defense came back. We had a short field and had a really good sudden-change situation. Then our offense got in gear and did a nice job of moving the football, rushing the football. I thought Denard [Robinson] played an excellent football game.”
The game marked the last game at Michigan Stadium for a senior class that has endured so much. In this game they overcame missed pass coverages with big play defensive lapses, fumbles, a muffed punt snap, and penalties to help make the offensive and defensive plays necessary to this win.
They are proud of having each other’s back, and worked to keep the team together during the most recent coaching and program change very effectively. They really bought into the Hoke program, and appear to have real affection for Brady. They express it every time they hit the podium, and it rings sincere.
The group that had never beaten OSU now has beaten them. The string of six losses obviously was not allowed to extend to seven or eight (depending on how you choose to count them). The string would have been seven but 2010 was vacated due to Ohio’s Tatgate.
The toughness, desire, and leadership provided by this senior group provided much of the progress shown by this team this year. How about eight straight home wins? That is a Michigan first. This is the first year the Wolverines have played eight home games, so seven was the record.
Much beleaguered by coaching changes that brought changes in the program style in both offense and defense, they developed a toughness and togetherness that has brought an unbelievable ten and two regular season record. They have shown great progress over the course of the season both defensively, offensively, and on special teams.
On defense Seniors Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin stood out again and have each improved all year, and David Molk and Kevin Koger are examples from the offense. Also, the three seniors that caught TDs Saturday, Koger, Odoms, and Hemingway are good examples. Hampered by injuries, Odoms has come on as a quality receiver. Many wanted the talents of Jordan Kovacs thrown away because he was a walk on. What a career he has had. If I am choosing sides, I would pick Kovacs. Over the season many others too numerous to list have made major contributions to the program, some on the game field and some on the practice field.
Of course the seniors have had a little help from their underclassman friends, and Saturday that again started with Denard Robinson. While he had a couple of fumbles, he more than made up for that as he passed for three TDs and ran for two TDs again as he did last weekend against Nebraska. He completed 14 of 17 passes for 167-yards, and three TDs, and rushed 26 times for 170-yards and two TDs. Denard totaled 337-yards and five TDs. His accomplishments at quarterback this season would take a whole page to enumerate, and in all probability the best is yet to come.
Coach Hoke on Robinson being a complete QB Saturday: “Al [Borges] did a nice job with the game plan and did a nice job of getting him off to a good start with the X-Screen. But I’ve said it all year, he’s our quarterback and I’m glad he’s the quarterback at Michigan.”
Center David Molk on Robinson’s poise: “He did great. It is apparent how he has matured throughout the season, how he has matured with me watching over him. He did great. As an offense we did great and drove down the field. We were always composed. We were always ready for another drive. There was absolutely nothing that was going to stop us today.” As the larger Molk was praising Robinson in the press conference, he roughly but playfully jostled him, shoving at his shoulder. Denard’s response was an even wider smile.
Sophomore RB Fitzgerald Toussaint had 120-yards over land on 20 lugs. Both he and Robinson have surpassed 1000- yards rushing. Since Fitz only became “the back” about midway through the season this is as remarkable for him as it was expected for Denard. At midseason who would have thought M would have two players achieve that mark.
Braxton Miller, the recent OSU starter at QB, had a nice game with 100-yards rushing, and 235-passing. To tell the truth, if he had been able to hit his open receivers consistently the Wolverines would have “had to do more” as Brady Hoke put it.
Defensively, the Wolverines gave up 327 total yards, but also had seven TFLs and four sacks. Credit Desmond Morgan with 10 tackles. Morgan makes some mistakes, but is he really into the game, and learning fast. Kenny Demens had eight sacks. Craig Roh gave the Wolverines their first lead. Penalties and VanBergen moved the Bucks from their own twenty to their three. A Roh rush from the right end was hindered by a hold in the end zone, and the Wolverines possessed a safety and two points giving them a nine to seven lead. This play at the 7:41 mark of the 1st quarter may have been a turning point in the game, but if not, then at least the very first turning point.
Coach Hoke on giving up big plays: “They were picking on a single coverage out there, and we need to do a better job of staying disciplined with our eyes. Part of that discipline is looking at that receiver and getting a nice break out of the pedal so you can run with him. All in all, I thought our guys did a nice job. I wasn’t happy in the second quarter; I think they ran too well on us. I told the kids at halftime that they were knocking us off the football and challenged them. I thought Mike [Martin] and Ryan [Van Bergen] and Will Heininger really stepped up in the second half.”
Before the game I thought it necessary that the Wolverines get out ahead, make the Buckeyes pass to win. While they did make the Buckeyes pass, early on it looked like that would be the Wolverines ruination, with the Bucks hitting for a 54-yard TD pass. M-0, OSU-7. All EPs were converted.
Kovacs made a sack, and OSU lost field position. Denard took possession, working the read option to perfection, and sprinting 41-yards for 6 down the western sideline into the North end zone and it was even up at seven up. Still in the first quarter, Ryan VanBergen and penalties forced the Bucks from their twenty to their own three. Craig Roh got held in the end zone as previously described. The hold caused a safety, and it was 9-7.
A Jeremy Gallon 20-yard return of a short OSU KO helped. Hopkins bulled for a 4th and 1 conversion, and Denard hit Hemingway for six and it became M 16, OSU 7.
In the second quarter, the Buckeyes hit a 45-yard Field Goal. M-16, OSU-10.
OSU’s Braxton Miller ran 19-yards for a TD. M-16, OSU-17.
After passes to Koger, Odoms, and a 46-yard counter jaunt by Fitz, and some Denard runs, Denard scored on a zone read keeper, and it became M-23, OSU-17.
M couldn’t stop OSU and they put another 7 on the scoreboard before the half ended, using a 43-yard post route. That was all the proof I needed to see of Miller’s arm.
A Robinson fumble in the quarter had aided the Buckeye cause. Michigan wasn’t playing its best football on either side of the ball. Miller was showing he could throw and was a more than competent runner. The half ended at 23-24.
The second half opening stint delivered an 80-yard M drive, with Denard throwing to Gallon, and then Koger for a 26-yard gain. Odoms played a big role as he not only recovered a Robinson fumble, but caught the 20-yard TD. M-30, OSU 24.
M’s Will Hagerup inexplicably let the punt snap slip through his hands at about the 4:00 minute mark of the quarter, and was tackled at the M 32. Hagerup ran with it but lost 17-yards, and the Wolverines the ball on downs. A stalled drive has become a disaster, as OSU got a twenty one yard field goal, and they are closing the gap again, M-30, OSU 27.
The Wolverines answered with an eight play 75-yard drive featuring a two-yard Denard TD pass to Kevin Koger. The drive was assisted by an OSU face mask penalty. M-37, OSU-27.
The Bucks then brought it to 37-34 on the wheels of an 8o-yard drive featuring Miller passes and a Michigan face mask penalty.
Again the Wolverines answered, but not without difficulty. Toussaint and Robinson were doing their thing with determination, and they moved it from the Wolverine 20 to the OSU end zone. Touchdown! The refs agreed, but not so fast, the review ditates a spot at the one. The Toussaint TD run is nullified. That judgment diverges from what one of the two replays shows. I still believe it was a score. The ball was placed at the one. Another touchdown! Wait a minute. The Denard Robinson one yard run right was nullified by two M penalties and the ball was moving the other way. There was a holding call for ten yards, and then a personal foul for 15 to put the ball at the Ohio 26. One stab into the end zone to Roy Roundtree failed, and Brandon Gibbons was called to attempt a 43-yarder, and he calmly hit it. M-40, OSU 34 became the final. The six point difference left a little too much suspense in the game.
OSU gave their last stand a good try, missing one receiver with a home run ball, but lost a down spiking the ball and the chance to score by hitting Courtney Avery to seal their fate at 40 to 34.
This season has played out well for Brady Hoke, his coaches, and his players. While no Championship trophies will adorn the Hoke mantle this season, no modern Michigan coach has pulled a team so far at the bottom of the Big Ten to so close to the top in his first season. The program was floundering, and overwhelmed with drama. It is now stable and rising surprisingly fast.
Still one of the youngest teams in the B1G, the fifteen bowl practices will assist them immeasurably and bring them even more familiarity with Coach Hoke’s system. The work for the year is not done as they seek eleven victories.
An eleven win season would be pretty nice, wouldn’t it?
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