The Wolverine’s annual football collision with their neighboring and vaunted south of the border team, happened Saturday in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium. The ricochet will be heard for a long time.
This season Michigan had stubbornly maintained an offensive malaise, particularly since its game with Indiana. M simply had not consistently run the football this season, moved the chains to rest the defense, converted sufficient third downs, or scored TDs in sufficient quantity to overwhelm anyone. Sometimes TDs were as scarce as moisture on the desert. This is just a partial list of offensive difficulties this past season.
In a turnaround that surprised everyone, the offense performed very productively against the Bucks, featured innovative play calling most of the time, and showed some ability to run the football (152-yards on 33-carries). Derrick Green did most of the damage, lugging 12 times for 47-yards. De’Veon Smith had 7 carries for 57-yards. Derrick Green and third down back Fitz Toussaint each had a TD.
The offensive star of the game for the Wolverines was Jeremy Gallon as illustrated by 9 catches for 175-yards, and a TD. Early in the first quarter Jeremy took a catch 84-yards to the tOSU two. He now has had receptions in 36 straight games. His only bad play of the day was a transcontinental pass back to Gardner that sailed well over Devin’s head. He is now the number two receiver in M history for yardage.
Tight End Jake Butt buttressed his fine day with five catches for 85-yards and a TD.
During the season there were goofy penalties, numerous interceptions, fumbles, bad play calls and field management, as the offense laboriously worked down the Division ladder. There were also a few miscues Saturday and they always hurt. Neither that, or a first half melee, got in the way too much, as football mimicked hockey briefly. One Wolverine and two Bucks were thrown out of the game, with one Buckeye too expressive gesturing to be consistent with good sportsmanship.
Saturday, while a Devin Gardner fumble was lost, he did not take his now usual beating from the team that led the nation in sacks and TFLs. He had been taking nasty beatings in previous games. It was not all easy for him Saturday, but easier. He still ended up in a foot in a boot after the game.
At times this year, the offense had played down to the level of their competition. The Wolverines were far too egalitarian in that they sometimes played the same unproductive way offensively whether the competition was elite or not. Note Akron, Connecticut, Penn State, Michigan State, and Nebraska.
This Saturday the offense gave the Buckeyes all they could handle, hitting the Bucks with 603-yards of total offense, 41 first downs, eight of 14 first down conversions, and 7 of 7 red zone conversions. They were 32 of 47 for a whopping 451 passing yards, with four TDs, and but 3 sacks.
Over the season, it seemed that in spite of sometimes contributing to the losses with poor pass protection, non-existant effective pass rush, and the failure to stop big plays, the defense had shown improvement over the course of the season, while the offense deteriorated in efficiency. The defense was clearly not what it wanted to be yet, but there was a sense of personnel development that was not easy to recognize on the offensive side of the ball. This is still true but the inability of the defense to corral the OSU running game was the difference in the game.
The tables had turned around Saturday. Now the offense was not failing to score TDs, and was not laying the defense out to dry. Carlos Hyde skinned the hide from Michigan’s rushing defense. He had 27-carries for 229-yards, a TD, and a fumble. The Bucks totaled 393-yards on the ground. Braxton Miller had three TDs. Michigan’s defense was inconsistent, making stops and then letting receivers get behind DBs to convert either TDs or third and longs, or otherwise move the chains.
Michigan’s pass defense was abysmal, although OSU only completed 6 of 15 for 133-yards, but that included a 53-yard TD and another TD.
Earlier in the season the Wolverines had been striving to be in the competition for a Legends Division title, and have a shot in the Big Ten Championship game. Instead they sank to near the bottom of the Division. In his post game presser Hoke stated that they had not won the Big Ten championship so this season had to be considered a failure, like any other where they did not win it.
Earlier I thought about the only good thing about that was they avoided playing the foreign team twice. But, looking at Saturday’s results, that might have been fun. A win Saturday could have saved M’s season. They came ever so close, coming within a razor thin margin of producing a victory over the Bucks. About an improbable a victory as Bo’s in 1969.
During the season, sometimes special teams misfired, and sometimes they produced. Saturday, Wile put several KOs out of the end zone, but late in the fourth quarter as Ohio was trying for the game winning score, he hit one too hard. It went into the end zone, and came out to the OSU 25, erasing no time off the clock.
Also a spectacular KO return by fleet Dennis Norfleet was well on his its way for 6, when the yellow flag fluttered, and the Wolverines were called for a very stupid penalty that negated a certain TD.
This season, the The Wolverines seldom had defense, offense, and special teams all at peak production in the same game. On Saturday, the defense, not the offense, was the most consistent problem, as the suddenly robust offense traded places with the suddenly problematic defense.
As so often this season, there were late game fireworks. With only 2:20 on the clock Ohio scored on a 9-yard Hyde run to go ahead 35-42. This answered 14 straight points by the Wolverines.
Michigan replied with an 11-play, 84-yard drive to make it 41-42. Dileo, Fitz Toussaint (29-yarder to the OSU two) contributed catches. Devin Funchess scored on a two yard TD receptions and it was 41-42 with about thirty seconds left. Devin’s Gardner’s two point conversion pass to Drew Dileo was intercepted. An onside kick was recovered by the Scarlet and Grey and it was over.
I do not question going for two to win. Gardner was now gimpy. The fact that Gibbons was unavailable due to injury in practice made no difference per Hoke, citing Wile’s competence. He said they had planned all week to try to win it if a similar circumstance arose. Hoke on his certainty about going for two points: … “No, like I said, we weren’t doing a good job slowing them down. We wanted to go win the football game.”
On Michigan’s effort to get into a position where one play would have won it:
“We talked about it all week. We’ve got to play our best football. We also want to take the game into the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter we got it there and thought the kids played awfully hard the entire day, and in the fourth quarter we played even better.” There will be questioning of where the right play was called for the two point conversion. It didn’t come close to working.
They had given up three points by earlier attempting a fourth and short conversion which failed. In retrospect, those were the winning points. Some will question this call, too. I liked the aggressiveness, but…
Brief scoring recap:
First Quarter: M struck first, and right away with a bubble screen to Jeremy Gallon that got to the OSU two. Devin ran it in to cap a 99-yard drive. M-7, OSU 0.
An 53-yard OSU TD pass made it 7-up. M produced a scoring drive with Jake Butt collaring a 33-yard pass to the OSU 22. Fitz Toussaint ran four yards to put the Blue up 14-7. Then Braxton Miller ran scored on a 53-yard run. It was 14 up.
Second Quarter: Jeremy Gallon caught a 17-yard TD pass. M-21, OSU-14. Funchess leaped over a defender on a 17-yard pass to enable the score. Braxton scored late in the second on a 21-yard run. M-21, OSU-21 at the half.
Third Quarter: OSU grabbed the lead on another Braxton run of 3-yards. A Devin Gardner fumble helped enable the 55-yard OSU drive. The M defense could not contain Miller. M-21, OSU-28. Late in the quarter the Buckeyes struck again on a 22-yard TD pass. M-21, OSU-35. At the time it seemed it might be over.
Fourth Quarter: Things were looking bleak, but Drew Dileo snagged a Gardner pass of 11-yards to make it 28-35. Desmond Morgan recovered a fumble on OSU’s 41. With just 5:01 left, Jake Butt caught a 2-yard TD pass and it was 35 up. Carlos Hyde put the Bucks up for good with a 1-yard run. M-35, OSU-42. A Devin Funchess 2-yard TD left M a point behind, and as already described, M went for a two point conversion which was not converted resulting in a final of M-41, OSU 42.
While it would have been sweet to win this one, and it could well have been won, the Buckeyes have a gifted offense, which perplexed our defense. If Braxton Miller had an arm as good as his legs OSU would definitely be the best team in the country. Their play against Michigan did not prove them to be so Saturday. This was hardly a game in which they proved their superiority, while it did show their vulnerability. OSU’s presence in the national title game will be elusive for them.
They will go on to Indianapolis to combat the Spartans in the Big Ten title game.. Will offense or defense prevail? While I can’t wish either one of them success, it ought to be an interesting game.
As for Michigan, they acquitted themselves well on this occasion. Their backs were to the wall and they had skill and fortitude enough to give the Buckeyes all they could handle. Although some of the Bucks are braying how they knew they would win if it went to OT, OSU let two late drives come within a point at crunch time. Despite their expected post game bravado, it is likely some of the Scarlet and Grey had to change their Depends.
Players, coaches, and fans all needed at least a competitive game. It stood to reason that Urban Meyer would want to run it up, if possible, to beautify his team’s chances at the National Championship game. The departing seniors, such as Lewan and Schofield, nearly slew the dragon, and they did recapture and restore some Wolverine pride.
Close moral victories may be meaningless, but they are far easier to live with than out and out butt kickings.
Whether or not Coaches Borges and Funk are entirely off the hook for the next season may now depend on the Bowl game results. I never thought Coach Hoke was in danger of any early release from his contract, believing he would get to serve it out, and likely renew. But Coaches Borgess and Funk have been in a more susceptible category. If they can produce good bowl performances, much of the noise will likely go quiet for a time.
The fifteen extra practices that the Bowl affords ought to help the many youngsters that comprise much of Team 134. The near miss will help restore fan appreciation of a 7-5 regular season, if there is a bowl win.
Team 134’s regular season is history. If it hasn’t produced as many wins as expected, it has still been very interesting. The seniors have endured unprecedented coaching changes and global schematic changes. They have faced change and uncertainty to become solid Michigan men.
Thanks for reading this, and as always,