The Wolverines traveled to Tempe, Arizona to confront the Big 12’s Kansas State University Wildcats, in Sun Devil Stadium and played poorly on defense. They were flat and seemingly without much enthusiasm for much of the contest. Offensively, they could only produce a single late game touch down.
The Wolverine defense simply looked inept for large portion of the game, especially early. The offense was dealt a blow when Devin Gardner’s injury in the Ohio game lingered and Shane Morris had to make his first start at QB. For the most part, Shane acquitted himself well in a tough first start bowl game situation, but TDs, not field goals were needed.
The depth of the Wolverine’s pre-game fan ennui was revealed by the return of almost half of Michigan’s pregame ticket allocation. The defense seemed to catch some of that. Three first half TDs by the Wildcats sealed the game. The Wolverines were really never into it.
The bridled enthusiasm of some Michigan Fans for this Bowl was engendered by several factors. How can you get too enthused by a bowl that is called the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl? Any astute real estate subdivision developer knows enough to put exotic names on properties to sell. Nothing romantic about Buffalo Wild Wings, even if it is several steps up from the “Motor Bowl”, at least in weather. Further, it wasn’t a New Year’s Day game. Or a BCS game. It wasn’t a reward for a championship season.
Nor was it against a fabled football program.
The Kansas State team had not embodied many elite football characteristics prior to 1989, when Wildcat Coach Bill Snyder first took over some twenty or so years ago for his first stint at KSU. He has turned a program that was known as one of the worst in D-1 into a consistent competitor.
This year they arranged a win/ loss record every bit the equal of that of the Wolverines. The Wolverines managed a 7-5 (Big Ten 5-3) record, and the Wildcats also managed a 7-5 (Big Twelve 5-3). Statistically, the Wildcat and Wolverine defenses seemed somewhat similar in capability. It seemed that the Wolverines were on a par to compete with the Wildcats. These delusions proved wrong.
Here is the rub. KSU was headed up, and where M was headed no one knew for certain as they struggled mightily in November when faced with the tough part of their schedule. Up hasn’t been their recent trajectory as moral victories don’t count, and unfortunately that trajectory continued Saturday. They have now lost 5 of their last six.
The Wolverines finished a dismal fifth in the Legends Division. Now I understand a little better why. The Wolverines expected season fortunes disappointed in what was thought to be a weaker than usual Big Ten. Their fortunes were disconcertingly up and down. When the defense produced, the offense often slumbered. When the offense produced, the defense couldn’t get off the field. Special teams added to their troubles as make able FGs to win were missed (as in the PSU game).
In most games the Wolverines kept it close, but managed to lose though errors, leaky pass protection. Devin Gardner took a real beating being sacked a record number of times, and defensively maintained no consistent pass rush while M was 123rd in the country in allowing TFLs. They were 10th in the Big Ten in sacks allowed.
They showed a too consistent inability to run the football because of remarkably poor line play, with an apparent lack of offensive line communication and cohesion, and that condition was evident again Saturday. Saturday they could not run the football from the tail back position. The running backs ran eight times. The offense ran for 65 total yards, mainly on the legs of Funchess and Morris. The longest run of the day was a forty-yard Shane Morris gallop which eventually resulted in the Wolverine’s only TD, a late consolation score. RBs Smith and Green were not effective. There were no holes.
During the season pass protection failed at critical times (recall Ohio State). This continued Saturday. Al Borges was inventive in trying to overcome the lack of the ability to run from tailback position. Justice Hayes started at tail back. Reverses, screens, and sweeps assisted Morris in having a fairly successful debut as M’s QB.
Morris was not the problem in this game, although the dearth of TDs was. M scored only one late in the game. Shane was 15 of 19 for 121-yards in the first half, driving to two FGs. The problem was that the Wildcats were scoring 3 TDs in the first half. The game was over at half time, if not by the end of the first quarter. He was 24 of 38 for 196-yards, no TDs and one interception.
The defense had little or no ability to stop the Wildcats. It was necessary in the absence of Devin Gardner that the defense would come to play its best game of the year. They played their worst game of the year. If not, its close.
Fitz Toussaint showed far more courage in recovering from his serious injury, than consistent yardage production, and ability to block backside rushers. Saturday he did score M’s only TD, a late consolation effort that was nice to see.
Severe yardage deprivation at the TB position obviously continued Saturday. This is fatal to effectiveness of a West Coast offense predicated on a run first premise, or probably any other offensive scheme.
In this Bowl, Mattison’s Maulers were not as efficient as, say McCartney’s Monsters of yore. The Wolverines were outplayed and out coached.
Receivers got behind M’s DBs, and big plays resulted. KSU’s offensive attack was slower than the OSU blitz, or the Wildcats margin of victory would have been even worse.
It appeared as the season progressed Coach Mattison’s zone blitz was solved. The enemy ground game was a culprit, too. The problem Saturday was not holding a lead as it has been too often this season, as they never had one.
Here’s how it went:
First Quarter: KSU went 75-yards after the opening KO, with outstanding receiver Tyler Lockert grabbing the first of his three TDs. M-0, KSU-7.
Matt Wile answered with a 22-yard FG after a drive deep into Wildcat territory. M-3, KSU-7. Shane did a nice job, but did not find the end zone. Hope still lingered
The Wildcats answered with a five play drive, culminating in a 29-yard TD to the prolific Lockert. M-3, KSU-14. The handwriting was beginning to appear on the wall in stone. We could not contain them.
Second Quarter: Again, the Wolverines could not answer with a TD. Morris journeyed on another long drive, hitting 9 of 10 passes, but the drive fell short of the end zone. Matt Wile hit a 26-yard FG. M-6, KSU-14.
Again Lockert proved productive, and M’s defense proved unproductive, as Lockert snagged a third TD, an eight yard pitch and catch. M-6, KSU-21 at the half.
Third Quarter: Neither team scored. The Wolverines punted after each of their first five possessions of the second half. KSU missed a makeable FG. Michigan’s defense got a little edgy, and Jake Ryan forced a fumble recovered by Mario Ojemudia late in the quarter. Nothing came of the opportunity.
Fourth Quarter: KSU hit a 22-yard field goal to make it M-6, KSU 24. Things were looking bleaker after their 12-play 60-yard drive. The Wolverine defense could not stop them. A Morris interception was returned to the M 7. Two plays later the ball crossed the plane. M-6, KSU-31. Shane Morris then went on a 40-yard jaunt, and Fitzgerald Toussaint ran it in from three out. Justice Hayes caught the two point conversion from Jeremy Gallon. Final M-14, KSU-31.
Ho Hum Bowl or not, this game was an important one for the Wolverines to win. Make no mistake, the Wildcats were the better team Saturday and deserved to win, but it is a nasty surprise the Wolverines could not make it competitive. The problems that have plagued this team, offensively and defensively all season, were not corrected.
The absence of Devin Gardner was contributory, but not an excuse. The defense was clueless.
The good feelings surrounding the program after the Ohio State near miss have evaporated, as has the good feeling and optimism that was created after Coach Hoke’s surprisingly successful first season as Michigan’s head man.
Wins have declined each of the two years after Brady Hoke’s fast start three years ago. The Michigan coaches needs to gaze long and critically in the mirror in the off season to locate and remedy its persistent weak points. Team 134 has been instructive by demonstrating real concerns.
Into Coach Hoke’s fourth year, Team 135 has to have answers, or the downward spiral will continue. A tougher schedule looms, and by the fourth year of a program it is reasonable to expect improvement.
Win or lose, I want to thank those who will never put on the winged helmet again. Certainly they did not want to leave under the shadow of a loss, and have endured much: Jabreel Black, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon, Brendan Gibbons, Jareth Glanda, Thomas Gordon, Erik Gunderson, Jeremy Jackson, Joe Reynolds, Michael Schofield, FitzGerald Toussaint, Quinton Washington, Courtney Avery, Cam Gordon, and Taylor Lewan. Thanks for your effort, skill and all you endured. I hope you find success and satisfaction in life outside and after college football.
Jeremy Gallon distinguished himself in Saturday’s game passing Braylon Edwards to set a single season receiving record at Michigan. He earned 1,373 yards to go with 89 catches and 9 TDs.
Thanks for all you gave, Gentleman, Good Luck and….