The old grey mare is not what she used to be, but this year’s edition of “THE GAME” showed a decent effort from the Wolverines for much of the game, but still ended in the season’s most significant loss.
OBSERVATIONS FROM SOME PAST GAMES, AND THE ONE SATURDAY:
In order for “THE GAME” to be called “the best rivalry in college sports” each side has to be competitive offensively, defensively, and on special teams. Saturday it looked to still be a rivalry but only for three quarters of the game.
Michigan fans staunchly hoped this year’s offense would revert to the offensive success Devin Gardner had in last year’s game. Gardner then, while playing on a bad ankle, was outstanding. Still Gardner and associates were not able to engineer a win on that last play as Gardner’s two point conversion throw was intercepted. While OSU survived by a narrow margin, the 2013 Wolverines were every bit a match to the Buckeyes offensively and defensively before finally falling to 41 to 42. Gardner played a great game that day.
Fans hoped this year’s struggling offense and inconsistent defense would finally step past last year’s level, by forcing a win over the Scarlet and Drab.
Last Saturday was not Devin’s best day. This year Gardner turned the game on its ear with an early interception and late fumble. He made some interesting plays with arm and legs in between, but capped his Michigan career with another loss. This was his last football game as a Wolverine.
There is no way this latest Columbus disappointment can be laid entirely on Devin’s back. He was 22/32 for 233-yards, two TDs, an interception and a fumble (returned for a TD). Gardner ran 14 times for 66 net yards with a loss of 41 on 5 sacks.
The defense played well at times, but allowed a late first half TD drive, and badly stumbled after three quarters, after the Bucks starting QB, JT Barrett, was knocked out of the game. The Wolverines could not take advantage of it
The usually reliable Jake Ryan missed a key tackle, and suddenly the game was out of reach, with a Buck sprinting for a 44-yard TD to put Michigan down by two TDs late.
MORE MEMORIES, OBSERVATIONS:
Fans remembered Coach Hoke’s first shot at the Buckeyes in 2011, a 40-34 win.
And fans remembered with great fondness the performances in “The GAME” of two of Ohio’s finest former citizens, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. Ohioans converted to Maize and Blue. They both solidified a successful run to the Heisman as they carried their respective Wolverine teams to success against OSU.
In 1969, no one had given new M Head Football Coach Bo Schembechler’s Wolverine’s a snowballs chance in Columbus of winning at home, but the Wolverines carried the day against Woodrow Wilson Hayes and his top ranked, and overhyped Buckeyes.
They remembered of M RB Tim Biakabatuka’s Wolverine career best yardage when he exceeded three hundred yards rushing against the Bucks in 1995.
Or the other times the undefeated Buckeyes endured a season spoiler at Wolverine hands.
There are many highly valued and enduring memories of the Game, mainly regarding games won, but this year Team 135 needed to surmount a season long fractured offense, which was so slowly growing and that was capable of producing few TDs per game this season. Their up and down defense was also problematic.
While they managed 28-points, M’s slow growing offense had a tremendous obstacle to overcome against the precise, talented, and well coached hoard of offensive Buckeyes. Most pundits thought it would a Wolverine blowout loss. A loss it was, but it was not exactly the expected blowout.
Again, the Wolverines made a great effort, and at long last there was some successful offensive innovation, but not enough to win the game to secure a bowl slot. This game will not save the Michigan coaching careers of the current crop of most, if not all, of the Wolverines coaches.
Sadly, it seems to me that the current coaching regime will be out. The players deserved better this year. M’s coaches are good people, who cared and tried, but they simply didn’t get the job done. As coaches, they all know this is a “big boy” business. Coach Hoke and the others will leave well rewarded. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the players.
While he was well liked by one and all, Brady Hoke was perhaps a player’s coach, and loyal to his coaches, to a fault.
BRIEF GAME RESUME:
The Wolverines received the opening KO. On its second play Devin threw an interception which rewarded the Buckeyes. Starting from the M-41, OSU drove to a first and ten at the 6. OSU QB JT Barrett tossed a short TD pass, and in a blink OSU was up 7 zip.
M held and received the punt. Devin Funchess collared a 45-yard pass. It was M’s turn to score as Jake Butt snagged a 12-yard TD pass. At the end of the first quarter, it was 7 up.
Michigan then decided to grab the lead, and FB Joe Kerridge got over midfield on a first down reception. Dennis Norfleet nabbed a third and four catch for a first down. Gardner’s third down run got it to the two. Drake Johnson capped the 95-yard, 15-play drive with a two yard TD run, and M had the lead, up 14 to 7.
Johnson ran effectively and hard all game long. Later in the game, he dinged his knee and was replaced by D. Smith and Justice Hays. It was a turning point. Drake Johnson was the most effective back on the day. He toted 15-times for 74-yards and two TDs.
Late in the second quarter, the defense again couldn’t prevent a late half opposition drive, as the Bucks grabbed momentum with a twenty-five yard QB run. It was 14 up at the half. Late game and late half scoring drives plagued the Wolverines all season.
The Bucks grabbed more momentum in the second half. A 52-yard catch set up a 2-yard TD run using two minutes off the clock. A 14-21 score seemed insurmountable at the time, but wasn’t as the Wolverines battled back with a long drive of 85-yards which included a bit of offensive innovation. Drake Johnson received a toss and threw a pass to a downfield Gardner, gaining 18-yards to the 4. Johnson blasted it in from the 4, and it was 21 up.
With a minute left in the 3rd quarter, OSU was at it again, getting another TD. Ohio’s Ezekiel Elliot scampered 44-yards on a fourth and one to make it M-21, OSU-35.
It seemed to be over, and that concept was sealed in concrete when OSU’s Joey Bossa stripped the ball from Gardner as he was sacking Gardner for a 5-yard loss. Buckeye D. Lee returned it for a 33-yard TD. M-21, OSU-42. It seemed over for sure now.
But it was not over as far as M’s Freddy Canteen, and the Wolverines were concerned as they produced a 9 play 75-yard scoring drive, with a little a little timely help from a Bucks’ pass interference penalty. With a little over 2 minutes left. Canteen broke the plane with a nice 3-yard reception to make the final count M-28- OSU 42.
The game was over, the season was over, and probably the Hoke coaching era was over.
This was a season marred by failure in the Big Ten play as proved by a 5-7, (3-5) record.
It was a season remarkable not for quality football, but for losing, for controversies and adverse publicity extending to the national level, for the firing of a meddlesome Athletic Director, for recruits changing their minds, for far too little offensive prowess or player development, and inconsistent defense. In many areas they were not competitive on the field. They did not seem to be well coached.
One such example was the lack of player development is that they could not field a a back-up QB with a sufficiently developed skill set to replace a struggling or injured Devin Gardner. Where was the understudy that should have spelled Devin when needed this season, and who will lead the next year’s team. No one appeared ready for the role. There was no sufficiently developed or effective understudy at the position this year.
With all the downside this year this team played hard, if not always effectively. They faced a remarkable set of adversities with remarkable unity and effort.
I wish to thank departing Seniors Gardner, and Ryan. While Devin has not had the required success at QB this year to play QB in the pros, Gardner has an undergraduate Michigan degree, and will have a Masters for the future. He was again under physical assault all season long, and again showed courage.
Jake Ryan moved from outside to middle linebacker after his remarkable injury recovery. Jake will be sorely missed next year.
Oh, yeah! I know that many of you want Jim Harbaugh as Head Football Coach in Ann Arbor over all others if and when the current staff is dismissed. The rumors abound.
When and if M Football is under new management next year, I hope Michigan fans pull together, with one voice, no matter who the new coach is, and we all continue to……