The Hoosier’s rushed into Michigan Stadium with their expectations of victory soaring due to the formerly undefeated Wolverine’s one point miscue in Iowa City Saturday.
Before their tenth game stumble, the Wolverines had impressively forged nine consecutive wins, and held a Big Ten tally of six wins, no losses. They retained their national three ranking after that loss.
Saturday’s win over Indiana was a hard fought battle which was styled a “slobberknocker” by Coach Harbaugh afterwards.
This season the amount of attention centered on the team and Coach Harbaugh has been extraordinary. Some of it was sour grapes, but most of it was laudatory, both for the Wolverine’s, their high profile Coach, and for rising QB Wilton Speight.
Before Iowa, Wilton Speight led the Big Ten passers, but was disabled by a shoulder injury in that game.
Back up John O’Korn was not a spectacular passer in his first start as M’s QB Saturday. He produced only 59-yards passing on seven of fifteen passing as the offense relied heavily on the running game. How much of that was a result of the absolutely miserable weather conditions during this game, Harbaugh’s close to the vest play calling, or John’s abilities is impossible to divine.
The blustery winds even affected the goal posts as they sometimes trembled at their tops. Sleet and snow, light but persistent at times, became heavier at the end of the game when the field was blanketed in a thin cover of snow. The worst nature can offer, no. Was it bad enough to affect the comfort of the fans, and play on the field, hell yes.
The prolific Hoosiers passing game was maybe a victim of the wind as well as a victim of the stout Michigan defense, as they managed only 191 net yards passing, and concentrated on rushing. They managed just 64-yards on the ground.
One thing is certain. It was a third quarter 30-yard run by O’Korn that sparked the Wolverine’s moribund offense to their winning third quarter resurgence. John jumped up after that play with spring in his step, celebrating, he was invigorated. The results show his teammates were too. On the next play Smith ran for his first TD.
THE EFFECT OF THE ONE POINT IOWA LOSS ON M’s SEASON GOALS: While the Wolverine’s pride was injured in that downer in Iowa City, they did not drop back in the national rankings, but held steady at three. Most importantly I would have wagered (if I wagered) that their confidence had not been trashed, but is still intact. Their play against Indiana Saturday proves the point. The belated tenth win is now theirs.
There was plenty for which to battle. Ten wins after Iowa (7 wins conference) would have put the Wolverines in the cat bird seat for the Big Ten East/West championship game, and a spot in the final four. After the Iowa loss , they still controlled their own fate, but needed to beat both the Hoosiers and the Buckeyes. Now they only need to knock down the Buckeyes.
So what’s new? A loss to either would kill the all-important goals stated above. Before Iowa, a single loss and beating Ohio State might have gotten M in the final four with the one win. This does not apply now. If they lose to the Buckeyes they will have two losses, which would kill the dream. The good thing now is that clearing their path is strictly up to the Wolverines. That made this Indiana game the most important they had played this season to date. It was played in an ugly environment with flurries and snow, along with high winds, but the snow in the lights is a beautiful sight, however uncomfortable the observers. This provided a scene as scenic as only Michigan Stadium can be, from inside or out. It especially looks grand after a win.
A LAST LOOK AT THE SATURDAY BEFORE LAST’S IOWA GAME: It was a busy game, with a few questionable calls by both coaches, and more by the referees. The defense did not tackle well in some instances, recording 11 missed tackles. They got too few TOs, made only one interception, and sometimes they had trouble stopping the run.
While the defense still had beautiful statistics, in some categories leading the nation, it is sure tackling that is an absolute requirement of a championship team.
Still, while the defense couldn’t forge a win, it allowed only 12 points.
The offense looked worse than the defense against Iowa. M had player errors consisting of overthrown passes, and key drops by Senior receivers Darboh, Chesson, and Butt. It appeared to me the OL regressed, and it also seems to me that that was the most negative aspect of their play last Saturday.
They also did not consistently run block well , or pass protect as well as they have, or as well as expected. For example, at crunch time, they could not achieve the single first down necessary for the win. The offense did not score in the third quarter. They could have done better. Some of that was corrected against Indiana.
Wilton did not have his best game and he forthrightly owned up to it afterwards. Wilton misfired on three long passes, and the short passing game was neglected. The best back M that evening was wearing Number 12, and it seemed Evans was used too sparingly. M RB Coach Wheatley said afterwards that De’Veon was in so much because of his additional skills such as blocking, in addition to his dogged running and YAC.. Ty Isaac ran just once, for M’s only TD. This was the nicest M run of the evening, and M’s only TD of the game.
Each game this season, many fans felt that inconsistent play, and enough different issues had arisen, that one had to wait until the next game to effectively evaluate them in comparison to the best in the league. That wait is now over. The time to win was last Saturday, and the OL had a sweet remedy Saturday against Indiana in that productive third quarter. The defense preserved the win.
Saturday, against the prolific offense of the Hoosiers, the Wolverines were better in all three phases.
THE WOLVERINES STILL FACE THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON WITH UNCERTAINTY AT THE QB POSITION: Wilton Speight was dinged on the last play of the Iowa game. This fostered uncertainty pregame Indiana, regarding which QB would start against the Hoosiers. It had been announced by usually reliable sources that Speight had a broken collarbone, which would put him out for the season. At the Monday press conference, Harbaugh denied the validity of those reports and said that it would depend on how much Wilton hurt and how much he could practice during the week. Harbaugh would rather lose an arm than divulge specifics regarding a QB situation pregame. So his answers are terse regarding the subject. He understandably wants no opposition preparation advantage.
It seemed relatively certain pregame that John O’Korn would be making his first start for the Blue, and in adverse weather conditions, and those conditions materialized.
There is still uncertainty as to the starter on Ohio State game day. Harbaugh says Wilton is still day to day.
Not many outside of Schembechler Hall, outside of the football staff, have any inkling of real injury progress from first hand observation, or from coach speak.
In this much needed win again the Hoosiers, John O’Korn was the winning QB, but is he the best weapon to attack the Buckeyes? We will know who is go next Saturday at first snap, and not an instant before.
ON SENIOR DAY, IT WAS ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE THAT SENIOR DE’VEON SMITH’S RUSHING PROVIDED THE GAME WINNING POINTS IN THE THIRD QUARTER. This was the last game in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium for 15 5th year seniors, and for 28 4th year starters. It meant something to all of them, but it was De’Veon Smith who contributed the needed TDs at the necessary time, with a little help from his blocking friends. Make that lots of help.
Football is after all the ultimate team game, so De’Veon lauded his OL and teammates as they helped enable 158-yards on 23 carries, and two critical TDs. First there was the go ahead 34-yard TD run for 13-10 lead. Then came the capper from Smith on a tough 39-yard to romp to pay dirt for a 20-10 lead. Smith averaged 6.9-yards per carry. His Michigan Stadium swan song was the best game of his career so far.
LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Kenny Allen dropped punts inside the opponents ten, and gave the Wolverines an 18-yard positive field position differential over the Hoosiers. He whacked a pair of field goals. KO’s were good. Harbaugh said afterwards: ”With the net yards that come from punting and being able to back a team up—it was huge. Kenny did a great job.”
The punt return unit also drew positive comment from Harbaugh for blocking punts. Senior Michael Jocz got one, and Freshman Khaleke Hudson got another in the fourth quarter.
You can’t mention Special Teams and ignore the work of Jabrill Peppers whose early return oiled M’s first TD.
SCORING DRIVES: Indiana won the toss and deferred. M chose to defend the South End Zone. The first Quarter was as dull as watching haircuts or the bread rise as both teams sparred for advantage while playing in unadvantageous conditions, and the action was exchanging punts. Neither team got a first down during the quarter.
Action picked up in the second quarter. After small gains, Smith ran for 25-yards, Peppers was stopped cold on a run, Kenny Allen put it through the uprights from 20-yards out, and the Wolverines had a three point lead.
Indiana answered with a two yard TD run. A 31-yard completed pass had got them in position to score. It was 3-7 to end the first half. The offense was looking bad. Indiana had 7 first downs and M had 3.
In the third, M’s Kenny Allen hit a 26-yard FG to make it M-6, I-7. Indiana retaliated immediately with one of their own to make it 6-10.
On M’s next possession, John O’Korn came to life with a nifty and much needed 30-yard run. De’Veon Smith matched and bettered that with a great 34-yard rush, ending with the ball touching the pylon for a TD as he was flying airborne out of bounds. It was a stunningly tough run, and a bacon saver. M-13, I-10.
Indiana, pinned deep in their own territory, could not get a first down, and punted, Peppers received at the Indiana 39, fumbled it, and M recovered at the Hoosier 39. The coaching staff decided Smith should have another carry. Ignoring obstacles, Smith tracked it straight into the end zone for a thirty-nine yard TD, which with the point after, established the winning margin, and final score of 20 to 10.
Late in the snowy 4th quarter Michigan moved the ball in short chunks and ate clock time.
THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTED: The defense kept the Wolverines in this game, and protected the lead in the second half against Indiana’s very good offense. They yielded a total of 64-net yards rushing. Indiana had 191-yards passing, for a combined total of 255-yards. That total is well below Indiana’s offensive production this year. Ben Gideon had 3 solo tackles and 6 assisted for a total of 9. Demonte Thomas was 4 and 4 for a total of 8. Ryan Glasgow was 5 and 2 for 7.
FINALLY IT IS BUCKEYE TIME: This long awaited and final game of the regular season means more than just whipping the Buckeyes for bragging rights. It is for a shot at a Big Ten Championship and a shot at the top of the college football heap. Both sides will be energized. One will prevail.
Who has it any better than us?