The Wolverines rolled into the University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium Saturday for a rare noon start on a cold and windy 23 degree day. They were an underdog seeking to secure a much needed eighth win this season. That would have put them above 500 in Big Ten wins at 4-3, and would have helped solidify M’s bowl prospects.
They lugged this season’s considerable offensive baggage with them to Kinnick, but did not display it graphically until the second half. The offense needed the benefit of two first half interceptions of the Hawkeyes to produce short field situations, which facilitated posting 14 of their 21 first half points . The Wolverines intercepted three times during the game, and turned the first one into a TD. But the third and last interception, in the second half, was wasted.
The Wolverines were held scoreless in the second half where they simply could not move the sticks, or take advantage of a Hawkeye miscue. Credit Iowa’s defense to be sure, but M’s own offensive ineptness also contributed a great deal. The lack of an consistently effective running game, and consistently iffy pass protection is mind boggling. Most teams will lose games if producing a puny158-yards of offense. That the game was close was assisted greatly by M’s three interceptions.
Lack of field position stressed the defense in the second half, as the offense often could not move the sticks. Unfortunately the D flailed around to no avail on Iowa’s first possession of the second half. Iowa hit a 55-yard TD pass, and it was suddenly Michigan 21, Iowa 14, and the air was whistling out of the Maize and Blue balloon on both sides of the ball. It was a game changer.
This was especially true on the offensive side, as the Iowa defense was suddenly recharged. The defense subsequently made a few good plays, especially in the form of Frank Clark, but they could retrieve a lead. Iowa now played over their mistakes. Clark had 2.5 tackles for loss. Raymon Taylor made a great diving interception which was reviewed with the interception being sustained.
The consistently inconsistent offense displayed that in spades in the second half.
The usually very sure handed Devin Funchess dropped a few critical passes. Devin Gardner turned the wrong way on a hand off to Derrick Green. Gardner fumbled on the sideline (the result of a rake by the Hawk’s alert defense, and Devin’s lack of ball security) with minutes left in the game. The recovery of Devin’s fumble by the Hawks ended M’s chances once and for all.
Devin threw for 98-yards, completing 13 of 28 and two TDs, with a long of 28-yards. Although his rushing yardage was limited to 12 net yards on 12 attempts (21-yards of losses subtracted), his rushing helped-sometimes. Devin Funchess nabbed only one pass for 2-yards and dropping several others. Jeremy Gallon had a TD catch, as did Tight End Jeremy Williams.
M’s offensive line had still not jelled in regulation against Northwestern, and provided only a basically effective running game in Evanston. The stunning last second reprieve provided by the field goal team, and the suddenly revitalized overtime Wolverine offense, did not hide the fact that the Wolverine’s offense has struggled remarkably since putting up 63 on the Hoosiers, and since Michigan State discovered the benefits of stunting A gap blitzes.
To recap offensive woes: Zero TDs against MSU. Zero TDs against Nebraska. Zero TDs against Northwestern in regulation. Zero TDs against Iowa in the second half. That’s 14 full quarters. That hurts their chances of achieving many of this season’s goals, even if they are gaining experience. The opponent’s defense overwhelming the M offense has happened too often this season. In the second half, Gardner was often hurried, although the stats say he was sacked only once. He sometimes couldn’t get his eyes down field as he was the subject of attack. No other offensive football team in the nation has lost as many yards this season as the Wolverines.
The OL did rise to the in the first half, enough to put up 14 points.
The miracle finish at Northwestern let Team 134’s character and fortitude shine through in three exciting overtimes, but the continuing inability of the OL to open running lanes, pass protect, and score against good defenses,continues to be a pertinent issue.
Iowa won the battle of statistics, as well as the game, by running and passing for 359-yards, to M’s 118. Iowa mistakes kept the score close.
M received, stalled, but the defense immediately put points on the board, as the Wolverines collared the Iowa QB and deflected a pass that Brennan Beyer intercepted. He ran it in from the Iowa 7 for six. All EPs were converted on the day. It was M-7, Iowa 0.
Iowa’s FG holder mishandled a snap to prevent a three, but late in the quarter the Hawks evened it up on a five-yard pass, and it was 7-up. The defense could not hold the lead.
Then came a defensive stop on 4th down for the Wolverines, and a Blake Countess interception. In perfect position, Blake nabbed his 5th interception of the year and zipped to the Hawkeye 28. On a beautiful play, Gardner ran right, and stopping abruptly just before the LOS, tossed a 2-yard TD pass to a wide open A.J. Williams for his first collegiate catch and score. M-14, Iowa-7.
Taking advantage of a short field, M produced a 47-yard drive ending in a 9-yard laser shot to Gallon for a TD. M-21, Iowa-7.
With only 4-seconds remain in the half. Iowa got a 60-yard kick return, eventually resulting in a muffed Hawkeye FG attempt. Halftime score: M-21, Iowa-7.
Third Quarter: The second half belonged to the Hawkeyes. After receiving the KO, it took just three plays for the Hawks to score. The dagger was a 55-yard pass from Rudock to Smith, and old mo was theirs and never relinquished, with a quiet crowd exploding to life. M-21, Iowa-14.
The offense could not move the ball at all and Matt Wile got tired punting five times. A Ramon Taylor interception was wasted by the offense. The Hawkeyes didn’t waste time as the quarter ended.
Shortly, it was 21-21 on a 9-yard TD run.
It was over at about the six minute mark, as Iowa kicked the game winning 34-yard FG. Final M-21, Iowa-24.
M’s last ditch effort was depending on the capable legs of Devin Gardner. Gardner struggled for every last yard, and the ball was stripped. Coach Hoke said afterwards he wished Devin had just stepped out of bounds. Not stepping out of bounds and Devin’s habit of not covering up the ball proved fatal to any last second field goal hopes, and another overtime game. Make no mistake, this was not Devin’s best game. Also, make no mistake regarding the effort and courage he puts into his role in M football.
It is remarkable that in the 11th game of the season that obtaining rushing yardage would be a question. That converting any third down, short or long, would still be problematic. That pass protection is still looks it was built like a sieve.
Is the problem play calling? Sometimes it appears to be. Is it a failure to take what the defense gives, a stubborn adherence to a philosophy? Something along the line of its my strategy, and I’m sticking to it? Is the scheme too complicated? Or is it poor technique by the offensive line, or their execution of the plays? If the execution is bad, scheme, or little else matters.
I suspect when a play fails, it may be a combination of factors. Scheme, technique, play calling, player execution, talent level, lack of experience, field conditions, even equipment failures such as wrong cleats, or injuries can all contribute. All are responsibilities of, and in the purview, of the coaches.
There is no excusing, hiding, or diminishing the mess that is the Wolverine offense. Lack of experience no longer is an excuse in the 11th game. In season tinkering with the offensive line continued through the Iowa game, and has not worked.
There is also no question whose responsibility that is. The responsibility of determining the how, the why, and what to do to fix it, belongs to the boss, Head Coach Brady Hoke, and to OC Al Borges, and OL Coach Darryl Funk.
It will be the off season before the situation can be repaired. It appears there has to be some soul searching at that time.
I am not uneasy that Coach Hoke will not be able to solve the problem, and that he will have the will, the time and the opportunity to do so. The immediate concern is what can they do now, this late in the season?
Because next is the test by which Michigan footballers choose to measure themselves.
They of the expensive tattoos, and expansive record of consecutive wins, and a very storied, and only slightly stained program (according to them) are visiting.
I hope not to see a stadium filled with the Scarlet and Gray because M fans pedaled tickets because of the team’s struggles.
No doubt the Wolverines will be fired up, and will do their best to defend their pride, and ours. Still, the name Biakabutuka echos enough to wish he was still on the roster this season.
Hope to see you there.