M FOOTBALL 2015-112TH INCARNATION OF “THE GAME” PROVIDES DOWNER FOR THE WOLVERINES AS BUCKEYES OVERWHELM 13-42.

Cunningly disguised as THE Ohio State Football team, the Buckzillas blathered into the civilized confines of Ann Arbor and Michigan Stadium, along with their usual horde of protagonists, as they have in all the uneven years since 1918.

Vocal as always, many of the garishly bedecked crowd in Scarlet and Drab (oops, Grey), seemed to waft in on an aroma of spiritus fermenti. As always, all were in high spirits. While I wanted to add “At least before the game”, the Buckeyes had every right to remain that way after the game as well.

They won the day, as the Wolverines needed to run play action passing, but were minus a running game. Michigan also needed to protect Jake Ruddock, but failed miserably at times. Another ouch was the inability of the defense to stop the run or protect the red zone. Coupled with a no run offense, they could command no run defense. OSU piled up 369 net yards rushing for a 6.8 average per carry, and 5 TDs, as opposed to 57 net yards rushing by the Wolverines, and a lone TD. OSU’s RB Elliot had 30-carries for 214-yards, 2 TDs, and a 7.1 average per carry. Giving a D minus grade for Saturday’s rush defense would be grading this effort too high. All in all, it was the Wolverine’s worst outing, and resulted in their worst beating of the season.

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A SHORT COMMENTARY REGARDING THE HISTORY OF “THE GAME”: M and OSU first played in 1897, and the game has been an annual competition since 1918. Memorable moments have originated in each subsequent era.

The game caught the attention of the sporting world for a number of reasons. Hard hitting games usually displayed well played and coached football, often with possible Big Ten championships at stake, and sometimes high national ranking against high national ranking. Also, sometimes with undefeated records at stake as in 1993, 1995 and 1996, when the Wolverines ruined OSU perfection.

These games decided the Big Ten title 27 times, and so often on the biggest of stages. They feature huge stadiums, and consistent hard edged fan enthusiasm, and these games featured splendid Saturday afternoon spectacle, some elating wins, and some deflating losses. They also featured coaching antics and on field heroics.

Colorful characters like the uniquely talented and quirky OSU Coach Woody Hayes, and the equally volatile and dedicated Wolverine Coach Bo Schembechler added luster to scenes still remembered.

They engineered the so-called Ten Years War. In Bo’s era, nothing irked Bo more than the selection of Ohio State as the Rose Bowl Representative in 1973 after a 10-10 tie, in which Quarterback Dennis Franklin’s injury during the game was cited as the explanatory reason for naming Ohio State. It was not unnoticed by Michigan fans that MSU’s AD Smith had voted for Ohio State.

To really understate it, Coach Hayes had a tendency to over enthusiasm which he could not entirely control. For example, bopping a competitor player during a bowl game cost him his career, and should have. Another less heinous instance, with no consequences but energizing and entertaining Michigan Stadium fans, happened in 1972, in Michigan Stadium.

Woody did not appreciate the officials validating a Michigan interception in a close game. To illustrate his rage, he grabbed the chained yard markers and systematically destroyed them. By so doing he set the Michigan crowd’s enthusiasm afire, and the team sent Billie Taylor into the end zone, for a Wolverine TD and win.

While Woody was not always beloved by Wolverine fans (for example, he went for two in 1968 while leading M by almost 50 points, because he said, he couldn’t go for three). His coaching ability, if not always his demeanor, was always respected. It was tough to accomplish at times, but it never was any more fun to watch a coach lose than it was to watch the volatile Woody Wilson Hayes lose.

The eras since Bo’s remarkable and improbable 1969 win have spawned Heisman trophy winners on both sides. As you undoubtedly remember, the two notables that are most fondly remembered by the Michigan side now are Desmond Howard, who famously struck a striking Heisman pose in the end zone after a stunning long kick return that sealed the Buckeyes fate. Not to be out done another former Ohioan, Charles Woodson, sealed Ohio’s fate in much the same manner, by returning a punt.

These were the two most memorable Michigan moments in my memory, but other performances like Tim Biakabatuka’s over three hundred yard rushing tour de force against the S & G in 1995 shouldn’t be forgotten.

Also, there were other performances before my time, which still shimmer in an aura of greatness. Among them were Tom Harmon’s extraordinary performance in “the Game” in Columbus in the early forties.

Old 98 excelled at nearly all phases of the game, winning over a hostile crowd in Columbus to an audible demonstration of appreciation of his performance. Unexpectedly, he was presented with a great ovation, by some of the toughest critics in the world if you are Maize and Blue, the Buckeye home crowd.

A SHORT 2015 GAME COMMENTERY: Unfortunately last Saturday’s lack of ability to defend its home turf proved that the Wolverines are not yet a finished product in this, Coach Harbaugh’s first year at the helm. He always says there is more work to do and Saturday proved him right.

Last Saturday’s game won’t earn inclusion in any synopsis of M’s great games against OSU, because it truly wasn’t. Still, it must be said it was a hard fought battle on both sides.

The Wolverines punished themselves with foolish and costly penalties. In fact a first quarter roughing the kicker penalty provided OSU a fresh first down after the defense had held them deep, and had forced a Buckeye punt.

It was a bad coaching call, as the kick block failed. The M rusher did not fail to illegally bump the OSU punter, and the stalled Buckeyes were on their way.

Peppers fielding the punt and possibly running it back seems a better option as it could have put the Wolverines deep in OSU territory. Obviously that early gamble did not pay off.

Instead, this penalty was actually the turning point of the game as it advanced the Buckeyes to their 24, ruining the great field position provided by M’s punter Blake O’Neill. Via that gaff, the Bucks turned adversity into advantage as good teams will. The Bucks subsequently drove for their first TD after a 7 play, 94-yard drive in the first quarter.

A 66-yard gallop on that series by OSU’s RB E. Elliot took it to the M 10, also helping turn M’s fortunes the wrong way. Jerrod Wilson put him down at the ten, but red zone greatness was not a facet of this game for the Wolverines. OSU QB J.T Barrett ran it in for six, and the die was cast. The first quarter ended M-0. OSU-7. OSU only had 4 first downs to M’s six in the quarter, but momentum had shifted for good to the Bucks.

In the second quarter, M finally hit a field goal after a 14 play, 72-yard long drive. A false start hurt, and back to back incompletions to Amara Darboh helped cause the stall. There were two or three instances in this game where the usually sure handed Amara was hit in the hands, and dropped the pass.

OSU answered the Michigan FG with another TD.  J.T. Barrett rushed for 25-yards, and Braxton Miller rushed for 6 and 3-yards. J T. Barrett rushed for 16 and 7 to the 5, and Elliott broke the plane for 6 on two attempts to complete a 9-play 75-yard drive. M-3. OSU-14.

The hurry up offense bothered the Wolverine’s defensive play, they couldn’t defend the edge and sometimes the middle against the run. This drive was fairly indicative of the Wolverines problematic defense against the run all afternoon.

The Wolverines answered with their lone TD of the afternoon. This was the result of an 11-play 92-yard drive. A 4-yard Smith run and catch of 5-yards got it started. A pass to Peppers got 13. An OSU pass interference call enhanced it, as did a 24-yard reception by Smith.

Chesson, who has shown remarkable development and diversity this season, finished off the drive with a nifty 5-yard catch on a flag route into the front corner of the South end zone on a perfectly thrown Jake Rudock pass. The second quarter and half ended at M-10, OSU-14, and hope began to soar just a little, but fell flat as the second half was an absolute disaster for the Wolverines.

The Buckeyes received, and scored four second half TDs around a single FG by the Wolverines. OSU produced TD drives of 82-yards, 84-yards, 75-yards, and 47-yards as they overwhelmed the Wolverines. M could only answer with that single field goal. The final was M-13, OSU-42.

M could not protect the corners, tackle effectively, consistently pass protect QB Jake Rudock, or stay penalty free. The hurry up tired M’s thin defensive line.

Offensively, in the second half Jake Rudock took more viscous hits, one of which in the third quarter resulted in a Rudock fumble recovered by the Wolverine’s Mason Cole.

Later, in the fourth quarter, Jake Rudock injured a shoulder when sacked again by OSU’s Joey Bosa. His understudy, QB Wilton Speight replaced him, and was ineffective as by now the Bucks had their ears laid back.

I have heard some say the Wolverines quit. I don’t think that is true at all. Both sides were hitting. The Wolverines were simply overwhelmed by superior talent in this game. Talent which was trying to recover from their own worst performance of the season in losing their shot at the championship game against MSU.

THE FUTURE STILL BODES WELL: The fifteen bowl practices will assist the Wolverines. Last year they sat and watched the bowl games on TV like fans. They may not make a New Year’s Day Bowl, but it will be a decent bowl. Iowa, MSU, and OSU have earned spots above them, and might use up all of the New Year’s Day slots, but maybe not.

I do not believe that the 2016 recruiting class will be hampered by this game, and still believe that M will still gather a top ten or better class. This game just shows prospective running backs, linebackers, offensive and defensive lineman, that superior athletes will have a chance of playing early at Michigan.

Harbaugh and his staff will use freshman early, and will coach them up. The team needs speed at many positions including running back, and linebacker, and else where, and they need play makers every where.

Saturday’s loss was a nasty one, the worst of the season, a big fan disappointment. It proved that the talent gap with the best teams in the league is still a problem. Even so, the improvement over last season is obvious even if there is more work to be done. The coaching has been good overall.

Special teams are an enigma. They have often helped win this season, and have been superior in many respects, but in the two games that have counted most, special teams errors have helped roadblock wins.  Go figure.

Player development is illustrated by the progress of 5th year graduate QB Jake Rudock. His acquisition showed remarkable foresight on Harbaugh’s part, and his development over the course of the season has been remarkable.

When, in about the middle of the season, M switched to more passing than rushing because of necessity, Jake was totally up to the task to the surprise of many fans after a rough time connecting downfield at first.

Another QB has been added to Harbaugh’s list of successes. Hopefully Jake will get a chance in the bowl game, if his shoulder permits.

This coaching team has been mostly remarkable. Nine and three for the regular season shows a vast improvement.

M Football will only get better.

Go Blue!

M FOOTBALL-2015- THE WOLVERINES ARE LEARNING TO WIN AS THEY DOWNED THE BEAVERS OF OREGON STATE IN WHAT FINALLY BECAME AN IMPRESSIVE VICTORY. M-35, OSU-7.

As expected, the home portion of the Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverine Football coaching stint began Saturday in Michigan Stadium on a successful note after a noon kickoff.

Those pesky rodents from Minnesota bested QB Harbaugh and his Wolverines in this stadium in 1986 as Ricky Foggie ran wild, in Harbaugh’s last appearance there as a player. He does not dwell on past Wolverine accomplishments, nor does he strive to be the media “star” he has become, and he would not describe past sensations upon entering the stadium through the tunnel. He did show some Bo in discussing a call with an official.

While it was predicted the Wolverines would prevail last Saturday by only 14 points, they exceeded expectations. And then some.

Jake Rudock, replaced as last year’s Hawkeye starter, left there, and has been galvanized into a Wolverine. He earned the starting spot for last Saturday’s game and for this Oregon State game. Shane Morris did not play in the OS game, and when asked about this in the press conference, Coach Harbaugh reminded that Shane was number two. If Shane does not play he might extend his eligibility a year by red shirting. Wilton Speight, the number three, did make a cameo appearance.

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Jake had a solid game despite two errors, a fumble and an interception. The fumble, caused by a 17-yard sack by a hard charging OS defender coming free, could have been a problem with the Beavers already up by 7 early. LB Joe Bolden snatched the ball out of the air, at the M 19, and advanced it 18-yards the M 37. The fumble was courtesy of a Taco Chalton hit. This was a turning point in the game.  The interception was a quick little lob to  Jake Butt that was critiqued post game by Coach Harbaugh as a lack of a widened view on Jake’s part.  Nevertheless, he steered the Wolverines to 35 points as he was 18 of 26, and threw for 180-yards, but no TDs.

Before the game, two areas that are interdependent continued to worry. They were the offensive line and the running game. Until last Saturday’s game, the Wolverines best running back (Smith) had averaged only 2.8 yards a carry and they managed only 76-yards total against Utah. The Wolverines produced 244 rushing yards against the Beavers. This is a significant improvement. Better, but not yet at a championship level. As Jim Harbaugh indicates, there is still lots of work to do.  Big OG Ben Braden had his best outing as a Wolverine, and the OL as a unit played better.

No other M back has run as hard as Smith or otherwise impressed this season. Smith had the best game of his career against the Beavers.

Coach Harbaugh said, “The offensive line, they commented over on the sideline, you could over-hear them: ‘Hey, hey, De’Veon’s running hard!’ He was running through contact, and it inspired them. A great play by the running back inspires the offensive line to sustain and strain longer on blocks.”

De’Veon had 126 net yards on 23-carries, and three rushing TDs, and in my book was the offensive player of the game.

It was rumored that RB Drake Johnson might play, and he did for one play.

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED AGAINST THE BEAVERS SATURDAY:
The football steamroller that M became in this game got off to a slow and disturbing start. The Beavers received the opening kick-off and executed a 7-play, 79-yard drive for six. M’s defense looked clueless. Rushing and passing chewed up chunks of yardage. The score came on an OS QB Seth Collins’ 21-yard TD pass in only his second game. Minutes into the game OS led 7 zip.

There were probably a number of reasons for this defensive lapse. In interviews after the game, a couple of players mentioned home opening jitters. One said that the rush of all that adrenalin might have been a contributing factor for the Blue defense. Said it can make a player forget what he has been taught. Further the ingenuity of Gary Andersen probably contributed. He is a good coach. Once our defensive coaches saw what they were offering, the defense dug in and did not allow the Beavers further scoring.

The first four offensive series of the Wolverines yielded only a forty yard Kenny Allen field goal, and it was M-3, OS 7, but from there on M scored TDs.

The first quarter was scary for both Michigan’s offense and defense. They managed no first downs, while OSU had 3, and 87-yards rushing to M’s 10. Passing was a little closer, but still unsatisfactory as OS managed 49-yards to M’s 38, but the Wolverines went to work on both sides of the ball.

There came a notable Jim Harbaugh meltdown, as Michigan was called for roughing the kicker. The OS punter got a high snap, bobbled it, corralled it, and headed outside the no tackle box, booting it on the run as Jeremy Clark collided to collar him. It was a regrettable 15-yard loss, causing Coach Harbaugh to backhand his notes, graphically demonstrate the kickers position, and he showed a reasonably accurate Bo Schembechler in making the ref aware of his steaming concerns. To me it shows how much Harbaugh cares. It was tough to understand where that penalty came from.

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The Wolverine drive continued, with the most notable play a 4th and 5 pass to Smith that provided 20-yards to the OS 8 and a critical 1st down.

Having earlier had the benefit of an OS face mask penalty to Peppers, the Wolverines second quarter production showed results with a 12-play 69-yard scoring drive.

More D. Smith running and two catches by Jake Butt helped, as had an OS penalty earlier, which nullified the effect of an offensive pass interference call on Jehu Chesson.  An OS illegal participation penalty moved the ball to the OS 1. Smith bulled it in. M-10, OS-7.

The second quarter closed on a stunning note. With 1:29 left a penalty had nullified a beautiful OS kick which went out at the three yard line, but after the penalty the ball was now at the Michigan 44.

A snap sailed over the Oregon punter, and rolled to their 3-yard line where a Duck covered it. Michigan’s ball, as the Wolverines tasted the good fortune of a gift, and possibly a more certain road to victory. Coach Harbaugh said after the game that this was not caused by the Wolverines in any way, but was just luck.

The fact that Smith pounded in for six, from one-yard out, was not luck, but skill and effort. Both he and Kerridge tried to score, and were stopped short. Then Smith bulled it in, converting the lucky break, and their own hard work, into six. M-17, OS-7.

The Wolverines received to begin the second half. Jake Butt caught a 10-yarder. Smith continued to pound, ripping a 20-yard slash. Rudock hit AJ Williams for 22. Then an incomplete pass and a false start, and Kenny Allen was called upon to hit a 29-yard FG. M-20, OS-7.

The defense and Chris Wormley tuned up the Beavers, and the third quarter ended with the Blue in possession and knocking at the goal. The Beaver defense was wearing down and Smith was running with great determination, with admirable determination, with the best effort of his career, He churned short gains into longer ones, often dragging the pile. He had also snagged a critical fourth down aerial earlier. TE Ian Bunting in this drive, caught one for 21-yards. Smith grabbed the three yard TD. Derrick Green had also contributed a 6-yard run in this 5-play, 39-yard scoring drive.

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Derrick Green, Ty Isaac, and Sione Houma were featured in the Wolverine’s last scoring drive of the day, which Green ran in from two out, for a final of 35 to 7.

After what started out as an ugly duckling game turned into a swan, the Wolverines got to sing a raucous Victors as victors.

Long searching for an identity, the Wolverines seem to be forming an aura of toughness, mental and physical, on both sides of the ball.

Go Blue!