MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2017: THE GAME IS LOST AGAIN 20-31

Another contingent of self-important, and self-assured Buckeyes fans piled into Michigan Stadium in full bray regarding great deeds of their talented Buckeyes this season (nobody mentions Oklahoma), and their certainty of an addition to the string of wins they have had against Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines.

There was also some rightful crowing regarding their domination of predecessor Michigan teams and coaches, back to and after disgraced Ohio Coach Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes posted their 6th straight win against the Wolverines, and have won 13 of the last 14.  On last Saturday they owned the rushing statistics 226-yards to 100. M owned the passing stats 195-yards to 124.

Besides their winning streak versus the Wolverines, the Buckeyes had demolished PSU and MSU this season, feats which eluded the Wolverines.  

Six straight M losses to the Ohio State horde has not lessened the aggravation for the losing team, and could not have elated the winning team more.

That Michigan took this loss hard, was readily evident in the post-game interviews.  They were incensed, and disappointed their valiant effort fell short of a win. The Wolverines fought hard.

This tally of Ohio wins has unarguably become more than a simple aggravation, and is a thorn in the side (and other regions) of Michigan fans everywhere.

While it is never fun to give the devil his due, Ohio State played hard and very well Saturday, even if they couldn’t seal their win until the last two minutes of play.

These results have had some M fans again recalling with relish the John Cooper days as head football Coach at the Ohio State University, but don’t step to the ledge.

During the Ten Year’s War, and later through the John Cooper Ohio coaching era, M prevailed more often than not. The pendulum will swing the Wolverines way again. 

It is certain that next year won’t be too soon for Coach Harbaugh, and Wolverine fans.

Harbaugh owns a dismal record against teams with a winning record this season.

He is now one and five against the likes of OSU and MSU in his M career.  Also against other better teams in the Big Ten this season, his team has not prevailed. PSU was an outright embarrassment. These are conditions are overripe, and must be remedied.  

This season a Wolverine win was of course wanted, needed, and at the same time highly unlikely.  The Wolverines were solid underdogs, and were uncertain as to which QB would be available for the nod to play. Of necessity, their third string QB got that nod, as John O’Korn started.  Brandon Peters continued to show effects of injury all week according to Harbaugh afterwards.

Many of the games have been razor’s edge close against the horde, even at the Shoe, and this year’s tilt in M Stadium was no exception.

Last year the festivities came down to two overtimes. It seemed to Michigan fans that last year’s game turned on a faulty late game spot in ball placement in favor of the Buckeyes, which aided in turning an apparent chance of success into failure. 

Urban himself was so stunned with the win he dropped to the turf, flat on his belly in astonishment and glee at the victory.

M QB JOHN O’KORN KEPT THE WOLVERINE’S OFFENSE IN THE GAME UNTIL ABOUT THE 2 MINUTE MARK OF THE FOURTH QUARTER DESPITE PRIOR ERRORS.

John had his struggles against a very good OSU defense.  He overthrew three receivers in the first half alone.  Others were missed during the course of the game. He was sacked five times, and that was not all on John.  The OL, and backs share some of that blame. Still, in at least 3 of the five sacks, he did not seem capable of getting rid of the ball quickly enough to avoid the sack. In another instance, he got his feet tangled with center Pat Kugler, and fell down on a critical series.  The error that will be remembered for years happened with about two minutes left. 

Finally, at about the two minute mark of the fourth quarter, O’Korn tossed an interception fatal to Ms winning ambitions. A drive to victory was deceased. Dead as a door nail.  There were receivers open, but he tossed an errant ball to the Bucks because he misread the coverage.

His description of it was something like this in the post-game presser.  Its thrown, and you can see its no good. You can’t get it back. Nobody feels worse about it than John O’Korn.

We as fans think we are really invested in winning, but the players give it their all, mentally and physically.  John’s emotions of frustration and regret welled up in the presser. Losing hits the players harder than us.

John did not have a totally bad day, but on a day when perfection was required, the errors were too many, regardless of the fact he had not played for weeks.

He hit 17 of 32 for 1 TD and 1 interception.  His short TD pass was laser perfect.  Despite everything, all their errors, the Wolverines were in it to the last. Again.

OFFENSE SCORING MORE THAN TEN WAS NOT ENOUGH, BUT AN IMPROVEMENT:  Kahlid Hill, Sean McKeon and Higdon scored TDs.  Chris Evans lead the M rushers with 57 net yards for an average of 6.1 yards, and a long of 24.  He also nabbed 5 passes for 34-yards, with a long of 13.  Karan Higdon had 55-yards rushing, a TD, and a long of 22. Sean McKeon caught a TD pass, and Kekoa Crawford led the receivers I yardage with 57-yards, and a spectacular catch and run for 43 -yards which led to a score.

THE GOOD AND BAD OF THE DEFENSE: Much of what kept the Wolverines in the game was the defense.  It was amazingly effective, wildly successful at times, but it was also sometimes causing a “what the hell happened there” reaction in observers, as the Michigan defense gave up quarterback runs to the second-string JT Barrett replacement quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, as well as to Barrett, and could not protect leads.

Part of that might be attributed to a lack of DL depth.  Constant blitzing is demanding. They will accrue more depth with time, and they have improved over the course of the season. 

Mike McCray had ten total tackles with 8 solo.  He caused 2 TFLs.  Rashan Gary, dinged before and during the game, also had ten total tackles, with 5 solo.  He had 2 sacks and 3 TFLs. Chase Winovich had 9 total tackles, with 3 solo.  He had 1 sack and 1.5 TFLs.

As good as they did at times, they allowed 228-yards rushing, a total of 350-yards, and they made stops on  only 8 of 16 third downs.

They were dominate for periods of time, stifling the OSU offense.  They allowed only a negative 6-yards gained in the first quarter.

HOW THEY SCORED: The Wolverines had the first offensive possession and were stopped defensively, and their defense returned the favor to the Buckeyes on their first possession.

In about the middle of the 1st. the Wolverine’s Chris Evan’s scampered for 24-yards.  Later Zach Gentry nabbed a 27-yard heave on third and eight, and took it to OSU 14.  After a penalty, another toss to Gentry, this time a five yarder, took it to the two. Kahlid Hill took it in from there for a tough two-yard TD. This 13 play, 77-yard drive enables a score of M-7, OSU zip.

The Bucks had a three-play drive that lost eight yards, and then one that lost 10-yards. 

The Buckeyes called a time out at 2 seconds left in the first quarter.  They punted from their own 7.

Donovon Peoples-Jones gathered in the punt.  Zig-zagging and breaking tackles, he ran down the sidelines 46-yards to the OSU eleven-yard line. DPJ is beginning to show his stuff, and drew praise from Harbaugh after the game. A half the distance holding call advanced the ball six-yards to the five.   Higdon ran it to the two, and the quarter was finished with the Wolverines threatening and a TD ahead. M-7, OSU-0.

O’Korn’s TD pass to Sean McKeon for three-yards put it into the end zone.  M was up 14-zip to start the second quarter.  It was a two play five-yard drive.

The Wolverines failed to contain JT Barrett, and the Bucks marched 11-plays and 75-yards.  Barrett got the TD on a 21-yard scramble.  M-14, OSU-7.  On the prior play Josh Metellus was hit in the hands, and dropped an errant OSU pass that would have killed the OSU scoring drive, and perhaps jump started an M victory.

On their next possession the Bucks did it again.  This time it was a 3 play, fifty-yard drive, after holding the Wolverines.

Again, it was Barrett. This time he performed a 26-yard jaunt, and  then a TD pass for 25-yards.  It was 14 up at the half.  It was mind boggling that a credible and known threat like Barrett was allowed to scamper.

The Bucks received to start the third quarter, and they were held by the Wolverines to a 3-play nine-yard drive before punting.

M couldn’t move offensively, and the Bucks were then held to 3 plays and minus one-yards. 

The Wolverines struck first in the quarter, but not often enough.  It was their last score of the day.

O’Korn hit a 43-yard completion to Kekoa Crawford to the OSU 8-yard line. It was a memorable play for Crawford. OSU helped by getting hit for half the distance to the goal for holding.  Karan Higdon ran for a tough one-yard, and then a tough two-yards for the score to make it M-20, OSU-14.

The fourth quarter held no charm for the Wolverines as the Buckeyes struck early, putting together a ten play, forty seven-yard drive, that resulted in six.

OSU reserve QB Dwayne Haskins had replaced the injured JT Barrett and tossed a 29-yard pass amid many runs by Weber. A forty four-yard field goal made it 24-20.  The earlier extra point miss by the Wolverines put it out of reach of field goal tie.  The Wolverines now needed more that than one score to tie or win.

John O’Korn threw his game changing interception and the die was cast.  The Bucks laid on one more TD for good measure with under two minutes left on the clock, as Ohio’s Mike Weber ran for a twenty-five- yard TD.  The final was 20-31.

TAKE AWAY:  All season long we have wanted the Wolverines to be more special than they turned out to be.  They turned out to be a very solid eight and four team.

Their lack of depth at the quarterback position, the lack of development of consistent timing between QBs and receivers hurt chances, the lack of development of consistent run and pass blocking, and significant injuries, all led the Wolverines to not achieve at the level they wanted to.  Yes, lack of experienced depth due to losses from last year’s team also provided a barrier to our hopes, and their goals.

The defense mostly played at a level superior to that of the offense, and at times were outstanding, but they too had their problems.  Big plays for example, and not protecting leads.  Even without Maurice Hurst, they should be better next year, or at best, by bowl time.    

It should be known where they will be Bowling soon.

No matter where they go, or how they do, they deserve credit for all the hard work, scrapes, nicks, and bumps that they have taken on behalf of our team this season. They gave fantastic effort to their team.

Go Blue!

MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2017: PSU LIONS SMOTHER WOLVERINES-13 TO42

The underdog Wolverines flew in to Happy Valley with The Wolverines lew in Happy valley Saturday with the full intention of making it UnHappy Valley football-wise last Saturday. This was no small task for the Wolverines, as they have had trouble scoring points at times this season. This continued against the Lions, as the Wolverines managed just 128-yards of total offense.

The offense has been consistently inconsistent this season. Scoring in the red zone in particular has often been a challenge for the Wolverines, but this was not the problem Saturday. The Lion defense had the Wolverines’ number, and sacked O’Korn seven times. There were still OL woes in that regard. The M defense yielded 506-yards, and the offense yielded 7 sacks.

M QB John O’Korn, newly minted starter for the Wolverines after Wilton Speight’s injury three games ago, sorely needed a break though game. While he played better this week than last week, 14 points is unacceptable in modern football if you expect to win. O’Korn completed 16 of 28 passes for 166-yards.

He had been struggling in prior games due to a variety of factors, not the least of which, was the play of the offensive line. Another was his penchant for big plays, missing his check downs, and happy feet. Add to that, that he is not particularly adept at getting rid of the ball quickly when rushed.

Sometimes those happy feet are among his best assets. He can athletically avoid the rush sometimes, and has been known to put his shoulder down and try to smash for a first down. He ran well against PSU. He can throw off the run. Because of the many sacks, his rushing yardage equaled a dismal minus three, but he had some nice runs. He seldom is able to throw the ball away, and late in the game lost control of the ball. It was covered by the Lions as review confirmed. This error helped kill any late game scoring, just as the three interceptions at MSU did during M’s late charge there.

Because of his running ability there has been some speculation that Harbaugh’s pro set system does not meet his talents head on.

This should now be confirmation that the Wolverine offense will continue to be problematic against good teams. The OL was often a sieve.

Penn State has not shared M’s kind of offensive woes this season, and again they produced, with two early 1st quarter TDs featuring Heisman contender Saqueon Barkley. His 69 and 15-yard TD runs ruled the first quarter against the Wolverines, and set the tone of the game for a suddenly shaky M defense. The Lions produced 506-yards of offense against the Wolverines vaunted defense.

They feature one of the best QBs in the Big Ten, Lion QB Trace McSorely, and a Heisman Candidate, running back, Saqueon Barkley. Barkley demonstrated that can catch the ball as well as tote it effectively. He scored a receiving TD in the second half. It was a Big Ten highlight catch of 42-yards, that he batted into the air and ran under to secure and take into the end zone.

In seasons past, the Wolverines dampened Barkley’s production Even with the M current defense being one of the best in the nation pregame, or close thereto, they could not do it again, under the lights, in Beaver Stadium, before a frenzied, prime time, “white out” crowd. The Lions were revenge minded. They were all steamed up, after the Wolverines took it to them last year in Michigan Stadium, 49-10. This year they got their revenge 42 to 13.

A plus for the underdog Wolverines, who were an eleven-point underdog, was that the Lions had been generous with TFLs this season. It was thought that the Wolverine’ s defense brought a large supply with them to the now Unhappy Valley, and they put on pressure for much of the game, but not always effectively. It proved out that the Lions had the better supply of sacks, hurries, and TFLs. The defense obviously had its worst day of the season, which was a surprise, and the offense struggled to provide 13-points, which was not a surprise..

M IS A SPECIAL OPPONENT FOR THE LIONS: When the Lions were in their Big Ten swaddling clothes, new to the Big Ten, their fans seemed to favorably tolerate Michigan fans. That has changed I’m told.

Among the causes were events like the Judgment Day meeting in 1997, when the future National Champion Wolverines gave them a fierce beating in their home stadium. Also, there were many wins in the past ten years or so that fervent Lions fans who follow Blue and White Illustrated, could not stomach. They cited biased officiating, and formulated conspiracy theories. The first M /PSU match in Beaver Stadium that I recall featured a PSU first down near the goal to win. In four rushes, the Lions could not punch it in as M held and won. Storied Coach Joe Paterno got the stubbornness award for that game, but not the coveted victory.

M’s Mike Manningham caught a last second bullet from M QB Chad Henne in a stunning play to watch. The Wolverines won, and the PSU faithful reached for their TUMs, appropriate libations, or other solaces. Since Saturday the shoe is on the other foot.

Again, when losing, some of their fans disputed calls and spouted invective regarding the Big Ten, some intimating that they, (the Big Ten), wanted the Lions to lose through manipulation of game officials. There are many good PSU Fans with love of school and the sport. But some seem a little bit overboard at times. Michigan was overwhelmed Saturday by a better football team.

The terrible scandal that toppled their great coach, Joe Paterno off his pedestal, understandably still gnaws at them, increasing their angst.

Since the lifting of the NCAA sanctions, and the entry of current coach, James Franklin, and subsequent to the serious thumping by the Wolverines last year in Ann Arbor, they have turned it around, and they won the Big Ten Championship. I hear part of that was that he adjusted his offensive scheme to his personnel.

Winning the Big Ten Tournament under the play-off system is a feat the Wolverines have aspired to and never accomplished. That was a magnificent PSU accomplishment the Wolverines, can and should envy and emulate.

While MSU was a PSU rival for years, always the Spartans last game of the season, the PSU/M series reaches back only to the beginning of PSU’s participation in the Big Ten, and is studded with M victories. The intensity continues to grow.

WOLVERINES NEEDED A SIGNATURE WIN: Bo had his win over undefeated OSU in 1969, and it gave his tenure at Michigan a tremendous boost that lasted all his career. Jim Harbaugh needs something that approaches that win over a ranked team that has equal or better talent.

Something to make the on-field success rise to the level of Harbaugh’s off field success. Something to make this young team believe they are both capable and extraordinary. They shouldn’t have let this opportunity evaporate, as it had all the necessary makings with the 17th ranked Wolverines butting heads with the Number 2 Lions. They came a long way from a signature win Saturday as the defense as well as the offense struggled big time.

THE WOLVERINES WERE OUTCLASSED OFFENSIVELY, DEFENSIVELY, AND ON THE SIDELINES: It was all there for the taking, but the Wolverines were simply outclassed by the determined Lions as the offense again struggled, and the usually reliable defense was sometimes at a loss. They could not contain either McSorely or Barkley early or late, and fell to an early 14-point deficit.

A much-needed interception helped the Wolverines to briefly close the gap in the second quarter. A little surprise zone coverage instead of man to man paid off, as M’s Long caught the ball, and advanced it 25-yards, giving the Wolverines their best field position till then. The ensuing Higdon TD made it 13-14, as Nordin missed his first extra point. It was 13-14 as the half waned, but the M defense could not protect the Wolverines’ interests, and gave up a TD before the half closed, making it 21-13 at the half.

Essentially this case was closed at the half. The Wolverines did not quit trying, but they had a barren second half score wise.

The Penn State second half scores were on a 13-yard McSorely run, to make it 13-28, the great, acrobatic Barkley 42-yard catch made it 35-13. The scoring was capped by a 9-yard McSoreley run, and it was final at 13-42.

MOVING ON: While it is probably that any Wolverines aspirations toward a Big Ten title are gone with the winds of Saturday’s loss, it is apparent that there is still much work for the Wolverines to accomplish. Tough games, meaningful games, signature games, are still to come. The character of this team will have to come to the forefront to rebound. It is the coaches job to see that they bounce back.

That lowly Rutgers is next could be a trap. The Knights are coming off two wins so they might make it a spat, but M’s defense should shatter them. Will the offense score enough points so that some understudies get a little time?

FINAL THOUGHT: In comparison to the Wolverines offense, the Lions offense looked hyper smooth while both passing and running to scores. Play calling was effective. Their read option runs by McSorely after delayed fake handoffs were smoothly deceptive, and were greatly effective, as supported by 506-yards of offense against the Blue. McSorely ran 11 time for 76 net yards, with a long of 23, and 3 TDs. Their tall receiver Hamilton was outstanding. They hacked M’s vaunted defense apart, early and late. Their play calling was outstanding.

I don’t like PSU very much, and always will, and I never thought James Franklin was at the top of the coaching heap, but they are a very impressive football team at this point, and looked like they are the Number two team in the country last Saturday.

Go Blue!

MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2017: INDIANA KNOCKED ON VICTORY’S DOOR IN OT. M DEFENSE LOCKED IT OUT, 27-20.

 The improved Indiana defense is not at the top of the Big Ten, but good enough to give the Wolverines a battle. Some wonder why a program that recruits basically two and three star players can compete with four and five star players. There may be several answers to that question.

The Wolverines have not made a habit of losing to the Hoosiers, having strung together 22 wins over the Bloomington denizens. They have not been easy wins as they often have been very close.

FORMER M COACHES MENTOR THE HOOSIERS: Mike Debord was the OC of Michigan’s 1997 Rose Bowl, and National Champions. Recently at Tennessee, he fostered a prolific offense. I had the good fortune to be acquainted with Mike while he was with the Wolverines. He was friendly, professional, and pleasant.

He is somewhat reviled as a coordinator by some M fans, who did not appreciate the style of offensive play. Now he advises a more wide-open style of offense. I don’t think he will ever be back in Ann Arbor, but other than in this game, I wish him all possible success.

Mike Hart of Little Bro fame/infamy is the Hoosier running backs coach. In contrast to Mike DeBord’s situation, there are fans that would like to see him in Ann Arbor again as the running backs coach. He did know how to hang on to the football, and as a freshman he became only the third freshman M RB to lead the Big Ten in rushing.

Nick Sheridan was here in the Rich Rodriquez for a short time as a quarterback. He is the QB Coach at Indiana now.

The only games I want to see the above coaches lose are those against the Wolverines. At times late Saturday I was afraid they might be happy post game.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS: The Wolverines lost the coin toss, and defended, receiving the second half kick off. The defense held for a good start.

The Wolverines had an impressive 6 minute drive on their first series. Unfortunately, it was not a point a minute drive as its stalled, and culminated in a 40-yard Quinn Nordin FG. Quinn is money in the bank, but again the Wolverines only got half of what they wanted for the drive. M was up 3-0.

On the next Indiana possession Hurst blocked a field goal and LaVert Hill secured it and hauled it 35-yards. Again the drive stalled, and again Nordin hit a field goal, this time from 38. More money in the bank, but again the Wolverines only got half of what they wanted. It was 6-0.

On their next possession O’Korn pulled out his Houdini bag of tricks and got himself free from the scrum, and hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for 17-yards for a much needed first down to prolong the drive. The Wolverines benefited from DPJ taking a late hit resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct call. Review killed the targeting call, but the 15-yards unsportsmanlike penalty endured. Karan Higdon showed some magic, and streaked 12-yards for the score. 13-0.

Indiana managed a late field goal near the half to finalize the half time score at 13 to 3.

The Hoosiers took the ball to start the second half, and took it to the Wolverines. The defense allowed the Hoosiers first score in the second half on a run by Hoosier John Ellison, but neither side added any additional score in what remained of the third quarter. For the rest of the quarter the defenses prevailed, as both teams settled for  three and outs.  The  score remained 13-10. 

The Wolverines running game broke out in the fourth quarter as Karan Higdon, and the other backs went to work. Higdon’s 59-yard streak to and over the goal line energized the Wolverines and their fans. The Wolverines appeared to be in charge and headed to a certain win, as they were up 20-10.

But as the clock ticked to 3:27, a cloud appeared on M’s football horizon,. Indiana QB Peyton Ramsey threw a TD pass to Whop Phiylor. It was a whopper, reducing M’s lead to a fragile 3 points, 20-17. Thoughts of a tie or worse began to fester.

The concern was enhanced by what seeming to be a successful Indiana onside kick which bounced over the head of M’s Donovan People-Jones. He leaped and hit it with his hand, knocking it into the hands of Indiana’s Simmie Cobb, Jr.

Cobb tight roped down the sideline attempting to gain control of the ball and stay in bounds. A review gave Michigan the football. It was ruled that he did not gain control of the football until out of bounds.

The Wolverine offense was not up to the task of icing the game in regulation, as they went three and out. The defense sputtered a little and could not protect the M lead.  A 46-yard Hoosier field goal tied it 20-20, and it was on to overtime.

OVERTIME: The Hoosiers won the toss and forced the Wolverines to go first. Higdon ran the ball 25-yards into the end zone for what became the winning score.

Then the Wolverine’s defense made their magnificent goal line stand by withstanding a Hoosier first and ten at the two. That terrific stand was described earlier. Final M-27, I-20.

TAKE AWAY: This Wolverine team has plenty of fight. They can give and take hard knocks, win away from home, and can play defense with the best of them. The weakest link in their chain right now is passing offense. Usually balanced between run and throw, they netted just 58-yards passing.  This time the game was in perfect passing weather.  Even without errors, that low production passing game will hinder winning.  At the very least they need to maintain balance.

At the first of the year, I thought the receivers were one of the better position groups, but it seems that the much maligned running backs are producing than they are now.

The offensive line is still leaky in pass protection, but they were outstanding at times in the run game today.

It seems John O’Korn, and the OL, and the receivers, all need to do better in the passing game in the search for a  balanced attack.

John needs to connect down field a time or two to gain confidence, and move defenders back. He overthrew a long ball to a wide open Donovan Peoples-Jones during the first drive, and another to Grant Perry.  It seemed to me that throw to Perry had to be high to miss the defender. It was still a miss even if it was just off the fingertips of Perry.  There is always room for improvement.

Bring on prime time and Penn State. This one is going to be interesting.

Go Blue!