Ohio State vs. Michigan: 10 Things We Learned in Wolverines' Loss
Michigan’s 42-41 loss Saturday to Ohio State could have been much, much worse.
In fact, the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes (12-0, 8-0) waltzed into The Big House as 14-point favorites over the host Wolverines (7-5, 3-5), who’ve notched a series win just thrice since 2000.
However, "Team 134" found a way to keep Urban Meyer’s juggernauts at arm’s length. Tied 21-21 at the half, Ohio State zoomed out to a 35-21 lead in the third quarter before Michigan’s 20-point assault in the fourth quarter.
Carlos Hyde, according to ABC’s broadcast, had the best day any Buckeyes running back’s ever had against Michigan, rushing 27 times for 226 yards and a touchdown. Defending the ground game was Michigan’s weakness, evidenced by quarterback Braxton Miller’s three touchdowns and 153 yards.
Michigan’s Devin Gardner played up to the level most thought he was capable of reaching. With 238 passing yards in the first half, the redshirt junior appeared closer to the five-game phenom of 2012 than the current version of himself, which has mightily struggled for weeks.
Gutsy play calls were part of the territory for coach Brady Hoke, who suffered the second home loss of his three-year tenure as head coach in Ann Arbor.
This slideshow will examine 10 key lessons learned from the Big Ten showdown.
Can't Question Gardner's Heart
Prior to Saturday, Devin Gardner’s heart was questioned by fans and media.
Enduring criticism from every angle possible, Gardner, who’s yet to fully shake the cobwebs from early November, took it all in stride and focused on the task at hand, not what people were saying.
In fact, he went as far to say people who questioned his team could “shove it,” per MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner. Those were harsh words, but Gardner likely held back what he truly thought—and who could blame him? It takes a lot of heart to take the high road and completely ignore the negative.
Gardner has faults. He knows that, Hoke knows that and opponents know that. However, when on his game, Gardner can be one of the best playmakers in the Big Ten. That may sound ludicrous given his lackluster season, but Saturday was proof that underneath the "Mr. Inconsistent" lies "Mr. Reliable."
Maybe next year.
Gardner was hit, pushed, pulled and prodded by the Buckeyes. He was sacked no less than thrice. He even took a blow to the head late in the fourth quarter all in the name of extra yards. Gardner finished the day by completing 32 of 45 passes for 451 yards and four touchdowns—numbers that command respect, even after a loss.
All the way until his game-ending interception, Gardner showed incredible courage, heart and strength as he guided his team.
Jeremy Gallon Capped a Great Season
Jeremy Gallon was always thought of as Gardner’s No. 1 option, but few probably predicted the type of season he’s had thus far.
A 1,000-yard threat, Gallon showed he can rake in the stats with efficiency. Earlier this season against Indiana, he set a Michigan record with 369 receiving yards. Saturday, against a much better secondary that features the NFL-bound Bradley Roby, Gallon made nine grabs for 175 yards and a touchdown.
If the Wolverines wanted to make an early statement with Gallon, consider his 84-yard reception from Gardner during the first series as just that. The senior said he was used to playing the underdog, according to ABC’s broadcast.
His team was the underdog Saturday, and Gallon delivered like a true heavyweight.
Fans Saw the Real Michigan on Saturday
For all intents and purposes, the real Michigan showed up Saturday against Ohio State. Forget the team that’s taken the field in previous weeks—this was the real deal vs. the Buckeyes.
So where was that energy all season? A strong finish matters but so does playing well in the weeks leading up to “The Game,” which Michigan failed to do each and every week since Week 3.
Had the Wolverines played at Saturday’s level all season, a 10-2 season would have been attainable. Instead, another five-losser hangs on Hoke’s resume.
Team 134 Didn't Back Down to Urban and Ohio State
According to ABC, Urban Meyer entered Saturday with an impressive streak—no, not the 23-game winning streak, but his 78-0 record after leading by 14 in the fourth.
Extend that to 79-0, as the Buckeyes in fact squeaked one out in Ann Arbor.
Michigan didn’t appear intimidated by Meyer, whose team was supposed to crush the Wolverines into bite-sized smithereens.
What fourth-quarter streak? The Wolverines didn’t care about any of that, evidenced by their 20-point romp in the final period. As for Meyer’s 23-game winning trend, well, the Wolverines weren’t going to let that beat them either.
Team 134 deserves credit for showing resiliency. The contest was winnable, yes. A loss hurts Michigan; that much is true.
Rush Defense Needs a Lot of Work
Michigan gave up 393 yards on the ground to Ohio State on Saturday, allowing Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde to each rush for more than 100 yards.
Hyde finished with 226, while Miller finished with 153.
Per ABC, the 393 yards were the most ever surrendered by either side during the series. Adding to that is this little tidbit: Michigan hadn’t allowed two 100-yard rushers since 1967, per ABC.
That’s something to think about.
Heralded and revered, Greg Mattison’s defense was once thought to be the cat’s meow in Ann Arbor—and it still is. Mattison transformed a laughable cast into an ensemble of stars. Under the former regime, Michigan’s defense was more made-for-TV-movie than weekend theater blockbuster.
Mattison’s defense is superb, but his rushing unit needs work. That’s been evident all season, but Hyde and Miller’s exploits were reminders of how much further Michigan has to go in order to be a top-tier team in the Big Ten.
Right Choice to Go for 2
Brady Hoke’s decision to go for it on fourth down was the right call—it ended up with Devin Gardner throwing a pick as the seconds erased from the clock, but that’s not the point.
During a postgame presser with ABC, Hoke said that he asked the seniors to make the choice—that’s the real story here.
Putting that responsibility on the shoulders of players such as Taylor Lewan and Jeremy Gallon says a lot about a coach’s personality—Hoke is a player’s coach, and those types often have great success.
The season was over. Hoke knew it, and his guys knew it. One play could have salvaged the disappointing decline in 2013, so why not give Team 134 the chance to do it? After all, it had just climbed back from a 35-21 hole. No risk, no reward.
Give it to Hoke for showing the gusto many feel he’s lacked all fall.
Funchess' Drops Are an Issue
Devin Funchess is one of the best ball-catchers in the Big Ten.
However, he didn’t appear so on Saturday, dropping what could have been the difference in the loss to the Buckeyes.
Funchess scored the touchdown that allowed Michigan to try for the game-winning two-point conversion, so he did his job against Ohio State. He finished with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown, but the drops are of concern.
He had no less than two drops vs. Iowa. His team lost 24-21. Close games are bound to have the “could-have” catches. Funchess could have had a couple.
Details, Details, Details
Funchess dropped a couple of balls Saturday, but he also failed to look back at his quarterback, too.
In the fourth quarter, Gardner threw to what he thought was an open receiver. Funchess didn't turn around to see the ball and watched it fall to the ground.
The special teams' mistakes cost a touchdown for Norfleet, whose run was negated after a holding penalty.
If Michigan is going to compete, it has to eliminate the costly mistakes that contribute to losses. In general, Michigan played well vs. the Buckeyes. It was the Wolverines' best offering of the season, actually.
Take away a couple of mistakes and the outcome could have been in Michigan's favor. The same is true for Ohio State, which could have won by a larger margin had it not absorbed costly penalties (and ejections).
Hoke's Job Is Safe
The buzz surrounding Hoke's job came to a head this past week, but it should now be put to rest; Hoke is safe, and Team 134 made sure of that with a valiant effort Saturday.
Had Hoke been blown out on his home turn, we may have a different story. But in all likelihood, not even a beatdown by the Bucks would have been enough to oust Hoke, who's a great a recruiter and well-liked by the majority of Michigan fans.
He also has the support of Dave Brandon, the school's AD, which doesn't hurt.
Al Borges' Playbook Stayed Closed for Too Long
It's only fitting that Al Borges broke out the tricks during a game that, other than for pride and respect, had no meaning.
Beating Ohio State wasn't going to maintain a perfect season, nor would it improve positioning in the top five of the BCS polls. Nope. None of that.
Beating Ohio State meant Michigan would achieve an eight-win season, far below what was expected. But the Wolverines lost, so everything is else is a moot point.
Borges, though, came out a winner of sorts. He called a near flawless game plan in the first half that led to Michigan opening the game with a 99-yard scoring drive. Gallon, of course, had the 84-yard catch that set up Gardner's one-yard touchdown, but the drive itself was well executed, as were several others.
Credit should find its way toward Borges, who flexed muscle with a potent offense that struggled to score more than a couple of touchdowns during the closing weeks of 2013.