chance of bowl: 13.6%
12/1/2013 – Michigan 41, Ohio State 42 – 7-5, 3-5 Big Ten
About a dozen people asked me during and after the game about how they should feel, and all I had and have is a shrug. I don't know, man. I know this is the part of the blog where I come up with The Big Feel (uh… working title) about what happened on Saturday, and I'm as jumbled as anyone else.
How are you supposed to feel after coming up one play short against an undefeated Ohio State team that was favored by three scores? How about when that makes you two of the last 13 against the Great Satan? How are you supposed to feel after watching whatever that was on offense since the Notre Dame game* turn in the second-most yards Ohio State has ceded in 123 years? After watching the mostly valiant defense turn into the Indiana outfit that necessitated the footnote in the previous sentence?
Football's ridiculous. There's that. We can all agree on that after the football gods cooked up the worst possible torture imaginable for Harvey Updyke, who is 100% at fault for the way the Iron Bowl ended. That is the only thing that actually makes sense about football, a 109-yard field goal return to beat the #1 team in the country. Football is ridiculous.
For me this is a giant ball of frustration. Sometimes you come out on the wrong end of a classic and that sucks but it's still pretty much okay because of the context of the game and the fact that you got to experience it. The 2005 Rose Bowl is the best example in Michigan's recent history. This aspired to that status, but was doomed from the start because of one question.
People will say things about rivalries and sure, I believe that after watching Michigan State play Michigan for the past half-decade. There is no amount of rivalry that bridges this gap:
IOWA, 7 BIG TEN GAMES AGAINST NOT MICHIGAN: 4.9 yards per play allowed, in a pack just about tied for second in the conference behind MSU.
IOWA VS MICHIGAN: 158 yards ceded at 2.8 per play.
NEBRASKA, 7 BIG TEN GAMES AGAINST NOT MICHIGAN: 4.8 yards per play allowed, also in the pack. (Yes. Nebraska's defense was actually kind of good in Big Ten play.)
NEBRASKA VS MICHIGAN: 175 yards ceded at 2.8 per play.
OHIO STATE, 7 BIG TEN GAMES AGAINST NOT MICHIGAN: 5.0 yards per play allowed, third member of pack**.
OHIO STATE VS MICHIGAN: 603 yards ceded at 7.4 per play.
One of these things is not like the others. It's the one that doesn't make you want to listen to Pearl Jam like you're 15 and a girl just laughed at you. If Michigan does anything like what they did in this game against Nebraska, Iowa, and Penn State, they're 10-1 and shaking their fist at Michigan State's defense as the reason this game won't result in a rematch. In that context, a battle of top ten teams that goes down to the wire inside the wire, sure, classic away aw shucks it only hurts when I think about it, it's on. Which BCS bowl are we going to?
After the nine games between Notre Dame and Ohio State, that's a bit fanciful.
When Dave Brandon's not making ludicrous comparisons to Nick Saban and throwing Mike Martin, Denard Robinson, and Martavious Odoms under the bus, he's pointing out that Michigan is just two… three… four plays away from being Super Awesome Team. Anyone with eyes can see that they are three rather improbable ones away from being 4-8. Michigan was a yard away from losing to Akron, needed Desmond Morgan's best Woodson impression to beat UConn, and executed the only successful fire-drill field goal in the history of football to get to overtime against Northwestern. Fate has been kind and cruel in equal parts this year. This is a 7-5 team that finished with a losing record in conference because it deserved to.
That sucks. Putting on the fireworks against Ohio State to end the season is better than taking a steel-toed boot for three hours, but you watch them run play action that curls Jeremy Gallon back to Gardner off of that bubble-iso look and the mind argues with itself about whether it should say "hooray" and wave a little flag or "did you not want to win the Iowa game?" and wave a pitchfork.
You wonder how much earlier this progress could have come if Michigan had settled on a few simple things to start the season instead of trying to run everything that had ever been drawn up on a napkin. Or how much time they set on fire by running that gimmicky tackle over stuff that was dead as soon as it was put on film. How is it that these pieces can be assembled to put up 41 points against ND and OSU and zero (approximately) against the rest of the schedule?
Actually winning the game comes with a big old bucket of redemption. Coming that close and coming up short… well, ask Devin Gardner.
“I threw an interception to lose the game,” Gardner said, his voice low and barely audible. “There’s not much else I can say.”
This is a person who just completed 70% of his passes for 450 yards and in the press conference after he's like me on the benches after the game, keeping my head down and trying not to hear the Ohio State fans around me. Hurting. In his case, both physically and mentally. All I've got on the former part is a sore wrist from bowling, but man did I feel that other bit at the same time he did.
This is a moral victory. It stops a large chunk of the bleeding, likely solidifies the recruiting class, and gives Hoke more stable footing going forward. And he's going to be here. It is much better than getting your head stomped.
But the thing about moral victories is that they aren't, you know, victories.
*[Indiana just gave up nearly 500 yards passing to Danny Etling. Indiana is rookie mode, and is set aside.]
**[Wisconsin at 4.8 without a Michigan game is the fourth member; Michigan is next in a tier by itself at 5.4, but then again it didn't get to play its offense; FWIW, Penn State's defense was meh at 5.7 and Michigan got 4.7 per play.]
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. At one point late in the game, Gardner scrambled out of the pocket, found himself alone with a defensive back, and faked a throw to absolutely no one. This got him a first down and what looked like a sprained ankle. He managed to limp back to the huddle, whereupon I felt Michigan should just run the ball because their QB needed some time to not be dead. They threw it; Gallon was wide open on a corner route; Gardner missed it badly. Because he was dead.
When not dead, he turned in a superlative performance despite being pretty much dead. Devin Gardner is tough. Yes.
Honorable mention: Gallon and Funchess are pretty good you guys. The offensive line had a pretty good day not just by their standards but by the standards of average-ish D-I teams everywhere.
Epic Double Point Standings.
2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana), Devin Gardner(ND, OSU)
1.0: Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. In a game that was more about holding serve than field position, Michigan somehow stripping Carlos Hyde as he GRRAAAHHHHed his way towards another first down was even more important than a turnover usually is. That got Michigan back on level terms after being down a break, as it were, and provided the frenetic finish.
Honorable mention: Gallon screen goes for 84, announces that Michigan is not going to roll over dead. De'Veon Smith rumbles for 38 yards, looking like he did as a high schooler what with dudes bouncing off of him and such. That thing with Gardner pump-faking at air. Fight!
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.
11/23/2013: 404 file not found
NEW! MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK. At the fine suggestion of a reader, this goes to the worst, most ANGAR-inducing thing in the game. Because double birds will live forever.
Your inaugural Epic Double Bird: Devin Gardner's "fumble" that was reviewed and confirmed after about three seconds when he looks clearly, obviously down.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Throw it up at the tall guy, FIGHT, defensive implosion, further double-birding at the replay official.]
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Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
And we've put a bunch of last year's stuff on sale.
Here are the photos from Michigan vs. OSU 2013
The lasting image of this game will be Devin Gardner, injured, spent, and devastated, flat on his back after his pass on the potential game-winning two-point conversion found Buckeye instead of Wolverine.
It's a shame, really, as Gardner gave one of great performances in the history of The Game today, leading a Michigan offensive explosion beyond anybody's wildest predictions. Gardner threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns, rushed for 34 yards and another score (above, Upchurch), and did all this despite clearly playing at less than 100%. The trio of running backs combined for 137 yards and another score on 24 carries; Al Borges, the offensive line, and the skill position players all had their best performances in over a month—603 total yards against the 13th-ranked defense in the country.
After Gardner lobbed a two-yard jump ball to Devin Funchess to make the score 42-41, Brady Hoke asked his seniors if they wanted to go for two and the win; Taylor Lewan said after the game that, to a man, the answer was yes. In a game that calls for cliché, they left it all on the field.
The Buckeyes did too, of course. The Michigan defense simply couldn't find a way to stop Braxton Miller (153 yards and three rushing TDs) and Carlos Hyde (226 yards and a score on 27 carries) on the ground; when OSU went to the air, they didn't hit often—Miller finished just 6/15 on the day—but when they did it went big, as Miller's six completions went for 133 yards and two more touchdowns. Missing safety Jarrod Wilson and weakside LB James Ross, not to mention focusing heavily on stopping the run, the defense repeatedly allowed big plays over the middle. By the time the Buckeyes got the ball with five minutes left and the game knotted at 35, the defense looked gassed and played like it, ceding a one-yard scoring plunge by Hyde to cap a six-play, 65-yard drive that featured exclusively runs.
Gardner was masterful in the two-minute drill, finding Funchess, then Drew Dileo twice, then Joe Reynolds, Justice Hayes, and Toussaint to move the Wolverines 82 yards before netting the final two and six points on the lob to Funchess. Michigan tried to free up a receiver on a rub route on the two-point conversion; the Buckeyes had it covered, though, and Gardner's hopeful throw landed in the arms of Tyvis Powell.
Michigan didn't just give Ohio State a fight—quite literally, in a couple instances (above, Fuller)—they played their part in an instant classic. Devin Gardner might've ended the game on his back; I'll remember all the times he got up before that, and what he did while he was standing, above all else.
Let's talk about how cute my dog is. Look at those floppy ears. And how long that tail is for him! And that little button nose! Also Michigan is playing Ohio State today.
The Sponsor: Only 7-5. Only! Admit it: you expect a certain level of quality that is very difficult to achieve, and you are disappointed at less. Where did you get this sense of what constitutes excellence anyway?
Oh, right. That.
Puppy jokes aside, you're here because this still has meaning to you. Wear it on your sleeve, and just on the edge of it too.
The Chaos: Before you enter, please calibrate your expectations appropriately.
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
by Nick RoUMel
Let me just say this about that. Brian’s article “Fickle” of 11/26 was the greatest article of all time.
I read “Fickle.” I nodded with manifest resolve, and knew right then that I had given up on this game. It was that simple. Unlike Brian, I felt no guilt and sold my tickets. Do you know how clean Stub Hub is? Enter the bar code and PayPal give you the money. No muss, no fuss, and crazed OSU fans with Buckeye necklaces will be sitting in section 39, row 80, seats 5-7, singing Hang On Sloopy.
Should I do that, and deprive the Wolverines of that buzz? No. Dammit.
I acknowledge I was too cynical. I needed to talk to a Wolverine. So I caught up with Brandon Williams (DB, ’99-’02, with a pro career through 2008). Brandon is now involved in philanthropic work and is connecting former players and fans through social media, www.gobluetan.com. As always, he was engaging, thoughtful, and positive.
Let’s go back to that buzz. In 2001—Jim “The Little Penguin” Tressel’s first year— Brandon was on Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines. He told me there is nothing like it, entering the Big House, sounding like everyone in the stadium is talking at once—a buzz, a roar. Even at warm-ups, normally 60-70,000 meandering in, for Ohio State there were 100,000 strong cheering like crazy.
Michigan fell short in that 2001 game, 310 days after The Little Penguin’s vow at the OSU/Michigan basketball game that the fans would be “proud” of their Buckeyes in Ann Arbor. But according to Brandon, Coach Carr turned that timeline against Tressel. He created a secretly recorded film showing the Wolverines preparing for battle: day 250, in the weight room; day 144, in a team meeting; hard at work at practice; day 79.
During this preparation, Michigan would not see red. There was a rule, that no one could wear green or red during the football season. Brandon told me, if the Jimmy John’s delivery guy came to the weight room during the season, the players would chase him out—deliveries had to be made to the trainer’s room.
Best of all, in one pre-game practice, as the sun was setting, the team looked at the sky. It was red in the west, blue in the east. Larry Foote exclaimed "there’s more blue than red!" You may think that’s a little corny but Brandon told me, “The whole practice just blew up. Carr loved it.”
He added, “Coach Carr never said anything bad about Tressel. But the buildup for that game was the best ever. We didn’t fully understand how huge it was. Chris Perry told us, the Michigan–Ohio State game is being televised live in Times Square, from start to finish.”
He spoke about the rivalry. “When the game started, the emotions were high, it was a little dirty. But then things settled down. It was hard hitting.
“There’s nothing like it. I’ve played in NFL playoff games, Monday Night Football. But there’s nothing like a Michigan-Ohio State game.
“You have to understand. You’re not just playing for you. You’re playing for all the guys who have played before you. They watch, they come back, and they care. I watch the game every week and ten guys are texting back and forth, calling back and forth. You’re playing for all of us.
“That rivalry, it’s always there. You can play on the same pro team with an Ohio State guy, and you have a working relationship, but come April, you’re betting on the game, and you still hate their school.”
I asked Brandon, given the challenges Michigan has faced this year, what would he tell the fans?
“Relax! A few years ago we had three wins, you know? So relax. I don’t want Coach Hoke to leave. We hear [the internet criticism], and move on. But we don’t forget it.”
Hearken, Wolverine fans. It’s been a tough year. But as Mr. Williams tells me, you throw the records out the window this week. It’s young men playing for pride. And yes, they make me feel guilty for selling my tickets.
I get it, Brandon. I feel Brian’s frustration, but I am a Michigan fan. I see red this week, but I am behind these boys 100%. If you don’t get pissed at being a 17 point dog at home to these stupid evil Buckeyes, then there isn’t a blue bone in your body. It is indeed great to be a Michigan Wolverine.
MICHIGAN 28, OSU 26
by Heiko Yang
I turned on the Arkansas-LSU game last night just in time to see LSU’s center go down with an injury. His replacement was a guy whose name sounded awfully familiar: Ethan Pocic, a true freshman five-star offensive lineman from Illinois who had Michigan high on his list before Michigan said they were done recruiting linemen. Except at that point Michigan wasn’t really done recruiting linemen, so I think a lot of people were peeved that they let him get away. But that’s beside the point.
I watched the next series of plays with an eye on Pocic, wanting to see how a highly touted true freshman interior lineman would perform at a program like LSU, whose offensive line play and coaching isn’t a complete tire fire like we think it is at Michigan.
Pocic got blown up almost immediately. His inexperience cost LSU their running game (RB Jeremy Hill, who had been averaging nearly 10 yards a carry got stuffed repeatedly), pass protection (I think Pocic got smoked for the sack that knocked starting QB Zach Mettenberger out of the game), and another offensive lineman (Hill got tackled near the line of scrimmage and rolled onto the leg of the right tackle). There were a bunch of false starts, too. One guy was all it took to unravel the entire offense. It was a miracle that LSU was able to pull out the win.
As a Michigan fan, all I could think the entire time was, “It’s not his fault!” Offensive linemen are like a fine scotch: if you bring them out before they’re ready, it’s going to burn real bad. Michigan fans have known this since September. Michigan’s coaches have known this since they got to Ann Arbor. That’s why Brady Hoke has been hoarding offensive linemen the last couple recruiting cycles because he saw the roster in 2011 and his reaction was probably something to the effect of “Winter is coming.” And we need scotch.
Well, winter is here, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it but wait it out. It’s worth considering making changes to schemes and the coaching staff, but nothing will make the offensive linemen grow up faster.
Michigan and Ohio State will play The Game today with the Wolverines a multiple-score home underdog (the odds are so lopsided I think there was a prop bet somewhere pitting Michigan's total rush yards against Ohio State's margin of victory). A lot of the stadium will be red, and I won’t even be mad. While the Wolverines have needed some pretty spectacular heroicism just to avoid being 4-7, the Buckeyes have steadily ridden their run game to a 23-, soon to be 24-game winning streak. Honestly, it will take some sort of miracle for Michigan to stay competitive in this game, let alone win.
And I guess that’s really the one nice thing about good, veteran offensive lines: they make miracles unnecessary.
OHIO STATE 40, MICHIGAN 17