Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
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.
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
FORMATION NOTES: Northwestern stuck to a 4-3 virtually the entire game, with pretty predictable rules as to how they would line up.
When Michigan aligned its strength to the short side of the field and had twins, NW would slide the LBs and play an even front. They would slide the LBs to the twins and shift their line to the strength of the formation when M aligned with their strength to the field.
When Michigan presented Ace, they would play a 4-3 under.
The primary exception to this was the redzone, where Northwestern played their safeties as extra LBs.
Five yards off the LOS and coming on the snap is why those two Derrick Green carries from around the ten ended up losing yards. The first one was actually blocked quite well.
Note that the way NW aligned consistently invited the bubble fake run game, as their corners played off and the slot LB had to respect the bubble. With a safety over the top those two guys removed three players from the box and left Michigan with seven on seven blocking opportunities without having to use the threat of Gardner's legs. It will still work if teams play Michigan like this; if they don't Michigan will have to find something else.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: QB, WR, and the OL were all as you would expect. Dileo seemed to return full strength in this one and this meant Jackson was removed. Paskorz got some early PT but it was Williams most of the way as inline blocky guy. The line remained Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield save for some goal line plays on which Kalis game in at RG and weird stuff happened otherwise, like wing TE Taylor Lewan.
Running back was of course an overhaul, with Derrick Green getting the bulk of the work, De'Veon Smith becoming a 30% second, and Justice Hayes acting as a third down back sometimes. Joe Kerridge also got a few snaps as a running back in the shotgun on passes.
[After THE JUMP: wherein we seem relatively happy with nine points in regulation.]
SITE NOTE: due to this taking longer than I wanted it to and triple OT, UFR will be in the evening today.
Devin Gardner threw many passes that hit Northwestern defenders on Saturday, a good number of them I CAN'T BELIEVE HE DROPPED THAT interceptions. There were moments when I was going over the game where it seemed like it wasn't really all that bad because of thing X or thing Y, and then moments where it was very, very bad. So I thought I'd pull this out of a larger UFR discussion and try to evaluate just what happened on the various passes on which Gardner's throws hit Northwestern players.
Normally I wouldn't put batted passes in here, but there were a few incidents where batted passes were the only thing separating Northwestern from yet another pass that hit them in the hands and was inexplicably dropped, so they are also added.
Category #1: Understandable Items
#1: Gardner gets a heavy rush due to a bad blitz pickup, escapes it, and tries to throw late to a covered Devin Funchess; ball gets batted down at the line.
That's probably a PBU at worst, and he's under heavy duress.
#2: Michigan botches a freeze play when Northwestern jumps but does not cross the line. Gardner thinks he's got a free play and tries a back shoulder fade to Gallon that could be farther outside; it's a nice play by a DB who seems totally bailed out to come back to the ball and a poor one by Gallon not to break this off sooner once he perceives the DB is way over the top. The DB actually reads this obvious back shoulder opportunity before he does; he should be breaking back so that he gets to the ball before the DB.
#3: Third down rollout on the next play sees no one open. Gardner tries to fit it in to Dileo anyway, and leaves it a little inside of where it should be. Gardner's about to be hammered and goes for it.
This wasn't really close to an INT and you might as well try for the first down.
Category #2: Death-Defying Really Bad Ideas
#1: The first incident of this variety happens three minutes into the second quarter. Gardner drops back, pump-fakes a slant to Funchess, and then throws it.
He does get pressure from another crappy slide protection on which Lewan ignores a DE, and unless Gallon is open deeper to the outside the best case scenario here is a sack if he does not throw the ball. That was the move.
#2: Gardner bobbles a snap on third and three and comes up firing a wheel route that NW jumps and is thinking pick six on; they blitzed and left Jake Butt screamingly wide open.
The snap bobble takes Gardner's eyes off the defense and contributes here. Still: turrible.
#3: Michigan fortunate to have a slant batted down at the line as Northwestern undercuts whatever Gardner is looking at, in fact with two guys in Butt's case.
Gardner had Gallon as an option on the other side of the field.
[After the JUMP: another category, and evaluation.]
Despite watching this approximately 457 times, I'm still in utter disbelief that this worked. Things required to have this happen:
- Jeremy Gallon immediately pitching the ball to an official.
- That official rugby-tossing the ball to the umpire.
- The umpire placing the ball down and getting the hell out of the way.
- FIRE DRILL LINE CHANGE.
- Drew Dileo, barely in the frame when the camera zooms out, realizing after a split-second hesitation that he must sprint to the right spot and slide into position.
- Jareth Glanda snapping the ball at the last possible moment so the line doesn't draw a flag.
- Brendan Gibbons marking off his steps at warp speed, then drilling a 44-yarder despite still moving backwards at the snap (which is legal, as covered in today's mailbag).
100% complete insanity, indeed.
If you're wondering about the identity of the guy in the black jacket running around like a manic behind the goalposts, that's Greg Dooley of MVictors. Livin' the dream, Greg.
[The rest of the Northwestern game in GIFS after THE JUMP, including Brady Hoke RAWKING OUT, Devin Gardner sacrificing life and rib, Derrick Green truck stick, and more angles of the miraculous field goal.]
11/16/2013 – Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT) – 7-3, 3-3 Big Ten
In the long history of clock-running fire-drill field goal attempts there has been only pain and misery. When the game's about to end and you're trying to fling six guys on the field and take six off and align your kicker such that he can calmly take two steps and boot, you're gonna die.
Everyone knows this. Pac-12 refs know it so well that they don't even bother with last second field goals anymore as long as the defense squats on the ball like a hobo over a purloined chicken. Northwestern's student section knew it and was counting the clock down to their first Big Ten victory.
That's something I missed live and had to pick up on replay because I was dumbly staring at a horde of people exiting, a horde of people entering, focused on a line that I knew for a fact would not be set. So I also missed Drew Dileo sliding into his holder spot and recovering an instant before Glanda snapped it to him, possibly tipped off to exactly when he needed to get the ball off, set or not, by the numbers ringing out from the students.
Michigan's not set, in all probability, but there's no flag and Dileo's recovered from his sprawl and Gibbons ceases moving backwards, which oh by the way he is at the snap. Moving backwards. This is just an indicator of the doom to come—catch, placement, kick, overtime, whereupon it was ordained by fate that Michigan would pull this game out of their butt. Like it was nothing. Like it was always going to happen like that.
Because This Is Michigan, and That Is Northwestern.
The time for turning up your nose at any win, no matter how alarming, is past. Michigan could beat Akron on a triple reverse Hail Mary that Akron intercepts and fumbles out of their own endzone for a safety and it would be time to wave the flag and say hurrah.
So let us duly wave the flag. It is good to see the team happy. In the aftermath, various players tweeted out "Go team," each instance more delightful than the last, and then Taylor Lewan got piled on for following the crowd. Kyle Bosch did this.
— Kyle Bosch (@Kyle_Bosch65) November 17, 2013
And this time, Gardner destroyed the jumbled heap of pointy bits and gristle he calls a rib cage for a purpose. That purpose is looking an awful lot like not being in Detroit for a bowl game—SORRY, right, waving the flag.
While unit X's shocking incompetence is a callback to the Rodriguez days, so is feeling good for the put-upon players after a narrow win against a bad team. Even if I am in a emotion deprivation chamber for the rest of the year for my safety and that of people around me, the way you get out of those is by having good things happen, and that was a good thing.
It was also an obvious thing. My game previews have always been made in a spirit that says predicting things is dumb (thus the weird scores), but damn if this wasn't easy to call:
Michigan wins! On some bulllllllllshit that causes Northwestern fans to self-immolate.
Sippin' On Purple's Rodger Sherman has questionable taste in hats
This is what Northwestern does. Sometimes it's in the service of preventing a Big Ten championship game appearance, like it was last year; sometimes it's keeping you winless in that Big Ten. Either way, you could feel both sides of that stadium preparing to lose as Michigan embarked on the dread two minute drill. This one ended in chaos and fiasco, as they all do, but at the end Michigan managed to pull itself together and execute. Northwestern's bad mojo still trumps all.
That's not going to lead anywhere important—this season ends with an abattoir named Braxton Miller. In a landscape as bleak as the weather on Saturday, though, any ray of light is a welcome one. Let us forget about our worries and stare blankly into the butt of next week, ignoring what that hammering sound ahead might mean. It's probably meant for some other cow. Yeah. Otherwise I would not be so calm and tranquil.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. This is a tough one because while the defense held Northwestern to nine points in regulation, nobody really stood out as the single best guy on that unit. I think we will go with James Ross, though; Ross had an important sack and nine solo tackles amongst 13 total; his speed and ability to get to the right place was a major factor in Michigan suppressing Northwestern's option game.
Honorable mention: Jeremy Gallon had ten catches. Brendan Gibbons was perfect on the day. (Matt Wile missed the 51-yarder.) Wile dropped punt after punt inside the 20 and had a 50-yarder. Collectively, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith had a stat line that looked like an actual running back: 27 carries for 120 yards.
Epic Double Point Standings.
2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana)
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), 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. Michigan executes the first and only successful clock-running end of game field goal fire drill in the history of football. Go team!
Honorable mention: Jibreel Black sacks Siemian to put Northwestern in a deep hole in the third OT, Jake Butt's one-hand stab gives Michigan a torchclown, Joe Reynolds flags down a punt at the one, subsequent Northwestern punt goes out at the ten, Derrick Green runs through a guy for a 20-yarder, Gardner leads with his ribs into the endzone.
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.
[AFTER THE JUMP: decisions, waggles, I hate Illinois rollouts, a brilliant GIF, and physics.]