alternate headline: man does job
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.]
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.]