"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
21 plays. 60 yards. Zero points.
That was Michigan's second-half offensive output, after Denard Robinson averaged over 20 yards per carry and Devin Gardner a hair under ten yards per pass in the first half. The Wolverine defense held Ohio State to two field goals in that same span despite three drives starting in their own territory, but it was for naught in a 26-21 heartbreaker.
It's too easy to pin a game on a coach, but after this game it's tough to figure out who else is to blame—Al Borges's second-half playcalling is the story today. Michigan's running backs, ineffective the entire year even with a healthy Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint, were stymied on three third down attempts in the final 30 minutes. In the end, Vincent Smith mustered just 12 yards on five carries, Thomas Rawls a mere two on his five. That enabled Ohio State to load up against Robinson, still apparently unable to throw the ball, when he entered the game as a quarterback.
There were other problems, of course. Fumbles by Robinson and Gardner prematurely ended drives in the final half; Michigan's last drive finished with a Gardner interception. While the defense put forth a heroic effort late, they were repeatedly burned early by Braxton Miller—who finished with 189 yards on 14-of-18 passing—and had trouble stopping Carlos Hyde (146 yards on 26 carries) up the middle.
This despite prospects looking good early. A 75-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree answered a Hyde score on the opening Buckeye drive. The Wolverines took a 14-10 lead on a goal-line plunge by Gardner. And Michigan's 21-20 halftime edge came courtesy of a spectacular 67-yard scamper by Robinson, who shed simultaneous tackling attempts by Christian Bryant and Travis Howard and broke free from the pack for a vintage Denard touchdown.
But the tides turned on Michigan's opening drive of the third quarter, when Brady Hoke took a timeout after initially sending out the punt team following a zero-yard Rawls run on third-and-three. It was Robinson who took the field at quarterback for fourth down; the blocking broke down inside, leaving him no crease to reach the sticks as Ryan Shazier brought him down for a two-yard loss.
From that point forward, turnovers and questionable playcalls doomed the offense. Two Drew Basil field goals represented the entire scoring output of the second half; that was all the Buckeyes needed to secure their sixth straight home victory against Michigan and an undefeated season, one which ended today thanks to a postseason bad.
Michigan will play on, but it won't be in a BCS bowl. The question before this season was whether Al Borges was the right offensive coordinator for Denard Robinson. After this game, the question might expand, to whether or not he's the right offensive coordinator for this program moving forward.
“Ah. How we doin’?”
“Got a full house today! Wonder why’s that?”
You draw a crowd.
“I’m being Elvis.”
Speaking of a full house … what is it that you call your formation with Denard in the backfield?
“We call it, ‘Denard in the backfield.’ How about the word of the day? We have to take care of that.”
What’s the word of the day? [Chantel Jennings would like to point out that this is not an MGoQuestion.]
“Resolve. Heiko, any technical questions?”
MGo: Uh …
“The finer points of attacking quarters coverage, maybe?”
MGo: Actually, yeah.
“That was stupid. That’s the stupidest thing I could have said. Go ahead.”
MGoQuestion: Virginia Tech’s aggressive quarters coverage made it hard for you to run the quarterback last year. Do you see that as a problem against Ohio State?
“They play totally different than Virginia Tech. Their structure is different defense. Really is. Now they may take a little bit of the same mentality, but from an X and O perspective, it’s a different.”
MGoFollowup: But in terms of having aggressive opposing safeties, does that make you hesitant to run the QB at all?
“Nope. Nope. Nooo.”
How many possibilities can there be having both Denard and Devin on the field?
“I don’t know.”
Legitimately you don’t know? Or do you just not want to answer?
“I don’t want to answer.”
“Hi guys. What’s up. Heiko, what’s going on?”
MGo: Not much. Just hangin' out.
“It’s really good to see you.”
MGo: It’s good to see you, too.
“I’m not just saying that.”
MGoBeaming: Really? Aw.
“Yeah, I kind of am.”
What’s the word of the day?
“What’s the word of the day? I had one. If you wouldn’t have asked me, I would have come up with it.”
“No. That was coming up somewhere, but … let me think. I’ll get back to you on that, okay?”
Can you define Denard?
“Can I define Denard? Fast. That’s the first word that comes into my mind. Like those word associations that you do ... Denard Robinson, fast!”
“Devin Gardner? Funny. Pretty funny guy.”
In all seriousness, Denard’s legacy? Can you discuss?
“Well, I can honestly say he is the most electric player that I have ever coached. That would be the first thing that comes to mind. And a joy to coach, I might add. Comes with energy every day. Wants to learn. Tough. Competitive. All those things. His demeanor might lead you to believe that’s not true, but he’s highly competitive.”
“There’s Heiko. What’s up? … Where’s your glasses?”
I left them in Minnesota.
“They’re cerebral. That’s why Heiko wears his.”
“That’s why I wear mine. Put glasses on and makes you look smarter. I’m just a dumb guy with glasses. What’s up? I’m sure you guys don’t have any questions, so.”
Did you vote today?
“Of course I voted! That’s a ridiculous question. I won’t go into it, but I am very politically minded, okay.”
When did you know Denard wasn’t going to play?
“Kind of right up until we played, because we kind of nursed him along all week just to see how he’s doing, so we’re going to give him a chance to take it all the way to game time. He deserved that. The team deserved that.”
Formation notes: Much of the game was spent with Michigan in 2WR looks, leading to a lot of 4-3's like this with the linebackers shifted over the slot and a cornerback overhanging. When the receivers were split instead of twinned Michigan either got a straight up 4-3 even with two deep safeties or a shifted 4-4 look.
When Michigan spread the field, Nebraska defenders would go with them. Against three wide looks you got this:
And against four wide looks it was usually this:
Occasionally a safety would screw down but there weren't enough snaps with Denard on the field and M in a true spread to test it. Interestingly enough, I saw both Oregon and Arizona run double stacks last weekend like Borges does, except when they ran double stacks those stacks were damn near the edge of the field.
Substitution notes: Nothing new except for the obvious switch at QB. Rawls still can't get a snap. Funchess is playing all over the field, but rarely as an in-line TE.
[After the jump: it's okay and then DOOOOM.]
You had to be happy with how you were moving the ball in the first quarter until you got into the red zone …
“Yeah. We got in sync pretty good. We had three drives of ten plays or more. Mix of run and pass was pretty good. I felt like we were starting to really get into sync and it was unfortunate. We’re not doing a good job of finishing drives. That’s our main focus for this week, particularly in the red area. This is not the first time it’s happened.”
Seemed like some plays were there to be made in the red zone, though.
“Yeah. There were some opportunities. There’s some opportunities, but it’s -- we have to run the ball better in the red area, too. I have just found in my experience as a coordinator that the best red zone years we had are the years we were able to rush the football for a touchdown probably about 60% of the time or better. That’ll really improve. It gets increasingly more difficult to throw it down there, obviously, because of the condensed field.”