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.
Carlos Hyde, human battering ram
First, on behalf of everyone here at MGoBlog, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving; this week is the perfect time to keep in mind all we have in life to be thankful for—and yes, I hope that goes outside of the spectrum of sports, for sanity's sake.
We've covered the X's and O's with Eleven Warriors' Ross Fulton; now it's time to cover the hate, and for that we welcome 11W's Johnny Ginter, a man whose passion for snark nearly equals his love of the Buckeyes. Johnny has been kind enough to answer a few questions about the state of the rivalry, his outlook for this weekend, and even a totally serious query about the OSU basketball team. If you'd like to hear my take on The Game, Johnny and his co-host Michael Citro had me on as the guest for this week's Eleven Dubcast, and you're encouraged to take a listen.
Before we proceed, remember that this is Hate Week, because Johnny certainly does; channel your outrage responsibly. Now, let the hate flow through you...
Because of our weekly Q&As for 11W, I know that you've had to sit through at least most of Michigan's season. First of all, I'm so sorry. This isn't a question. I just want to publicly apologize.
I really appreciate that, because I started this season as a 28 year old male in reasonably good health, and now I'm a diabetic 83 year old man in a coma from eating tainted paste.
With that out of the way, I'd like to hear an outsider's perspective on what's going on in Ann Arbor. What do you think the biggest issue has been to lead Michigan to this point?
The impending return of Sauron to Mordor? Truthfully I think part of the problem is that Michigan as an athletic department has a hard time negotiating college football in 2013. I think a lot of the decisions and choices that the Ohio State athletic department makes are kind of dumb and obvious from time to time, but it's undeniable that the Buckeyes have benefited from an aggressive self-marketing strategy. I don't see the same kind of things coming out of Michigan in terms of promotion that I see from Ohio State. [Ed-Ace: Johnny obviously isn't signed up to any U-M email lists.]
But really if I were to try and pin it down to just one thing, I think you guys are sometimes too patient, which is a nice way to say that you're cool with failure. Remember, Ohio State has a fanbase chomping at the bit to remove a defensive coordinator that has managed a side missing one of its best players, had a totally revamped defensive line at the beginning of the season, started the season with only four returning starters, and is still the 12 ranked defense in the country. That Michigan would even briefly allow the thought of keeping Al Borges to flutter through their minds is hilarious.
If you were running Michigan's program—and no, not intentionally running it into the ground—what would your next move be after this season ends?
Fire Al Borges immediately and bring in an offensive line specialist. Jim Bollman, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach is one of the most genuinely depressing sentences in the English language. His typical practice attire was white socks pulled up to his shins and a big goofy straw hat which reminded me of something someone would wear if they were trying to make a parody of an offensive line coach. It wasn't a great look, and his offensive lines typically underperformed or were just plain bad.
Enter Ed Warinner, and two years later Ohio State boasts possibly the best offensive line in the country (with much less heralded recruits). Michigan is still loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball, but that o-line is a gigantic domino that knocks everything over once it falls down. In a bad way, though.
As a Buckeye fan, what kind of balance would you like to see between Ohio State winning and Michigan being competitive? I imagine the joy of winning The Game has lost some of its luster over the past—oh lord—decade or so.
I was born in 1985, so my formative years were spent sitting angrily in front of the TV, arms crossed and teeth grinding as Michigan beat Cooper over and over and over. And the reason why I highly doubt any of you guys got sick of that is because John H. Cooper assembled some absolutely incredible teams that by all accounts should've won more than two goddamn games during his tenure.
So yes, I want Michigan to be good. I was at the 2006 game. It was an incredible celebration of football, of Woody and Bo, of everything that's fun about this rivalry. I was also at the 2004 game, which was just really, really funny. And ultimately, I want both of those things. I want the titanic matchups and underdog games where the underdog has a legitimate shot at winning, and I want Michigan to be good. The Game means less if one side (you) isn't holding up its end of the bargain on a consistent basis.
Which makes me angry. Which, ironically, makes the game mean more to me. So I have some feelings I need to sort through.
So... how's the basketball team looking this year? This is a completely serious question.
They're... okay? I mean, they're pretty much who we thought they were, minus LaQuinton Ross looking like butt. Defensively it's an excellent team with incredibly athletic guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Shannon Scott, and so on. I actually think the defensive rule changes favor Ohio State because Thad Matta is really adept at getting his teams to play at a high defensive level without fouling. Aaron Craft is still probably the best on the ball defender in the game right now, even with the new foul calling regime.
With that said, without Deshaun Thomas the Buckeyes are predictably struggling on offense. Thomas averaged close to 20 points per game last season, but the next leading scorer on the team was Aaron Craft (right, Upchurch), who was putting up half that. Right now nobody is putting up even 12 points a night for Ohio State, but they do have four guys in double digits per game.
And that's probably how it'll look for most of the season, but I'm cool with it. Thad Matta is really a brilliant player's coach who has never won fewer than 20 games through 13 seasons, and his teams usually struggle with some growing pains early before figuring things out in January or February. I expect that to be the same for '13-'14, and really my only hope is that Matta's back and leg stay manageable and he sticks around for a long, long time.
Okay, okay, I should probably ask for your prediction for this weekend's game. Are there any matchups out there that you see favoring Michigan, and how do you see the game playing out?
There aren't a lot of favorable matchups for Michigan, but if they can scheme to isolate Funchess on a linebacker like Perry or Grant or even a d-lineman dropping back in coverage, that could yield some positive results offensively. That might open up some things for Gardner to get some yards on the ground because there's no way in hell the Ohio State defensive line is giving up anything to Toussaint or Green.
But even if Michigan does manage to capitalize on some mistakes and score some points, you're going to need to score more than 35 to beat Ohio State, because they're going to put up at least that much. And please, don't tell me about Frank Clark and Jake Ryan. Mark Weisman averaged 5.2 yards per carry against you, and Carlos "El Guapo" Hyde is much, much better than Weisman. If Urban Meyer is so inclined he could just pound away with the dude a la 2007 and be done with it.
He won't though. Instead you're probably going to see a lot of the Pistol with Dontre Wilson and Hyde in the same backfield, with some goofy stuff involving the tight ends that you haven't seen all year thrown in. I firmly believe that Meyer has been holding back quite a bit offensively just for this game, and I'm really, really excited to see what he pulls out of his hat.
This will probably be a three quarter game, but as the three and outs start to pile up and as Ohio State begins to get longer and longer touchdown plays, the game will be put increasingly out of reach for the Wolverines.
Is there any part of you that's worried about a 1995-type scenario this weekend?
I'm writing this on Wednesday morning, so no. By Friday night I'll be at Defcon 1, so by then probably yes.
I still firmly believe that Ohio State is going to win, because they're better coached and have the better team. That should be enough for me to rest easy. But it's The Game, baby. Rest and rationality are for the weak.
Thank you to Johnny for not only taking the time to answer these questions, but providing me an enjoyable (seriously) forum each week to dicuss Michigan and interact with the good people at Eleven Warriors—well, at least the ones who don't insist on exclusively using the term 'scUM'.
I hope you're all familiar with Ross Fulton of Eleven Warriors, who does an excellent job of breaking down the X's and O's for Ohio State and their opponents week in and week out. Ross was kind enough to answer a few scheme-centric questions about The Game, and he did so in more detail than I could've possibly asked for—his take on Michigan's offense alone is well worth your time.
Michigan's defense was surprisingly successful against OSU last year, give or take some pounding runs by Carlos Hyde and the bomb to Devin Smith. How do you see the Buckeyes attacking Michigan on Saturday, and do you expect to see any new wrinkles in the offense that we didn't see last year?
First, thanks for the opportunity to collaborate with MGoBlog, a site I have long read and enjoyed.
As to your question, Ohio State was able to gain yards against Michigan last season (the Buckeyes had nearly 400) but Michigan did a really nice job holding the Buckeyes to field goals in the red zone.
The new “wrinkles” you will see Saturday are the primary difference between the Ohio State offense of 2012 and 2013. Last season Braxton Miller was inconsistent as a passer and a decision maker on read/packaged games. As a result, the offense would devolve at times to the Miller and Carlos Hyde run show, even when defenses were cheating slot defenders or safeties against the run.
Fast forward to this year. Miller and Hyde are still Urban Meyer and Tom Herman’s primary weapons. But Ohio State is far more effective at constraining the defense with the screen and pass game. This reflects Miller’s development, as well as the improvement in the wide receiver corps, led by Corey Brown.
Meyer and Herman’s preferred method of operating is coming out in the First Quarter and hitting the edge with screens and packaged hitches to Devin Smith (above), and then taking downfield shots off play action. For instance, one play I expect to see Saturday (and one that will probably get under Michigan fans’ craw) is a deep crossing route off inverted veer. It is very difficult for the play side safety to stay home when they see a pulling guard and the possibility of Miller or Hyde running the football. Also look for Ohio State to use Dontre Wilson as a decoy in the flat to open vertical routes.
Then, once they establish a lead Meyer and Herman like to return to the base run game. Assuming the weather cooperates, I would expect some variation of that formula Saturday.
Are there any personnel matchups when OSU is on offense that particularly delight/concern you?
To me, there is one schematic and one personnel matchup that will be interesting to watch. The first is between Meyer and Greg Mattison in the wide side flat. Against spread teams, Mattison generally walks his Sam linebacker out to the field and plays him in the gray area inside the slot receiver.
Meyer and Herman love attacking the wide side field when a team does this. They will do so not only with wide receiver screens, but also the outside run game. For instance, one method they use is to run jet sweep away from the play side blocking. Miller will read that backside linebacker and if he bites down, Miller gives on the jet sweep. The Buckeyes’ slot receiver simply has to seal the linebacker inside and the Buckeyes can get easy yards, either with Hyde or Wilson.
As a result, playing that role is a lot to ask of any defender, but I was very impressed with how Jake Ryan handled it last fall. But this is a chess match I will be watching.
In terms of personnel, I think that Ohio State has an advantage inside against Michigan’s undersized interior. The strongest part of the Buckeyes as a team is their offensive line. Look for Ohio State to run inside zone and power at the 3-technique bubble.
[Hit THE JUMP to read how Ross thinks OSU will attack Michigan defensively, his thoughts on what plagues the Michigan offense, and his prediction for The Game.]