Michigan 45, SMU 20

Michigan 45, SMU 20 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 15th, 2018 at 9:07 PM

[Upchurch]

Sometimes you sail to a 25-point win, sometimes you grind one out. Saturday’s contest, absent the hey-hand-me-that-roster period that most expected, did little to reveal the depths of the depth chart. It did, however, reveal an increasingly efficient passing game and little else.

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Michigan 49, Western Michigan 3

Michigan 49, Western Michigan 3 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 8th, 2018 at 5:00 PM

[Fuller]

Michigan’s defense was suffocating. Michigan’s offense was a breath of fresh air. Combine that with a special teams unit that blocked a punt and almost blocked a field goal that would make Southerners condescendingly mutter “bless your heart,” and the worst thing that happened at Michigan Stadium today was the press box nearly failing to have a halftime spread. Fear not, though, as the food was delivered in time for your author to return to his seat just as the third quarter began. It was just that kind of day.

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Notre Dame 24, Michigan 17

Notre Dame 24, Michigan 17 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 2nd, 2018 at 12:41 AM

[Barron]

An inauspicious start to the night gave way to a brief glimmer of hope. It was dim, sure, and it felt more like a mirage than a possible oasis, but it was there. This is Michigan-Notre Dame, after all, and there seemed to be some rule of the natural world that pushed close games in this series Michigan’s way. And then, on a play prior to which the stadium scoreboard had to pipe in some rawk music and remind fans to, in glittering all-caps, “GET LOUD,” hope died. Shea Patterson avoided pressure for as long as he could but encountered a group of two rushers coming free from the left side. The ball hit the turf, Te’Von Coney recovered, and the stadium whose volume hadn’t risen above a din in hours shook the press box.

That Michigan was even in the game late in the fourth quarter was a surprise give the way Notre Dame’s first two drives went. Notre Dame’s seemingly shaky quarterback situation was solved within three plays, as Brandon Wimbush found Chase Claypool for 16 yards on 3rd-and-10 and followed that with a 28-yard bomb to Miles Boykin, who was held by Lavert Hill. A facemask by Tyree Kinnel helped move Notre Dame from the 26-yard line to the 13, where Jafar Armstrong gashed Michigan’s defense for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Notre Dame started on their own four-yard line after a Higdon-powered Michigan drive stalled. They again converted on third-and-long, with Wimbush dropping a 26-yard dime to Alize Mack that resulted in 15 extra yards after Josh Metellus was called, and subsequently ejected, for targeting. Wimbush converted ND’s next third down with his feet, rushing for seven yards on 3rd-and-6. He heaved up a 43-yard bomb to the end zone for 5’10” Chris Finke on the next play, who leapt over Metellus’ replacement, 6’2” Brad Hawkins. Michigan was down two scores with three minutes left in the first quarter and the defense, the unit with so many exclamation marks and so few question marks, looked as out of sorts as they have in two years.

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[Fuller]

The defense’s problems lasted one more drive. Michigan allowed Notre Dame to march from their own 25-yard line to Michigan’s 45 when a holding penalty on Josh Ross helped Notre Dame convert on 3rd-and-3. Notre Dame then drove to Michigan’s nine-yard line when Chase Winovich sacked Wimbush on first down, pushing ND back to Michigan’s 17 on second-and-goal. Notre Dame picked up nine yards on a screen before getting a fresh set of downs when, on third-and-goal, Wimbush’s incomplete pass to Miles Boykin was erased by a Chase Winovich late hit. Notre Dame’s drive chart after that, however, looked like what we’ve come to expect from a Don Brown defense: punt, interception, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt.

Michigan’s offensive drive chart, much to the consternation of the fan base, looked familiar, particularly in the second half: turnover on downs, turnover on downs, punt, interception, turnover on downs, touchdown, fumble. Even so, there were bright spots. Shea Patterson evaded a deluge of Notre Dame defensive linemen play after play and looked comfortable making plays outside of the pocket. Considering the pass protection, this is as vital a characteristic as can be found on this year’s team. Thankfully for Michigan, Dylan McCaffrey seems similarly talented in this area. The redshirt freshman QB was elevated to the no. 2 spot after Brandon Peters tweaked his knee in practice this week and looked good in relief of an injured Patterson (who later re-entered the game). McCaffrey entered the game early in the fourth quarter and moved Michigan from their four-yard line to Notre Dame’s 44 before pressure forced him out of the pocket on fourth down; he tried to find Karan Higdon downfield but the pass fell incomplete.

Higdon had a good game otherwise, regularly making good first cuts to eek out a few extra yards. The receiving corps was effective, snagging everything within reason Patterson and McCaffrey threw their way. Nico Collins had just three catches, though one was a 52-yard Patterson bomb on a post that breathed new life into Michigan’s opening drive of the second half; the first play of the half ended with a delay of game call on the offense, and the long reception was a one-play ticket to field goal territory (which UM botched, with a bad hold turning a likely three points into a Will Hart rush for –11 yards).

Questions abound, the most pressing of which are the result of another underwhelming performance from the offensive line. Michigan encountered a quality defensive line and made them look like a squad of four Khalil Mack clones; pass protection was less protection and more improvisation. Michigan gets a chance to work things out on the fly next weekend, when they return home to face a Western Michigan team that picked up just one sack against Syracuse.

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South Carolina 26, Michigan 19

South Carolina 26, Michigan 19 Comment Count

Ace January 1st, 2018 at 4:31 PM


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

New year, same Michigan.

In one of the uglier games of an aesthetically unpleasant season, the Wolverines never managed to cobble together a coherent offense, and five-second half turnovers beget 23 unanswered points for South Carolina.

Quarterback Brandon Peters, playing behind a line down three starters by halftime, never looked comfortable. Factoring in two sacks, Peters averaged only 3.7 yards per dropback and missed a number of throws, including two late interceptions to seal the loss. Michigan fared little better on the ground, gaining all of 2.9 yards per carry.

While the Jim Harbaugh takes will reach a level of scorching usually reserved for large celestial bodies, it's fair to criticize the playcalling, which didn't do much to take the pressure off Peters or Don Brown's futilely amazing defense. No single call was responsible for the loss, but the third-and-short handoff to tight end Sean McKeon, fumbled for a South Carolina recovery, defied explanation until Harbaugh, taking responsibility, said after the game that Michigan had the wrong personnel on the field.


[Campredon]

That play was just one in a series of mistakes that turned a 19-3 second-half lead into a 26-19 loss. Karan Higdon fumbled inside the South Carolina five-yard line with the Wolverines leading 16-3 and poised to blow the game wide open. After Michigan added a field goal and SC responded their first touchdown drive, McKeon's fumble gave the Gamecocks the ball on the M 21; they needed one play to score again, with Jake Bentley's pass to Bryan Edwards cutting the lead to 19-16.

Michigan's ensuing drive went nowhere, and the defense—as we've seen too many times this year—cracked under the pressure of supporting an inept offense. Bentley improbably converted a third-and-17 on a jump ball to tight end Hayden Hurst; three plays later, Shi Smith beat Tyree Kinnel clean to the pylon for a 53-yard score.

The comedy of errors continued unabated. After driving Michigan 75 yards in seven plays, Peters committed a cardinal sin of quarterbacking, throwing under pressure across his body to get intercepted in the end zone. When the defense held, SC's punt clanged off Donovan Peoples-Jones's facemask, setting up the Gamecocks with the ball in the red zone, where they'd get a critical field goal to take a two-possession advantage.

Down to one timeout in the waning minutes, Harbaugh decided to go for it on fourth-and-ten deep in his own territory, but Peters's deep shot to Kekoa Crawford wasn't anywhere close to a completion. The defense gave Michigan one last chance, pushing SC back to force a missed field goal. Another interception by Peters, forcing it to a well-covered Crawford, ended it.

Fair or not, this will be a long offseason. The mitigating factors, or excuses, or whatever you care to call them, go away in 2018, when the program will be loaded with talent recruited by Harbaugh. They'll certainly look better than this. They'd better look a whole lot better.

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Ohio State 31, Michigan 20

Ohio State 31, Michigan 20 Comment Count

Ace November 25th, 2017 at 4:25 PM


[Patrick Barron]

Michigan did not lack opportunity, or talent, or coaching. They just lacked a quarterback.

The Wolverines jumped out to a 14-0 lead, held Ohio State to negative-six yards in the first quarter, got 5.5 yards per carry out of their running backs, and had receivers running wide open through the Buckeye secondary all afternoon. The defense forced JT Barrett to be a one-dimensional runner, kept OSU's star quarterback under constant pressure, and eventually knocked him out of the game with an apparent knee injury.

With Brandon Peters and Wilton Speight watching in street clothes, however, John O'Korn missed far too may of those open receivers. When including sacks, O'Korn averaged only 4.1 yards per dropback. His only turnover came at the worst possible time. With 2:47 on the clock and Michigan down four points after a missed Buckeye field goal, Kekoa Crawford settled down underneath OSU's safeties for what could've been a significant first down. O'Korn read the play differently and chucked a deep ball directly to OSU's Jordan Fuller.

"It was an option route," said O'Korn. "[Crawford] did the right thing. It's all on me."


[Eric Upchurch]

There were plenty more reasons the Wolverines lost. The second quarter featured a momentous change in fortune when Josh Metellus let an easy inteception fall through his hands; two plays later, JT Barrett—with, perhaps, an assist from whatever official was in charge of watching Mo Hurst—scrambled 21 yards to make it 14-7.

Michigan's ensuing drive ended with a 23-yard change in field position after an illegal formation penalty negated their first attempt at a punt. KJ Hill returned the next one to midfield—again, with a potential penalty overlooked—and Barrett needed only three plays to tie the game on a 25-yard pass to Marcus Baugh.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, though Ohio State took a one-point edge thanks to a blocked extra point. That loomed large when Sean Nuernberger hit a 44-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. It loomed less large when O'Korn threw the interception.

With an average quarterback performance, Michigan wins this game. The gameplan couldn't have reasonably been better; any criticism of Harbaugh or the coaching staff about this game can be mocked with impunity. When it came down to it, Harbaugh couldn't throw the ball for his quarterback, and that proved to be the difference.

"The hardest part for me is you come here to win this game for the senior class and we couldn't do it," O'Korn said with tears in his eyes, before again putting the blame on himself. "It's the worst feeling in the world."

Better days are ahead. This one's still going to sting for a while.

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Michigan 33, Minnesota 10

Michigan 33, Minnesota 10 Comment Count

Adam Schnepp November 5th, 2017 at 1:53 AM

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[Fuller]

For the second time this season they turned on the lights at Michigan Stadium, and for the second time this season nature showed its unabashed disapproval. Unlike last month, though, Michigan avoided throwing caution to the wind and, for the most part, avoided throwing at all. Michigan’s running game put up 371 yards, a performance Michigan fans haven’t seen the likes of since…well, I’d probably have to ask the people I saw in front of the stadium with commemorative Rose Bowl canvas tote bags.

The ominous been-here-before feeling that hung over the stadium lasted three plays. Demry Croft hit slot receiver Phillip Howard for 25 yards on a busted Josh Metellus coverage on 3rd-and-7; they then rushed for no gain and passed for eight before Maurice Hurst tipped a Croft pass and nearly intercepted it himself, forcing Minnesota to punt.

Brandon Peters got his first career start for the Wolverines and, on their first play from scrimmage, hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for an easy eight yards. From there Karan Higdon carried for 47, a Khalid Hill dive converted a 3rd-and-1, and Peters hit Sean McKeon on a throwback screen for 20 yards and a touchdown. The drive accounted for 32 of Peters’ 56 passing yards on the night, including his lone touchdown. Michigan was largely able to shelve the passing game before the midpoint of the first quarter.

Minnesota responded with a well-executed drive, first hitting Howard—who was again uncovered in the slot—for 16 before calling nine consecutive rushes, including a 10-yard toss to Rodney Smith that Brandon Watson closed hard on but was unable to keep out of the end zone.

Two plays later, Karan Higdon needed one cut and a nice seal of the edge from Khalid Hill to go 77 yards for a score. The ominous feeling had lifted, replaced by an offense averaging 18.3 yards per play.

By the midpoint in the second quarter, Don Brown had made his adjustments, Khaleke Hudson had already racked up seven tackles, and Chris Evans had started to trade long runs with Higdon. Evans put up back-to-back runs of 18 and 60 yards to put Michigan up 20-7, and Michigan finished the half with 266 yards on the ground; Higdon had 163 on nine carries, while Evans had 111 on six.

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[Upchurch]

Michigan came out flat after halftime, going three-and-out on their first two drives of the third quarter. Minnesota took advantage of a short field and a couple of successful runs from their backs to creep into Michigan territory. Croft then dropped back to pass on 2nd-and-10. Hudson went over a cut block and lived up to his “Hitman” twitter handle, ripping down Croft’s arm and forcing a fumble that was recovered by Chase Winovich. The backs alternated carries again, Peters never had to look off his first read in Peoples-Jones to get 10 yards on a dig on 3rd-and-6, and Higdon then twisted his way into the end zone from five yards out. Michigan’s score off the turnover put them up 27-7 and essentially ensured that the Little Brown Jug would stay safely in Ann Arbor, spared from having to endure another Stanley Cup-esque tour of the land of 10,000 lakes.

The rest of the game played out in uniform fashion for Michigan. Don Brown’s unit was no longer surprised by Minnesota’s sweep action, while the offensive line continued to open holes for the running backs. Cesar Ruiz stepped in for the injured Mike Onwenu and showed that he could pull and target well in the run game in his first career start; he was yanked from the game after a pass-pro mishap resulted in a sack of Brandon Peters. The rest of the line had similar difficulties with Minnesota’s stunts, but they more than made up for it with their ability to gap-block; counters, power, and dives were enough to put Minnesota away.

The most eventful bit of the second half came at the end of the third quarter, when a Minnesota player appeared to punch a Michigan player after the play. Minnesota’s Donnell Greene was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and tossed from the game, as was Josh Metellus. Metellus acquired his penalty for reasons that remain unclear; asked what explanation the referees provided, Harbaugh said “it really didn’t have a lot of logic to it” but that it involved there being a scrum and Metellus walking toward it; he followed that with a low “womp, womp.”

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[Upchurch]

Michigan’s defense, led by Khaleke Hudson’s 6.5 TFLs and 2 sacks, looked like it usually does: excellent 90% of the time, in need of adjustment 5% of the time, and cursed in coverage 5% of the time. The story tonight, though, was Michigan’s offense emphatically demonstrating that they, too, have an identity, a new usual.

“Looked up at one point and the statistics looked like we were Air Force. Thought we were Air Force the way we were running the ball,” Harbaugh said. And poor damn Don Brown thought he was done with them weeks ago.

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Michigan 35, Rutgers 14

Michigan 35, Rutgers 14 Comment Count

Ace October 28th, 2017 at 3:57 PM


The first of many touchdowns, one hopes. [Patrick Barron]

Welcome to the future.

After four drives for each team, Michigan found itself deadlocked at seven with lowly Rutgers in front of a listless homecoming crowd. Embattled quarterback John O'Korn had completed 3/6 passes for 13 yards with an interception and two dropped snaps. On what turned out to be his final snap of the afternoon, he passed up multiple open receivers to roll out of a clean pocket and throw in the direction of a very well-covered Donovan Peoples-Jones.

When the defense booted Rutgers off the field with 7:01 to play in the first half, ballyhooed redshirt freshman Brandon Peters entered in O'Korn's stead.

"They just told me to get warmed up," said Peters. "When we got the ball I was just standing there next to Harbaugh and he said let's go, you're in."

The crowd instantly came to life. So did the offense. Two Karan Higdon runs picked up 20 yards to open the drive, then Peters got going, connecting on passes to Ty Wheatley Jr., Henry Poggi, and Nico Collins for first downs before Higdon capped the drive with a ten-yard touchdown.

"I wasn't that nervous," said Peters. "Honestly it was a great opportunity to get out there. I was more excited and confident than nervous."

Peters didn't seem nervous. When Michigan got the ball at midfield with 1:49 to go in the half, he marched the team right into the red zone. He had a freshman moment, nearly throwing an interception on a slant to Grant Perry, but that didn't rattle him one bit. On the very next snap, he tossed a near-perfect* lob to Chris Evans on a wheel route for a 20-yard score. With one change in personnel, Michigan went being in a dogfight at home against Rutgers to blowing them out.

"I saw man coverage, one-on-one with Chris," said Peters. "I wanted to give him a chance to make a play and he made a great play on the ball."


The wheel route remains undefeated. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan had already made needed improvements elsewhere, and the insertion of Peters served to accentuate them. The offensive line had been opening holes in the running game, which featured a diverse array of powers, counters, outside zones, and crack sweeps. With opposition safeties finally forced to respect the pass, the backs found ample room to run. Higdon (158 yards on 18 carries) and Ty Isaac (109 on 14) both cracked the century mark; Michigan averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

The pass protection also looked vastly improved. O'Korn and Peters both consistently operated out of clean pockets; Peters did a better job of standing in and delivering. Michigan didn't take a sack.

Most importantly, Peters continued dealing. He finished 10/14 for 124 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. He didn't lock on to a favorite target; ten different receivers caught passes for the Wolverines today. While Peters's stat line may not blow anyone away, he made it obvious he's the best option to run this team right now. His coach agreed.

"He really aquitted himself well," said Jim Harbaugh. "Moved the football team. Played very, very well. He did a lot. From the first time he went in there, just feeling the deep zone, feeling the linebackers drop, taking that extra half second to take a breath, take a checkdown. it was good ball. It was good."

Harbaugh probably didn't need to declare Peters the starter for next week's game against Minnesota, but he did so anyway.


Mo Hurst spearheaded another dominant defensive performance. [Campredon]

The defense needed no such fixing. Outside of a long Janarion Grant touchdown out of the wildcat and one drive in which Rutgers QB Giovanni Rescigno uncharacteristically connected on a couple NFL-level throws, they effectively held the Scarlet Knights to nothing. Rescigno dropped back to pass 21 times; he threw for 101 and took five sacks. Rutgers's pair of running backs combined for a mere 45 yards on 18 carries. Rutgers simply couldn't block Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich, and freshman DT Aubrey Solomon didn't look out of place on that line while getting the most extended playing time of his young career.

Higdon opened the fourth quarter with a 49-yard touchdown jaunt on a perfectly blocked power play to put Michigan up 35-14. A game that had already flown by didn't take long to wrap up from there. Rutgers wanted to get home. Michigan, one would like to think, was champing at the bit to get the Peters Era underway in earnest when he gets his first career start under the lights against Minnesota.

"It was time," said Harbaugh.

*Nitpickers will note it was a little short. Most Michigan fans, however, saw the skies part and heard angels sing.

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Penn State 42, Michigan 13

Penn State 42, Michigan 13 Comment Count

Ace October 22nd, 2017 at 12:03 AM


A matchup problem. [Patrick Barron]

Michigan has weaknesses that playoff teams lack. Tonight, those weaknesses were brutally exposed by a Penn State squad that sure looked like a playoff team themselves.

This game looked all but over in the opening five minutes. On the second play from scrimmage, future Heisman winner Saquon Barkley shifted over to quarterback, ran a read option with quarterback Trace McSorley acting as the running back, and gutted Michigan for a 69-yard touchdown. The Wolverines, on the other hand, went backwards on their opening possession, then watched as Barkley finished off a four-play, 78-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown off a speed option pitch. Michigan, again, had negative yardage on the following drive.

A miscommunication between McSorley and tight end Mike Gesicki resulted in a David Long interception that briefly gave the Wolverines new life. After marching down to the PSU three, it took four cracks for Karan Higdon to finally break the plane. Quinn Nordin, getting booed by a crowd that never forgets a slight, missed the extra point. Michigan's counterpunch brought the defense to life; Khaleke Hudson nearly picked off a screen pass in the end zone.

Also a matchup problem. [Eric Upchurch]

The teams traded punts until a flurry of action at the end of the half. First, an unlikely connection from John O'Korn to Kekoa Crawford set up a six-yard Ty Isaac touchdown to bring Michigan within a point. Then McSorley threw Penn State down the field in the blink of an eye before finishing the drive on a three-yard keeper.

While the Wolverines went into the half down only 21-13, the numbers were foreboding. PSU amassed 302 total yards in the first half, more than Michigan had allowed in a full game this season. The safeties, steady to this point, were exploited in space by Barkley and McSorley. The offense mustered only 141 yards on five fewer plays, still hampered by poor blocking and a lack of trust in the passing game.

Given all that, it probably shouldn't have surprised too many people when Penn State blew the game wide open in the second half. Issues new and old appeared on PSU's first possession of the half. Tyree Kinnel got dusted one-on-one by DaeSean Hamilton on a slant for 26 yards; Barkley dropped a big gain after easily beating Mike McCray on a wheel route; McSorley seemingly juked half the defense to find the end zone on a beautifully designed inverted veer that had Barkley motion before the snap, drawing much of the defense's attention. Just like that, PSU took a commanding 28-13 lead.


Once again, John O'Korn couldn't generate much in the passing game. [Upchurch]

From then on, it was a merciless beating. On offense, O'Korn was improved from last week's woeful outing but still only managed 5.9 yards per attempt. Any hopes of a comeback were dashed when cornerback Christian Campbell beat Karan Higdon around the edge and ripped the ball away from O'Korn. They were really dashed when Barkley toasted McCray in man coverage for a juggling 48-yard touchdown two plays later; McCray had no hope of keeping pace, yet the normally unassailable Don Brown kept allowing that matchup to play out. 

It was academic from there. McSorley added another rushing touchdown with 7:53 to play. Michigan's final possession ended in appropriately inept fashion. Facing fourth-and-nine, the coaches pulled right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beattly, who allowed consistent pressure, to insert Nolan Ulizio as an apparent pass-protection specialist. Before they could snap the ball, O'Korn took a delay of game. After the penalty, redshirt freshman backup Shaka Toney ran right around Mason Cole to sack O'Korn for the coup de gras.

Michigan can only fix so much this season. With the schedule letting up considerably over the next few week, they're likely to try some new patches, potentially including one fans have wanted for weeks. Quarterback Brandon Peters was warming up on the sideline before O'Korn ultimately took the field for M's last drive. Given how that drive played out, that was probably for the best. Now that the conference title is essentially out of reach and a top-ten defense isn't facing M's O-line, it's time to see what Peters has got. While that won't solve everything, it could be the spark this offense desperately needs.

Many of tonight's other issues will be taken care of for this year, at least, by not having to face Joe Moorhead and this Nittany Lions offense again.

They want Bama. They can have them.

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Michigan State 14, Michigan 10

Michigan State 14, Michigan 10 Comment Count

Ace October 7th, 2017 at 11:53 PM


The final play. [Bryan Fuller]

Death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.

Michigan State's offense didn't look like it belonged in the same league as Michigan's defense, which forced eight three-and-outs, added a turnover on downs, and didn't allow a point after the 8:07 mark of the second quarter. By those numbers, you'd think the Wolverines would've won this game in a blowout.

But the offense, well, it all went wrong with the offense. They turned the ball over five times: a Ty Isaac fumble that killed any momentum from a promising start, a Sean McKeon fumble when they were driving at the end of the first half, and three John O'Korn interceptions. O'Korn's picks came on consecutive second-half possessions as rain fell from the sky in sheets; the coaches continued to call passes despite O'Korn's struggling and the receivers having a tough time hanging onto the ball.

That was it, really. State needed only one long touchdown drive and another on a short field to get the win while Michigan found new and demoralizing ways to shoot themselves in the foot.

After the game, the quarterback dismissed concerns about the playcalling and the weather, instead putting the loss on his own shoulders.

"I take full ownership for this loss," said John O'Korn. "You can't turn the ball over and expect to win and you can't give them great field position all game and expect to win."

"You've got to execute the plays that are called regardless of the conditions and we didn't do that tonight."

His head coach had a different take.

"Yeah, you can criticize that," Jim Harbaugh said about the playcalling. "We were trying to run the ball. We were trying to piece drives together."

It was a depressingly familiar script. Michigan State had the better, more cohesive gameplan, highlighted by their second touchdown, a gorgeous slip screen off a fake end-around that caught the entire defense on the wrong side of the field. Michigan's pass protection repeatedly broke down; Juwann Bushell-Beatty replaced Nolan Ulizio at right tackle midway through the game with little positive effect. The late-game plays didn't break the right way; MSU all but iced the game when Brian Lewerke dropped a third-down snap, frantically scrambled, and somehow rolled over two players to get the first down before touching the ground.

Another familiar sight—stupid Michigan State penalties—gave Michigan a final shot late, first when a holding call stopped the clock on MSU's final drive, then when senior linebacker Chris Frey committed an obvious late hit on Karan Higdon. Yet again, Michigan committed an unforced error. O'Korn found Eddie McDoom wide open around the MSU 30, only for the ball to clang off McDoom's hands. A couple plays later, O'Korn's Hail Mary heave hit the rain-soaked turf.

The bitter taste from this one is going to linger. Michigan could—should—be 3-0 against MSU under Harbaugh. Instead, they're 1-2. This time around, it was the struggling offense finally costing the team a game this season. Even if we knew that was coming this year, it won't sit well that it happened against the Spartans, especially given the preceding bye week and questionable playcalling.

It's going to be a long week for a lot of people.

Comments

Michigan 28, Purdue 10

Michigan 28, Purdue 10 Comment Count

Ace September 23rd, 2017 at 8:52 PM


John O'Korn (#8) breathed life into the Michigan offense. [Patrick Barron]

While it certainly wasn't how they planned it, Michigan may have solved their passing problems.

The trip to Purdue couldn't have started off much worse. Facing a fired-up, trash-talking Boilermakers squad, the Wolverines looked ripe for an upset in the first half. For a while, the game seemed designed for maximum frustration; first the preceding baseball game went into extra innings, causing out-of-staters to scramble to find the Fox Business Channel. Then, more disconcertingly, the offense looked even more broken than before.

Karan Higdon rushed for a first down on Michigan's first offensive snap. They'd go three-and-out to follow; the next two drives ended in the same fashion. The offensive line couldn't protect Wilton Speight or open up holes for the backs, the playcalling felt predictable and conservative. Midway through the first quarter, the game was deadlocked in an ugly scoreless draw.

Then an awkward hit changed the course of the game, and perhaps Michigan's season. As Markus Bailey came through the line untouched to sack Speight, 295-pound defensive tackle Eddy Wilson delivered a second blow that crumpled Michigan's quarterback, who stayed down before eventually being taken for X-rays and further testing. This was disaster. Yes, Speight hadn't been good this season, but he'd won the job for the second straight year over John O'Korn, and O'Korn didn't inspire any confidence in his previous appearances in maize and blue.


Zach Gentry dives for the touchdown. [Eric Upchurch]

So, of course, O'Korn promptly led the offense on a 13-play, 84-yard touchdown drive, completing all five of his passes, including a 12-yard scoring toss to Zach Gentry. Michigan had finally broken through. Two questions loomed. First, could Purdue counter? Second, could O'Korn keep it going?

The early returns weren't good in either regard. The Boilermakers hit back on the very next drive, covering 75 yards in only five plays after switching from David Blough to Elijah Sindelar at quarterback. O'Korn followed that with an interception after he threw a ball well behind Kekoa Crawford. Purdue cashed in with a field goal and entered halftime with a 10-7 lead. The Boilermakers had outgained Michigan 179 yards to 131. With Michigan's offense primed to struggle, the game would likely come down to a battle of wits between Purdue mad scientist Jeff Brohm and Don Brown.

Purdue would finish the game with 189 yards. Winner: Brown.

The total dominance by the defense would've been enough to avoid the upset. The offense, to everyone's considerable relief, did much more than rely on that to carry the day. After a punt and a lost fumble by Higdon, Michigan mounted an 11-play, 86-yard drive that calmed a lot of nerves. The coaches seemed to simplify the playbook for O'Korn, who looked to his tight ends and Grant Perry to catch and run with short passes. The drive only got going in the first place when O'Korn improbably spun out of a sack, reset, and hit Perry to covert a third down. It ended on a gorgeous playcall when M lined up showing a crack sweep look but instead had Chris Evans hit an interior hole off the pitch; the unexpected constraint play allowed him to waltz in from ten yards out.


Chase Winovich, with three sacks, had another dominant game. [Bryan Fuller]

O'Korn's next drive featured more creating outside the pocket, more big plays to Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry, and a targeting penalty on Purdue's Jawhaun Bentley. Ty Isaac finished that one off from a yard out, squeezing through a tackle off the right side and bursting into the end zone.

At this point, Purdue was desperately flipping quarterbacks, but had no answer for Michigan's ferocious defense. Blough re-entered in the fourth quarter only to be pummeled into the turf. After the eighth of nine three-and-outs forced by the Wolverines, Evans broke the game wide open with a 49-yard slice through the gut of the defense. Up 28-10 against a team that couldn't move the ball, Michigan went into clock-killing mode. The final six minutes and change passed in a hurry, helped along when Mike Wroblewski knocked the ball out of Terry Wright's hands for a Noah Furbush fumble recovery.

After averaging a woeful 3.7 yards per play in the first half, Michigan hummed along at a 7.3-yard clip in the second. O'Korn, despite a couple hiccups, looked like a completely different player from the one who underwhelmed when Speight was hurt last year. The defense, meanwhile, amassed five sacks, three of them by Chase Winovich, and took the run away from the Boilermakers entirely.

After the game, Jim Harbaugh said Speight suffered a "soft tissue" injury and declined to give a timeline for how long he'd be out. With a bye week ahead to work with the first-team offense, however, it's hard to imagine O'Korn hasn't earned his shot to lead this team against Michigan State. At the very least, Michigan heads into their week off at 4-0 and finally carrying some momentum on offense.

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