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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Ohio State

November 29, 2011

THE GOOD

  • Denard Robinson – At this point, I think it is fair to say that any fan suggesting to see Devin Gardner at QB instead of Denard Robinson is clearly insane.  Woodson, Desmond, Leach, Biakabatuka, and Harbaugh all solidified their Michigan legacies by what they did in The Game.  After yesterday, we can add Robinson to that list.  Denard didn’t have the signature moments like Woodson or Desmond, or the career records like Leach and Harbaugh, but his performance yesterday cemented his legacy at Michigan.  While no player is bigger than the team, no player was better than Denard yesterday.  The vintage Denard ground game that had been missing for weeks exploded yesterday for 170 yards and two touchdowns.  Even more impressive might have been what Denard did in the air, going 14/17 for 167 yards, and three touchdowns.  At one point he completed 11 straight passes, and he always seemed to be in control of the game.  He was one fumble away from perhaps a perfect game, but along with his two Notre Dame performances, this vaults to the top of the Denard Robinson career resume.  Denard was patient, accurate, and explosive.  But most of all he was tough.  Both Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin noted in the post game how proud they were of Denard’s ability to lower his shoulder and push for those extra couple of yards yesterday.  Denard has always been the leader of this offense, and maybe even the team – he laid everything on the line Saturday for the win, and the others followed.  It is one of the great performances in this game by any player, Michigan or Ohio State.
  • Offensive Line – One of the reasons Denard was so successful Saturday was because of the incredible play of the offensive line.  They not only opened holes for him to run for 170 yards, but they also gave him plenty of time to pass, which allowed him to be at his best.  And when they weren’t blocking for him, they were opening holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, who finished with 120 yards (though it should have been 121 yards and a touchdown).  The offensive line hasn’t gotten a lot of credit, but they stifled the OSU pass rush and rush defense, and it felt like Michigan could get whatever it wanted almost whenever it wanted.  To put up almost 300 yards rushing on a defense that had allowed less than half of that on average this year speaks to a dominant performance.
  • Al Borges – How good was Gorgeous Al Borges on Saturday?  Try this stat on for size – in the four previous Michigan v. OSU games, Michigan scored a combined 27 points.  Saturday, they nearly matched that in one half, on their way to 40 points.  And it should have been 44, given the overturned touchdown call.  Overall, it was the first time Michigan scored more than 40 points against OSU since 1946 – and they did it without forcing any turnovers or getting any special teams touchdowns. This OSU defense maybe wasn’t quite as good as some of the OSU defenses in years past, but it was still statistically one of the Top 20 units in the country.  Borges made some great adjustments on the zone read, coaching Denard to hold the ball longer and stretch the linebackers, which allowed several big holes up the middle.  And he gave Denard the opportunity to get into a rhythm passing the ball, calling rollouts and screens, right in Denard’s comfort zone.  The players made Borges look good with their execution, but he put them in positions to succeed, and deserves credit.  Assuming we can fill the holes on the offensive line due to Molk and Huyge’s graduation, I’m downright giddy about what this offense will look like next year.
  • Brendan Gibbons – Just a quick shoutout to the much maligned kicker from 2010 who became very reliable in 2011.  He still isn’t an All-American, but needing a FG to stretch the lead with 2 minutes to go, Gibbons nailed a 43 yarder, his career long, to give Michigan a 6 point lead.  A year ago, that kick is blocked or shanked – it goes to show how far Gibbons has come. 
  • Ending the Streak – After the game, several people on Twitter commented that Michigan fans needed to calm down, as it was only 1 win over an average OSU team.  And to a certain extent, that is true.  But what the outsiders don’t understand is that it wasn’t just the 7 years of losing, but it was the manner in which it happened.  The 2004 game where we were better, the 2005 game where we lost the game in the closing moments, and the 2006 game where we lost the biggest game in the history of the rivalry a day after Bo died were all daggers.  And then the last 3 years, where we not only lost, but knew going in we had no chance to win.  Beating OSU on Saturday wasn’t just about exorcising the demons of the last 7 years, but it was about finally turning the corner on the Rich Rodriguez era.  If we had lost, the season would have been nice, but not special.  Beating Ohio State was the final stamp of approval of the Brady Hoke hire.  There is plenty of talk about what Urban Meyer heading to Columbus means for Michigan, and how Hoke’s success will be short lived because of it.  Even if that’s true, and I don’t buy that it is, Brady Hoke is 1-0 in The Game, and that’s all that matters.
  • Seniors – When Brady Hoke first took over the Michigan job, one thing he made very clear is that he was going to rely heavily on his seniors for leadership.  For those that have read Bo Schembechler’s book Lasting Lessons, its something Bo harped on as well – his seniors were always the guys who deserved the most respect, and set the course for the team.  Given that this team exceeded all expectations and finished strong, the senior class should get a huge thank you from the fans.  They not only persevered through the worst 3 year stretch in Michigan history, but they also led Michigan to a 10-2 record this year.  What made it even more special was to see several seniors step up in a big way on Saturday.  Wide receivers Junior Hemingway and Martavious Odoms both had touchdown catches;  tight end Kevin Koger had his best game of the year, including the winning touchdown catch; defensive linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen both had very good games, including a key sack on the final series; and offensive lineman David Molk and Mark Huyge helped Michigan churn out 277 yards on the ground and didn’t give up a sack.  The senior class’ fingerprints were all over this victory.  One other note on the importance of trusting your seniors.  On the final OSU drive, Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were told by Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison that they could dial up whatever rush they wanted, and that Michigan was going to play a zone behind them.  On the most important drive of the year, Hoke and Mattison left the defensive line play in the hands of their two senior players, and even better, they delivered with a key sack of Braxton Miller.  Given where we’ve come from on defense the last three years, it is clear that the times have changed.  Next year’s seniors are going to have a lot to live up to.
  • This is Michigan – For those that have attended any Michigan home games this year, you know that before every game a video montage plays that ends with current and former Wolverines saying “This is Michigan”, right before the team takes the field.  While Brady Hoke will be the first to tell you that Michigan didn’t fulfill all of its goals this year, the one thing they did do was re-establish what Michigan football represents.  It’s clear to anyone who watched Michigan this year that Michigan football is about fundamentals, mistake free football, hard work, playing hard, being disciplined, and coming through in the clutch.  And most importantly, it’s about playing for Michigan, and understanding how important that is.  While Saturday’s performance wasn’t perfect, it was emblematic of what Michigan Football should be about – a team that keeps battling, doesn’t give up, and when given the opportunity, seizes the moment.  Seeing a defense get a stop on 4th down with the game on the line also counts as Michigan football, and it was nice to see that too.  Hopefully what we saw Saturday, in addition to a great win, was the foundation of what we can expect going forward from Michigan Football. 

THE BAD

  • Defensive Lapses – It’s a good thing that Michigan’s offense played its best game of the year, because the defense clearly had its worst game.  Statistically, Michigan wasn’t terrible, giving up 372 yards, but the 34 points were way too many.  Beyond that, Michigan did several things that were uncharacteristic of the 2011 version of Michigan defense.  The missed tackles, loss of containment, and several massive breakdowns in pass coverage almost let Ohio State steal this victory away.  They came up big when they had to, much like they have all year, but for 80% of the game, this was not the Michigan defense we had seen all year.  The biggest culprit was the secondary mistakes, where the safeties and corners often got caught biting on playaction and let the receivers get behind them.  It was a surprisingly bad performance from a stellar Michigan defense for most of the year.  But like I said, they made the plays when they had to have them, and that was good enough on Saturday. 
  • Costly Mistakes – The other reason that OSU was able to stick around all game was because of a handful of mistakes by Michigan that allowed the Buckeyes to keep the game close.  The first was a fumble by Denard Robinson with Michigan leading 16-10.  Instead of a chance to extend that lead, the Buckeyes took the short field and quickly scored a touchdown on a 31 yard drive.  Given how solid the Michigan offense was on Saturday, scoring on 6/11 drives, it’s a decent bet that drive may have translated into points as well.  The other major error was Will Hagerup’s fumbled snap on a punt near midfield.  Instead of pinning the Buckeyes deep in their own territory with Michigan leading 30-24, OSU worked a short field again, this time for a field goal.  The third crucial mistake was on the 3rd and Goal play from the 1 yard line, with Michigan up 37-34, and in position to finish off the game with a touchdown.  Denard Robinson’s bootleg run was called back for a holding, which would’ve pushed the Wolverines to 3rd and Goal from the 11 if it wasn’t for a personal foul penalty that created 3rd and Goal from the 26 yard line, an almost impossible conversion.  Luckily Brendan Gibbons made the field goal to stretch the lead to 6.  In total, those 3 mistakes cost Michigan a combined 14 points, and turned what would’ve been a comfortable victory into a game that went down to the final possession. 
  • 3 More Years of Braxton Miller – Halfway through the first quarter, I turned to a friend and noted that Braxton Miller throws like a girl (apologies to all females out there with strong accurate arms).  And though that may still be true for at least 50% of his throws, he also runs like a horse.  And if he ever learns to properly throw, he is going to be a terror to deal with the next 3 years.  Miller showed glimpses of brilliance on Saturday, connecting on several long throws while on the run, including 2 touchdown passes that kept OSU within striking distance.  If he can figure out a way to make that happen on a more regular basis, he is going to make life miserable for the Big Ten over the next 3 years. 

THE UGLY

  • Replay Officials – I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this before in this space, but just in case I haven’t, I’ll do it again.  Instant replay in college football is the most flawed system in the world, coming in just ahead of the BCS and social security.   The idea behind instant replay is great – it allows for an official up in the press box/replay booth to review close plays to make sure that human error by a referee on the field doesn’t unfairly screw over a team.  Originally, the idea was that if the replay official had indisputable replay evidence that an error had been made, he was supposed to overturn the call.  Had replay stayed with those parameters, it would have been fine, and been a net gain for college football.  Unfortunately, in recent years, the replay official has become a de facto second guessing official who regularly overturns calls based on what he thinks he might have seen on the field.  On Saturday, Michigan’s Fitzgerald Toussaint appeared to have scored a touchdown to out Michigan up by 9 and ice the game with just over 2 minutes left.  The ruling on the field was a touchdown, but the replay official wanted to take another look.  In this case, he was right to review the play, considering its importance.   But where he went wrong is when he failed to follow the proper replay procedures.  In this case, there was some question as to whether or not Toussaint’s knee was down before he reached the end zone.  From one angle it looked like he might have been down, from another, he crossed the goal line.  Depending on your point of view (or rooting interests) it was fair to say you could come to either conclusion.  Given that it wasn’t clear what happened, it was clear that this was NOT indisputable replay evidence, the threshold necessary to overturn a call, and the call on the field should have been upheld.  Instead, the call was overturned, Michigan kicked a field goal instead, and had OSU scored a touchdown in the closing moments to win the game, this would have gone down as one of the more controversial endings in college football this year.  Again, to be clear, I’m not sure if Toussaint got into the end zone or not – what I’m positive about is that the video evidence was not indisputable, and therefore it should not have been overturned.  The replay officials are taking far too many liberties trying to figure out what happened on the field, instead of doing their stated job – righting an obviously incorrect call.  Hopefully college football will right this incorrect use of power before it costs a team something big.   
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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 29, 2011 4:26 PM

    I send this along because I thought you might find it funny — not as a critical comment about anything. It came to me from a close friend who is spending some time in Kathmandu whilehis wife is working there with USAID.

    And . . . congrats on your birthing adventure.,

    Sam Corl

    I publish this letter from a man named Sewa without comment. It appeared in the Kathmandu Post on November 9th, referring to an article “Writers Appeal” that appeared in the paper on Nov. 6th.
    “Writers are not sexy nor can they be, for they are eccentric and mad. In the course of literary history we have barely seen erotic writers writing great novels. Generally, good writers aren’t very sexy and even if their writing touches the theme of sex, it’s done in a classy way. It’s hard for a talented writer to write well and be sexy at the same time. I hardly know any and all of my favorites aren’t sexy.”

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