Football Michigan Monday The Rivalry

Michigan Monday: Reality Bites

Michigan fans

I don’t really know what else to say about Ohio State’s 62-39 win over Michigan that I didn’t already say in The Scarlet Wedding piece that I wrote on Sunday, but I guess I can try.

Everything that follows will probably be some form of me saying that nearly everything Michigan did in this game could have been mistaken as a personal favor to Ohio State.

I said in one of our episodes of the Buckeye Weekly podcast previewing the game that any time the Wolverine offense kept the play between the tackles, it was a win for the Buckeye defense. The more congested Michigan wanted to make things, the happier Ohio State would be. They didn’t need their linebackers venturing out into space. That’s not where they excel.

Instead, any play with multiple tight ends and a fullback was a win for the Buckeyes. For a defense that hands out explosive plays like pamphlets on the train, the fewer receivers or tailbacks in the formation the better. Even if somebody gets beat, how far is Ben Mason or Zach Gentry really going to get? It may be 30 yards, but it won’t be 90.

Michigan’s offense never really tried to take advantage of the areas where other teams have had success against Ohio State, and for that, the Buckeye defensive coaches send a hearty thank you.

And yet Michigan was still able to score 39 points.

Just imagine if they had attacked the edges more.

I don’t know if they had enough offense to outscore Ohio State, because the Buckeyes could have put 70 on the Wolverine defense, but it would have made things more interesting than what we saw on Saturday.

(Not that it wasn’t interesting.)

Defensively, the Wolverines saw how helpful the Michigan offense was and didn’t want to lose out on the merit badge they had worked so hard for, so Don Brown trotted out his stellar man coverage with one high safety defense and the Buckeye offense could only smile.

Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins said after the game that he had been licking his chops after watching Michigan’s defense because he knew how much success was possible against single coverage.

The only question was whether or not the Buckeyes could hold up against Michigan’s pass rush. That question was answered repeatedly in the affirmative.

It’s almost like Ohio State placed an order for everything they saw on Saturday and just couldn’t wait to open up the boxes.

When Michigan Was On Offense

The words “Shea O’Korn” were muttered more than a few times in the Ohio State press box on Saturday, and to protect the guilty, I won’t admit to saying it.

This was not Shea Patterson’s best game at quarterback for Michigan. He completed 20-of-34 passes for 187 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, but he missed several open receivers on critical downs. Yes, he was under pressure, but most quarterbacks not named Dwayne Haskins generally have to deal with pressure.

Patterson was sacked three times and the pass rush was relentless throughout. Michigan never really did anything to change the pace either. This may have been the first Ohio State – Michigan game where the Wolverines didn’t hit a decent gainer on a screen pass to a running back or find a tight end on a bootleg.

Of course, running a bootleg would have meant leaving the tackle box, which Michigan didn’t feel like doing all that much.

Even with keeping things between the tackles, I thought the Wolverines could have some success with the read option, but Patterson only ran the ball three times and at least one of those was a scramble.

After watching Trace McSorley excoriate the Ohio State defense with 175 yards rushing and 286 yards passing earlier this season, I was expecting something similar from Patterson. Instead, we got the cooped-up version of Patterson that we saw earlier in the season when Michigan’s offense was struggling to score 20 points on Northwestern.

Jim Harbaugh is really gonna kick himself when somebody shows him tape of what Purdue, Penn State, and Maryland were able to do to the Buckeye defense this year.

Overall, the Wolverines ran the ball well enough, averaging four yards per carry on 40 attempts. Ohio State won in 2012 with a similar average. If you’re only going to average four yards per carry, however, you have to limit the opponent to less than that. Those are the rules.

Michigan put up the quietest 401 yards of total offense and 39 points we’ve ever seen in this rivalry.

How do you even go back to the drawing board when what you did would normally be enough to win?

That’s a pretty easy answer, actually. Next time do things that the Buckeyes have shown they have trouble defending. I know it’s a bold strategy, Cotton, but you may want to give it a try.

When Michigan Was On Defense

Well.

We don’t need to go through all of the bloodshed.

The 567 yards of total offense given up to Ohio State was the most for the Wolverine defense since they gave up 572 yards to Indiana in 2013.

Maybe Kevin Wilson is a Wolverine killer?

For me, this game was going to come down to Michigan’s pass rush and Ohio State’s ability to give Dwayne Haskins time. This was the best I’ve seen the OSU pass protection this season and I’m still in a bit of disbelief that what they did was even possible.

They kept Haskins so clean that the equipment manager doesn’t even need to send his uniform to the laundry department.

After a month or so of seeing linebacker/defensive end Josh Uche have success against bigger tackles, he produced no stats in this game. Before rewatching the game a bit today, I had to check the game participation to see if he even played.

Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary were essentially placed in the waiting room that time forgot. They had almost no impact on this game.

And I know Gary’s name is always near the top of mock drafts, but you should ask yourself why Michigan takes such a highly-rated pass rusher out of the lineup so often on passing downs.

In three years, Gary has two career sacks against teams that finished the season ranked — and both came last season against Ohio State.

For comparison’s sake, OSU sophomore defensive end Chase Young had 2.5 as a freshman last season. If Penn State finishes in the rankings this season, that number will jump to 4.5.

Nick Bosa finished his career with 7.5, if you were interested.

The failure of Michigan’s pass rush doomed them in this game and made Don Brown’s man coverage with one high safety a disaster.

Safety Tyree Kinnel was lost throughout the game. Balloon animals are twisted and turned less.

Because of the lack of pass rush, Ohio State was able to call plays that involved long-developing routes. The drag routes that were killing Michigan can sometimes be quick, but other times they still have to clear the traffic. This was always going to be a weak spot for the Wolverine defense, but the pass rush was supposed to hide it.

Instead, everything about Michigan’s defense was exposed. The curtain was pulled back and Toto went over and took a leak on the man at the controls.

I don’t even want to mention Brandon Watson’s name because the guy has been through enough.

In last week’s Michigan Monday, I mentioned that there were glimmers of hope for the Buckeyes based on what Indiana was able to do. The Hoosiers pounded the ball and hit passes over the middle. Ohio State, with better personnel, took a lesson and did some similar things.

(You hear that, Michigan offense?)

The Buckeye game plan on offense was clear. They used Michigan’s own defense against them. Haskins said after the game he knew they were going to put on a show.

The Michigan Special Teams

Over the last 25 years of this game, the team that scores on special teams is 4-0, so Ohio State’s punt block and touchdown return pretty clearly changed everything. It turned an 8-point game to a 15-point game and gave the Buckeyes enough momentum to make it a 22-point game less than two minutes later.

Michigan also did not do well covering the punts that actually got off, as KJ Hill added a 29-yard return.

Nothing much else happened here. Ohio State did a great job limiting Ambry Thomas to 87 yards on his six kickoff returns.

What Does It All Mean

It means that Jim Harbaugh has finally won a trophy at Michigan.

Sure, a co-Big Ten East Championship trophy may not be what people were expecting, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one co-division championship in your fourth year at a program.

For two years, Harbaugh’s Wolverines were the butt of jokes while finishing third in the Big Ten East. Last year, they finished fourth. This year, a tie for first, though admittedly a very empty tie.

It is the mark of improvement, but is it enough?

For me, the question about Michigan has always been about their ceiling. Did Lloyd Carr reach that ceiling? Maybe.

Has Jim Harbaugh? Probably.

I’ve written about it at least 10 times over the last decade, but when people said that Rich Rodriguez or Brady Hoke or Jim Harbaugh were going to return Michigan back to its glory, I don’t think they remembered what Michigan’s glory actually is, because you’re pretty much looking at it.

Harbaugh had Michigan as high as No. 12 in his first season, then up to No. 2 in his second season. Last year, they were at No. 7 when they lost to Michigan State at home. And then this year they were at No. 4 for The Game.

That’s pretty dang good, but it hasn’t been good enough to beat Ohio State.

And I don’t know that I would blame Jim Harbaugh entirely. Urban Meyer certainly shares some blame for that.

Every team needs help to win a conference title or national title, but a good start would be Michigan actually helping themselves first and putting their name to better use in recruiting.

And maybe in the future, find what works for other teams against Ohio State and do some of that.

14 Responses

  1. Good article, Tony. Who is UM’s most exalted coach? Bo. Bo for 24. Twenty four years as the head weasel and he never won a NC. He was 5-12 in bowl games. This is as good a Meeechigan gets except in their own minds.

  2. Michigan has one major flaw–they assume they are better than they actually are. Therefore, they believe they will succeed no matter what they do, just because in their own minds they are that good. Arrogance comes before a fall. And it comes before constantly hitting your head on the ceiling you can’t believe is so low.

  3. As a Michigan grad and fan, I first want to say how enjoyable your columns are to read each week. I don’t get to read them all but this year I have caught quite a few, intoxicated by hope for a win last Saturday. Unlike most of the Buckeye fans/journos out there, your ability to provide some measure of objectivity is appreciated, on both sides of the rivalry.

    This breakdown is difficult to read, yet rings so true. We may never know why some of the decisions the coaching staff made were made for this game. And maybe that is ok. Best to let it recede and pray they will make necessary changes

    For Michigan fans (and sorry to those in Ohio required to view the letter “M”) the question is: Are we progressing? (yes) Will we continue to progress? (I believe so, if recruiting is an indication) Was it really bad under Rich Rod and Hoke (yes) Will we ever be competitive with OSU? (Not sure yet) Is Harbaugh the right Coach? (Yes, but he needs to evolve and not sure who would be better frankly) What is shocking is that, for the last two years, Michigan and Harbaugh out coached OSU. To think John O’Korn had us with a lead…wow! And let’s not talk about that spot. So, very surprised at how badly he was out-coached in this game.

    Our best hope is that in Meyer, you have a coach who looks close to imploding, literally, on the sidelines. While this win is soothing for him and his family, it really is only a matter of time before history repeats itself. Leopards seldom change their spots. And then, maybe things may change for Michigan.

    I look forward to next year’s series of columns and The Game. Here is hoping we can make it more interesting.

    1. Seriously, the reality bites title clearly didn’t effect you. Your boys in blue were able to notch wins against Sparty and Wisconsin. One of the two weakest MSU teams in a decade and clearly the worse we have seen from Wisconsin since before Bielema. So against 3 teams with a pulse you lost ND, tOSU and squeezed a 3 point win over Northwestern. You are tight leopards seldom change their spots. When Sparty and Wisconsin get back on their natural path Jimmy will go back to his 3-4 loss seasons and 7 mill paycheck.

      Just a side note, give up on THE SPOT. Look at the film and a couple plays before the refs missed a blatant penalty when your defense brought JT down by his face mask.

      1. Hello David. Always surprised by the bitterness of the Victors in The Game – which has meant the Buckeyes of late. As the song says “why you gotta be so mean?” I mean, you won. What other price do wish to extract exactly here?

        You are correct, MSU, Wisconsin and Penn State all were horrible. It was Purdue that was the real 2nd best team in the Big Ten. And the way the Buckeyes crushed all those opponents…impressive.

        Congrats again on the victory. It was impressive. Now go pee in someone else’s Cheerios. You seem like an unhappy person.

  4. Thanks, Tony. Another great tongue-in-cheek read.

  5. Hey Tony, just for clarification, TTUN went 5-4 last year and finished 4th in the B1G East, not 2nd.

    1. Thanks. I knew they were one place out of third, thus ending the 3rd place run, I just remembered them being in the wrong direction.

    1. Brett, thanks so much for the heads up. Loved this guy’s destruction of SCum.

    2. That was fun to watch. My favorite part was he pointed out the refs tried to help them but they still got jack hammered. Harbaugh must have paid the refs.

      1. Mike Valenti from 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit is a MSU slappy, but is always fair in giving an objective opinion. He is hardest on his own teams in football and basketball (he is an MSU alum), and though he hates Michigan, he thought UM would win by double digits, as most of the nation did after the scare at Maryland. He was ready to give UM credit for going to Indy, regardless of the path to get there.

        Then Saturday happened and you saw his response.

        There have not been any signature wins, and he is right in that the overall Big Ten is down (he predicted UM blowouts against Penn State and Wisconsin earlier this year) including Ohio State, at least by recent Urban-era standards (mainly due to defense).

        And they still can’t get it done.

  6. As someone who simply cannot watch UM games “just to check up on the enemy”, I kept wondering how the same bunch of lost souls from 2017’s 8-5 squad were suddenly “excellent”. The answer, finally, is that they are not “excellent” or anything close to it. Their DBs are still atrocious, their “best” players are forgettable non contributors ( Rashan Gary, anyone?), and their running and return games are completely absent of danger. The best position group for that outfit is their wide receivers, who were forced to show it all day by making circus catches that eliminated any hope of yards after catch.
    For those of you who can’t remember it well, the UM team under semi-legendary coach Bo Schembechler ( career 5-12 bowl record and no national titles) typically featured cohesive offensive lines, stingy defense, and a rushing attack that at least made the other team nervous. That combination was typically good enough for a 10-2 year. If we were talking baseball, UM would make the “Hall of Very Good in those days, but NOT the Hall of Fame.
    Those days are gone, and I couldn’t be happier!

  7. I think the problem with a *ichigan *onday column this week is what we witnessed last Saturday was/is historic. In a sense every version of The Game is historic in the basic principle of chronicling the evolution of The Game each year, but this year’s version elevates above for many reasons.

    The records that were set are historic in and of their own right. But from TTUN’s “revenge tour” all the way through Karan Higdon’s ill-fated ‘guarantee’ shows that whatever TTUN coaches have been doing since Schembechler have not adequately prepared their players for The Game.

    It’s not that success hasn’t been had against the Buckeyes since then, but once Buckeye coaches returned to a “Hayes-ian” view of The Game it’s as if the winningest program in college football became as outdated as their national title claims of 1/2 in the past 70 years and counting.

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