Monday, November 28, 2011

Those Who Stay Will Be Champions

Jeff Sainlar |
At halftime against Ohio State, I used the word embarrassing. I hadn't used that word about Michigan football since the 2009 Penn State game when, walking out of the stadium after a 35-10 shellacking at the hands of the #13 team in the country, I felt it was embarrassing that a 5-2 outfit--with only an overtime, road loss to MSU and a frustrating late road loss to Iowa--would be beaten that badly. Michigan's first-half defense against the Buckeyes was the worst it had been all season. The team allowed Braxton Miller to throw for a lot of yards and run for a lot of yards and let receivers frolic in the daisy fields of Michigan's endzones that prior to the season Greg Mattison had put a picket fence around with a worn wooden sign that read "Wolverines Only".

In retrospect, a 5-7 Michigan team had no business beating that Daryll Clark-led Penn State unit. And in reality, the first-half defense against Ohio State wasn't as bad as it seemed. The Buckeyes benefited from good field position thanks to a Denard fumble, setting up a 31-yard touchdown drive. Otherwise, Michigan blew a few coverages because they loaded up against the run and, for one of the first times this season, Miller made a defense pay for exploiting his obvious weaknesses. Those blown coverages were ugly but holding Dan Herron to 37 yards on 15 carries speaks for itself. So the does defense's first safety in 170 years.

Mattison didn't try to outscheme Ohio State. The Buckeyes had one obvious weakness and Mattison was willing to bet that his players would be able handle that weakness without any fail safe. This is how your cornerbacks get beaten on double moves for 50-yard touchdown passes. Without safety help over the top, this sort of thing happens unless you're on Revis Island. The minor outlying islands of Countess and Floyd appear to have quarterly ferries that shuttle receivers to greener pastures. This was a gamble, but given Ohio State's meager rushing numbers and Miller's still up-and-down day, it was a gamble that probably paid off.

Al Borges, on the other hand, was sitting on some of his best stuff until the Buckeyes came to town. That Koger touchdown was 100% Al Borges' Diabolical Machinations and the frequently deployed zone read that saw Denard head upfield instead of to the weakside was gift wrapped for Ohio State. Denard's best day of the season and Fitz Toussaint's 6.0 YPC performance were no mistake.

This was never going to be easy, or at least it shouldn't have been. Of course it featured the worst overturned touchdown of the season when Michigan had put the game away. Of course the team took 25 yards in penalties the following play when it looked like they had gotten into the endzone a second time. But Ohio State is Ohio State and they spiked the ball on 3rd and 6 with 45 seconds remaining. This is The Game. Things like this define the rivalry, and for the first time in too long, Michigan gets to celebrate the offseason the right way.

  • Congratulations to the seniors who deserved this game for all of the shit they've been through the last four years. Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.
  • You could see how much this game meant to Toussaint. An Ohio kid without an Ohio State scholarship offer, he had something to prove in this game. It's unfortunately that the final, clinching non-touchdown was called back because he deserved to get into the endzone.
  • Lordy, the non-touchdown. Every Michigan fan knew that it would be how Michigan lost its eighth straight to the Buckeyes. Michigan had the game put away until it inexplicably didn't. I have no idea how you can overturn that call. The two available angles showed differing opinions. Conclusive evidence yadda yadda. Water under the bridge, I guess.
  • Mattison using the okie package on the final drive was terrifying. I like that his version of prevent defense includes zone blitzing, but I do not like that his version of prevent defense doesn't appear to prevent anything. You have to have safety help over the top. I'll sit down with Mattison over a cup of tea and discuss my displeasure.
  • Denard had his best game of the season. He properly pulled the ball on zone reads and threw the ball better than he has all season. He still had a few frustrating runs where he tried bouncing outside, but these are minor complaints when his statline reads 170 yards on 26 carries.
There won't be many posts this week. I'm out of town for a conference for my day job until Wednesday. I'll probably have some play breakdowns on Friday and early next week, and as bowl season approaches, you can expect similar coverage to that of last year's Gator Bowl.


Bronco648 said...

I hope you were kidding when you typed this:

"So the does defense's first safety in 170 years."

I believe Mr. Martin had a safety against Mr. TerBush and Purdue.

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