That was a great game plan by Michigan. I’ve complained about the play calling earlier this year – and so have plenty of others – but I have to give credit where credit is due, too. This was the best effort by the offensive coaching staff all season. They showed new formations and broke tendencies left and right. We saw Khalid Hill and Ben Mason lined up at tailback, we saw fullback sweeps, we saw a fake double-screen pop open a tight end, we saw Michigan play with down and distance a bit, etc. I had an issue with a couple play calls, but fewer than most tight games (and there are always going to be questionable play calls). The creativity kept Michigan in the game longer than I expected them to be in it. After all, I predicted a 38-10 loss for the Wolverines, so the gap was 17 points tighter than I thought.
Hit the jump for the rest of the recap.
Goodbye, John O’Korn. This may or may not be the last time we see John O’Korn on the field, depending on the health of Brandon Peters and Wilton Speight for whatever bowl game Michigan ends up playing. But good golly, he was abysmal at times. He played better than I expected – I guess I should give credit there, too – but 17/32 for 195 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT isn’t going to get the job done very often against Ohio State and other very good teams. He missed a bunch of wide open receivers, and there were two plays lost to a botched shotgun snap and an inability to get out from under center without getting stepped on. Toss in some sacks that he should have avoided by throwing the ball (out of bounds, if necessary), and he really cost Michigan some yardage and opportunities. That was the second snap this season that O’Korn has just flat-out dropped in limited time on the field. That’s a huge red flag to me. If a high-level college QB has to expend brain cells on just catching the snap, then how can you trust him to make coverage identifications and post-snap reads? I guess I’m glad O’Korn was at Michigan, because I think he’s better than the other guy who might be playing (Alex Malzone), but I’m looking forward to a time when Michigan can be better at the QB position.
Defensively, Michigan played well. There were occasional missed assignments, particularly Khaleke Hudson’s blown coverage on Ohio State TE Marcus Baugh that turned into a 25-yard TD and Maurice Hurst, Jr.’s misunderstanding of how to keep contain on Barrett’s 21-yard TD run. Overall, though, the defense played this team well and probably should have held OSU to 20-24 points if some calls had gone the right way. Ohio State’s lowest point totals came against Oklahoma (16) and Iowa (24) this season, both of which were losses. The next lowest point total for the Buckeyes was its 38-7 win over Army. Rashan Gary played probably the best game of his career with 10 tackles and 3 sacks (unofficially).
Everything is connected. I mentioned in the game preview that I thought Michigan’s defense would cave when the going got tough late in the game, and that’s what happened. Ohio State running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber started gashing Michigan late, and I think that’s entirely related to Michigan’s inability to make plays on offense. Constantly having the pressure on to change the game with big defensive plays is too much pressure for the defense to carry game in and game out. It happened against Ohio State in the past, it happened against Wisconsin last week, it happened against Michigan State, etc. Ohio State couldn’t do anything on the ground for the first three quarters of the game, except a couple scrambles by J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins.
How was the refereeing? After last year’s debacle, the officiating of this game was something everyone had his eye on going into this one. The verdict? Meh. I saw a couple questionable holding penalties on Michigan (on Khaleke Hudson and Mason Cole), a missed defensive holding penalty on Ohio State (against WR Donovan Peoples-Jones), two missed block-in-the-back penalties on Ohio State punt returns, a bad spot on a John O’Korn scramble at the end of the first half, and the most egregious one of all: Prior to Ohio State’s third TD, Dwayne Haskins threw a 3rd-and-13 pass to WR Austin Mack that should have been ruled incomplete. As Mack came down with the ball, it hit the turf and clearly shifted in his hands. Mack and Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel both got dinged up on the play, and amidst the injury checks, the officials somehow missed an opportunity to review the play. Overall, it wasn’t a game to brag about for the officials.
Where is Michigan as a program? In the aftermath of the game, I posted a couple things on Twitter that I’ll let stand for themselves:
As frustrating as today’s loss was, you’re in a pretty good spot when you go 8-4 in a rebuilding year and with your #3 QB playing a big chunk of the season. There are only a few programs who could do that. Unfortunately, one of them is Ohio State.
— TouchTheBanner (@TouchTheBanner) November 25, 2017
To put things in perspective, 40% of Gary Moeller’s seasons at #Michigan ended with 4 losses or more. Lloyd Carr lost 4 or more games 38% of the time. Jim Harbaugh is at 33% right now.
— TouchTheBanner (@TouchTheBanner) November 25, 2017
To put things in a different way, I predicted a 10-2 season prior to the first game, and I had bumped that up from 9-3 in the spring. Those were my pre-season expectations. Now if anyone had told us that Michigan would lose two quarterbacks, and each of the top three guys would play approximately 1/3 of the season, what would those expectations have been? If I had been told that prior to the year, I certainly wouldn’t have gone with the 10-2 guess, and probably not even 9-3. Obviously, every team suffers injuries, and the injuries to Speight and Peters can be traced back to an inability to build the offensive line appropriately. So I understand that not 100% of the season outcome is on the unlucky chance of having the top two quarterbacks get hurt. But considering Michigan was breaking in several new starters, struggles on the offensive line were expected, to an extent. Michigan has a chance to go 9-4 with a bowl game victory, which is just one notch behind in the win column from the previous two seasons.
I am still depressed and ready to eat some wings. I hope you all have a good remainder of the weekend. Go Blue!
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