- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In Michigan Stadium, the crowd erupted as linebacker Brennen Beyer got to Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl. Pohl’s pass left his hands and eventually was caught by nothing but the Michigan Stadium turf.
The clock read 0:00. The Wolverines won. Coach Brady Hoke left his spot on the west sideline and headed to Akron coach Terry Bowden. Handshakes and head nods -- all the expected pleasantries.
And in the stands, high-fives were given, maybe a fist pump or two. With a 28-24 win over Akron and a 3-0 start to the season in the biggest stadium in the country, the students funneled out and left to study or party, to forget about anything other than the W their team had achieved.
But in the Michigan locker room, it was silent. There, there were no cheers, no high-fives, no dancing. Following the 17th win in 17 tries at Michigan Stadium under Hoke, there was silence.
“This is embarrassing for the University of Michigan football team,” senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “We won the game. We’re 3-0. That’s great.
“But it was embarrassing.”
That embarrassment -- the 28-24 victory over Akron -- didn’t feel like a win. It felt dirty, like something the Wolverines were stuck with, something they would have to live with for a while.
They’ll go to bed and think about those stops they could have made. The third downs they didn’t convert. The 311 passing yards they gave up. The giant zero in the sacks column.
They'll try to get over it and move on to UConn next weekend. But they’ll think about the fact that a week after they took down Notre Dame on a national stage in a convincing fashion, they almost fell to a school that had won four of its past 38 games.
They’ll think about the fact that they, a team ranked No. 11, probably looked more like the team that had won four in the past four seasons.
Hoke will think about the turnovers and the penalties, about the fundamentals that weren't evident in his team. He’ll think about the decisions made by his starting quarterback.
Devin Gardner will think about 60 minutes of poor decisions.
Lewan -- a player who returned to Michigan for his senior year, passing up millions and the NFL -- will think about everything leading up to those 60 minutes.
“We didn’t prepare as a team,” Lewan said. “That’s truly embarrassing for Michigan that we came out like that. It’s not fair to the fans. It’s not fair to the people who are associated with this program. It’s not fair to the freshmen on this team that aren’t playing.”
That lack of preparation left Michigan with a deficit late in the fourth quarter. Michigan never trailed against Notre Dame. Now, it was in a fight for its season against Akron.
The Wolverines had been their own biggest enemy all day.
After a 48-yard TD to tight end Devin Funchess and a 7-0 lead just a few minutes into the game, the Wolverines' offense came to a sputtering halt. They were 3-of-10 on third downs, and Gardner couldn’t find his receivers, finishing 16-of-30.
What he could find were Akron defenders, whom he threw to three times. One was returned for a touchdown. Twice, Gardner fumbled, and only once did he recover. The mistakes compounded, and Gardner couldn’t shake them off.
This season, he has been lauded for his calm under pressure. But on Saturday, he looked like a quarterback with just a few starts under his belt. He looked like a kid in over his head.
“I wasn’t myself today,” Gardner said. “I can’t really say much else. Pressure doesn’t bother me. They got to me today. I made a lot of bad decisions. I probably played my worst game ever. That won’t happen again.”
And so late in the fourth quarter, Gardner -- who already had turned over the ball four times -- was called upon to lead the Wolverines on a late, come-from-behind scoring drive. He finally displayed poise -- almost too little, too late, though. Fitzgerald Toussaint scored the go-ahead touchdown with just less than three minutes remaining.
Akron responded. It drove into the red zone and eventually to the 1-yard line.
But that’s where Beyer made his play. Michigan fans cheered. And the team sat in silence.
Lewan didn't even watch the last play. To him, win or lose, it probably didn't matter at that point. It all felt the same.
“We’ve all worked too hard to have games like this, way too hard,” Lewan said. “Y’all don’t even know. ... We’ll be ready.”
Michigan better hope so, or else it'll be a real quiet season.