Saturday, November 24, 2012
By Michael Rothstein WolverineNation
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State fans streamed onto the field, celebrating a perfect season. All Michigan could do was watch.
Some of the Wolverines moved fast and were gone before the throng began to envelop the Ohio Stadium field. Others were caught in the mass, Elliott Mealer and J.T. Floyd walking slowly, heads down, as Ohio State fans celebrated around them.
Michigan entered Saturday thinking it could end a perfect season, could put itself in position for a potential BCS bowl berth and win back-to-back games against its archrival for the first time since 1999-2000.
Devin Gardner turned the ball over in Michigan's final two possessions against Ohio State, once on a fumble and once on an interception.
Then predictability happened. Turnovers showed up. It was the same old, same old Michigan football team away from home against an opponent with any quality, and the Wolverines were deemed not quite good enough again.
It was another road game against a top opponent and another letdown for Michigan, another chance to take a step forward as a program and to establish themselves as an emerging power in the Big Ten washed away with the same predictable problems in a 26-21 loss to Ohio State.
Turnovers, which doomed Michigan against Notre Dame, showed up against Ohio State in three fumbles lost and an interception. Offensive predictability, which showed up against Nebraska and even in a victory over Michigan State, was amplified against the Buckeyes.
A week ago, the Wolverines appeared to have a devastating offense with two quarterbacks, including Denard Robinson, moving one of the most electrifying players in football all over the field. Not only did Michigan short-circuit on Saturday, the devastation was all their own unraveling.
"Yeah, we kind of knew what was coming when Denard was in and knew what was coming when [Gardner] was in," Ohio State defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said.
If Robinson was in the game, Michigan was going to run the ball without question. If Devin Gardner was in, there was a little bit more of a surprise, but more than likely the junior was going to throw the ball or try to.
Nowhere did this show up more than in the second half, when Ohio State adjusted to put nine players in the box when Robinson was in, essentially daring him to throw. Whether he couldn't or wouldn't, Robinson didn't. And that decision cost the Wolverines.
"Coach called the plays and we went with it," Robinson said.
For his part, Robinson said he could throw the ball after the game, despite the fact he barely threw in warmups. Even when Robinson saw Ohio State dropping safeties into the box in the second half, he couldn't -- or wouldn't -- change anything about the play.
SEASON OF GIVING
Michigan turned the ball over 25 times in 12 games, and 64 percent of them (16) came in the Wolverines' four losses. A breakdown:
So instead, Michigan ran right into what Ohio State had planned for them to do over and over and over again.
It was predictable to Ohio State, yet apparently not to Michigan.
"Not really," Hoke said.
Except Ohio State said after the game the Buckeyes knew exactly what was coming, evidenced by a gutsy fourth-down call during the first drive of the second half. Michigan put Robinson in at quarterback. He ran up the middle and instead of gaining the 3 yards necessary for a first down, he lost two. Ohio State took the ball, kicked an eventual field goal to take a 23-21 lead and never trailed again. The Buckeyes never let the Wolverines within five yards of the Ohio State side of the field again and held them to 60 yards of offense in the second half.
To Robinson's credit -- and he has done this often during his career -- he took the blame and said he hit the wrong hole. But did Michigan really put him, and the rest of the Wolverines, in a position to succeed? Tough to say, especially because the unpredictability and continued movement of Robinson in the Michigan offense that worked so well against Iowa was non-existent against Ohio State.
But by the end of the first half, no one at Ohio State was buying Robinson was ever going to pass.
"There's always concern, but we felt like after the first half that it was not in their game plan," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said. "That's why they were switching who was at quarterback.
"So we were able to lock in on running with him at quarterback in the Wildcat."
So an element of surprise could have been had. Michigan -- both Hoke and Robinson -- said the senior could throw the ball. And yet the Wolverines did not -- not once, not at all.
"Just weren't called," Hoke said.
Withers even said they were able to guess on their route combinations when Gardner would pass and was surprised Michigan didn't use more of the three-back, diamond-type formation which had much success last week against the Hawkeyes.
Instead, Michigan ran it mostly out of the pistol with some success in the first half before disappearing from it almost entirely in the second.
Good teams are able to dictate play and do what they want to do no matter whether or not an opponent knows it is coming. Michigan tried to do that Saturday.
Partly because of talent level and partly because of scheme, it couldn't. Considering how this season has gone for Michigan, maybe that was the most predictable thing of all.