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Mission Accomplished

November 27th, 2011 by Justin Potts

At the beginning of the season, new head coach Brady Hoke took a page out of Lloyd Carr’s book to set the tone for the season. When Hoke was an assistant at Michigan, Carr gave the 1997 team pickaxes during the national championship season to symbolize climbing a mountain, based on the book “Into Thin Air.” This year, Hoke themed the season after SEAL Team 6, which brought down and eliminated Osama Bin Laden at the beginning of May. The correlation was teamwork and unity. Each and every member of the team was in this together.

#15 Michigan 40 – Ohio State 34
Final Stats
40 Final Score 34
10-2 (6-2) Record 6-6 (3-5)
444 Total Yards 372
277 Net Rushing Yards 137
167 Net Passing Yards 235
23 First Downs 18
2 Turnovers 1
3-29 Penalties – Yards 5-47
2-95 Punts – Yards 3-120
35:10 Time of Possession 24:50
5-for-11 Third Down Conversions 5-for-12
1-for-2 Fourth Down Conversions 1-for-2
4-15 Sacks By – Yards 1-3
1-for-1 Field Goals 2-for-2
5-for-5 PATs 4-for-4
4-for-4 Red Zone Scores – Chances 3-for-3

Prior to the Nebraska game a week ago, Hoke had a group of Navy SEALs speak to the team and provide inspiration. The team was given actual tridents that the SEALs wear. On Saturday, Team 132 stepped off the team bus wearing the tridents around their neck and proceded to fight for 60 minutes to achieve the supreme mission it set out for when the season began: beat Ohio.

The seven-year plague the Buckeyes strolled into Ann Arbor with had not been lost on maize and blue faithful across the country and even though the season was a bust for OSU, everyone knew they would put up a fight in college football’s greatest rivalry. No one, however, expected what was about to ensue.

Ohio State took the ball to start the game and came out passing. An offense that hadn’t thrown the ball more than 18 times in a single game all season and slumbered through the first 11 games looked like a force to be reckoned with, whipping the ball around the field.

It was clear from the outset that the tendencies broken by OSU Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman were not expected by Hoke and Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison. On the Buckeyes’ first possession, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller found a wide open Corey Brown for a 54-yard touchdown to stun the Big House crowd. On the play, safety Thomas Gordon broke on the inside receiver, DeVier Posey, and no one followed Brown.

In the second quarter, Miller broke loose and ran for a 19-yard touchdown, and on the ‘Bucks next possession Miller connected with Posey for a 43-yard touchdown – the second long touchdown pass of the game against a Michigan defense that hadn’t given up big plays all season.

Miller played a great game for a true freshman in his first Ohio State-Michigan game, but missed a number of wide open receivers that could have sealed Michigan’s fate. And that was the difference in this game. While Miller played well and took advantage of Michigan’s defensive mistakes but couldn’t make the big plays when needed, Denard Robinson silenced his critics with the best game of his career.

Denard turned in an all-time great performance against Ohio State (AP photo)

Robinson threw for 167 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Most impressive is that he had as many touchdowns as incompletions. He connected on 14 of 17 passes and looked in complete control of the offense all game. Aside from a second quarter fumble that gave Ohio the ball at the Michigan 31 and resulted in an OSU touchdown, Robinson turned in the type of performance that has made legends out of the rivalry over the years.

He became just the fourth Michigan quarterback to throw for three touchdowns against Ohio State – the first since Drew Henson in 2000 – and his 170 rushing yards were the third-highest total for a Michigan rusher in The Game, behind only Tim Biakabutuka’s 313 in 1995 and Jamie Morris’ 210 in ’86.

But while Robinson accounted for all of Michigan’s touchdowns and the majority of the total yards, he didn’t do it all alone. Fitz Toussaint rushed for 120 yards on 20 carries – his third straight 100-yard game – and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Robinson and Toussaint became the first Michigan duo to record 1,000-yard seasons since Gordon Bell (1,388) and Rob Lytle (1,030) did it in 1975.

In addition to Robinson’s and Toussaint’s performances, the receiving corps player perhaps its best game of the season. Each receiver was sharp and held onto all of the catchable balls. Whether it was Junior Hemingway coming back to catch Michigan’s first touchdown or Martavious Odoms catching a bullet in traffic and weaving through five defenders into the end zone or Drew Dileo hauling in a 28-yarder on Michigan’s final drive, they all came to play.

Defensively, while the 34 points allowed were the most given up all season, credit has to be given to the unit that tightened up in the second half, allowing just 10 points, and made the stop to seal the win. Michigan sacked Miller four times and freshman linebacker Desmond Morgan led the team with 10 tackles. On the outside, freshman cornerback Blake Countess made a great leaping pass break-up in the first quarter on what would have been a long gain, and Courtney Avery picked Miller off to end the game.

Ryan Van Bergen is one of those seniors that stayed and emerged a champion (photo by the Detroit News)

Credit is also due to placekicker Brendan Gibbons who made just 1-of-5 field goals last season, but stepped up with a clutch 43-yard field goal with two minutes remaining to force the Buckeyes to have to drive the length of the field and score a touchdown instead of a field goal.

Twenty three seniors played their final game in the Big House and they exemplify what a Michigan Man is all about. While many of their former teammates left when the going got tough or decided to jump ship early, these 23 men stuck it out through three different head coaches, multiple coordinators and different schemes. It wasn’t easy, but each and every one of them will tell you it was worth it.

When Denard took the final knee and the clock hit zero, the team unity that was built over the last few months on the principles of the Navy SEALs was on display for all to see. Just as the team does at the end of practice every Friday, the ball was thrown up in the air, and when it landed, the entire team fell to the ground, as if a bomb had gone off. It was a fitting display of a Michigan band of brothers playing for each other and overcoming adversity. And just like SEAL Team 6 ended Bin Laden’s reign of corruption in the middle east and dumped his body out to sea, Michigan’s Team 132 put an end to Ohio’s seven-year reign in a sea of maize and blue.

The victory, and what is likely to follow in the coming days with the expected hiring of Urban Meyer to become Ohio’s next head coach, restore the vigor to the rivalry that has been in hibernation the past few years. Miller looks to be the real deal for OSU and Robinson will be a senior next season. With Hoke’s reinforced significance on beating Ohio, Mattison’s defensive genius, the youth that has stepped up on Michigan’s defense, and the emergence of Toussaint as a feature back, it’s exciting to look forward to the coming years of Michigan football and beating Ohio yet again.

Until the teams meet 364 days from now in Columbus, Michigan has the upper hand and the bragging rights, and Ohio State will have to figure out a way to win without access to free cars, under the table cash, and free tattoos.