He ran to his right, cut upfield, shrugged off a sandwich by two defenders at the 45, and sprinted to the end zone to give Michigan a 21-17 lead just before the half. It was the stuff of legends – the senior Denard Robinson making a highlight-reel play in the game’s biggest rivalry. It capped an impressive first half for the Michigan offense that was matching Ohio State punch for punch.
Two drives later, on Michigan’s second drive of the second half, Denard rushed to his right and tried to juke a defender who’s helmet squarely hit the ball and popped it loose. Ohio State recovered, and despite missing a field goal, Michigan would never recover.
In the span of two drives, two plays signaled the swings in momentum that decided the game. The fumble was one of many miscues made by Michigan that doomed their chances of winning as the Wolverines coughed it up four times.
The game started ominously as Ohio State took it right down the field on six plays, using a 52-yard pass to Devin Smith to set up a 3-yard Carlos Hyde touchdown run. Michigan mounted a nice drive to the Ohio State 22, but Devin Gardner was sacked by Adolphus Washington and fumbled. After an Ohio State punt, Michigan got on the board with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Roy Roundtree.
Ohio State answered with an 11-play field goal drive to take a 10-7 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, an offensive pass interference call on Roundtree negated a first down and led to a Michigan punt. But Ohio State’s Philly Brown muffed the punt and Michigan recovered. Five plays later, Gardner carried it in for the score to put Michigan ahead 14-10.
After the teams traded punts, the Buckeyes got back on the board with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Brown. Michigan got the ball back with 1:30 remaining in the half and Denard’s aforementioned 67-yard touchdown run put Michigan back on top. Ohio State tacked on a field goal to head into the half with Michigan ahead 21-20.
The first half was evenly played and, except for Gardner’s fumble on the sack, the offense moved the ball rather well. There was a good mix of plays with Denard, both at quarterback and lined up at other positions. But the second half was a different story.
Michigan completely went away from any offensive creativity, instead opting for using Gardner and Denard on the field separately, and the offense became entirely predictable. On Michigan’s first possession of the second half, the Wolverines got to their own 48. Facing a 4th-and-2, Brady Hoke initially sent the punt team onto the field, but called a time out to re-think the decision. He then sent the offense back out and ran Denard up the middle, but he was stuffed. Ohio State took advantage of the game-changing field position and kicked a 28-yard field goal to re-take the lead. Michigan would never get it back.
Michigan’s next possession was Denard’s fumble, on which Ohio State wasn’t able to capitalize. When Michigan got it back, the Wolverines faced a 3rd-and-short, but handed off to Vincent Smith up the middle. Again, he was stuffed for no gain and Michigan punted.
The defense kept Michigan in the game as Jake Ryan sacked Miller and forced a fumble that was recovered by Frank Clark. But again, facing 3rd-and-1 at the Michigan 45, Al Borges elected to hand off to Smith up the middle and he was stopped for a loss of two. Michigan punted.
After an Ohio State punt, Michigan got the ball on its own eight. A pass interference penalty gave the offense some breathing room, but two plays later, Garnder was sacked and fumbled. Ohio State recovered at the Michigan 10, in prime position to score a touchdown and all but seal the game. But yet again, the Wolverine defense held strong, forcing Ohio State to kick a 25-yard field goal.
Trailing 26-21 with 6:26 remaining, time was of the essence for Michigan, but the game was still well within reach. Gardner completed a 10-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon for a first down and picked up another, but the latter was called back by a holding penalty. Two plays later, Gardner was intercepted by C.J. Barnett on a poorly thrown ball to Drew Dileo. Michigan never got the ball back as Hyde converted a 3rd-and-7 with a 13-yard run up the middle and the Buckeyes were able to run out the clock.
If you saw a theme in the second half drives it was Michigan’s inability to move the ball and inexplicable play-calling – especially on short yardage plays – that handed Ohio State the game. The first half had all the makings of a shootout, but that offense – and the one that Michigan ran the week before against Iowa – suddenly disappeared. Denard and Gardner never saw the field at the same time in the second half, not even to use Denard as a decoy. Instead, the Buckeyes were able to load the box when Denard lined up at quarterback and send the blitz when Gardner was in. The offense never crossed midfield in the second half and gained just 61 yards, and it wasn’t because Ohio State’s defense suddenly learned how to play. Simply put, the play-calling was atrocious.
Michigan obviously missed Fitz Toussaint in the running game as Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith were able to manage just 10 yards on 10 carries. Denard, on the other hand, rushed for 122 and a touchdown on 10 carries, nearly all of which were in the first half. He passed Mike Hart for third on the career rushing touchdown list and Jamie Morris for third on the career rushing list. He also eclipsed Illinois’ Juice Williams for sixth on the Big Ten career total yardage list and became Michigan’s all-time career total touchdown leader, passing Chad Henne with 91.
Gardner completed 11-of-20 passes for 171 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, while also rushing for a touchdown. Roundtree led the way receiving with three receptions for 92 yards and passed Jason Avant and Marquise Walker on the career receiving list.
Ohio State finished its season with a perfect 12-0 record and will forever complain about not being able to play for the national championship due to its sanctions from the Jim Tressel scandal. Perhaps it was fitting then that the Buckeyes honored Tressel and his 2002 national championship team during the first quarter.
Michigan finishes the regular season at 8-4 and will play in either the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl on New Years Day against an SEC opponent, likely either Texas A&M, Georgia or Florida. Both would be tough matchups, but one final time for Denard and the rest of the seniors to suit up in the maize and blue. The matchup will be announced next Sunday.
Stay tuned at the beginning for the Monday Morning Quarterback segment which will break down what went wrong with Michigan’s play-calling in the second half and where the Wolverines go from here.