It has been already been said by a number of people, so I won’t spend a lot of time on this. Something about losing to Ohio State doesn’t make me real interested in talking Michigan football. But I suppose it’s necessary to some degree, so here we go.
In my opinion, the Michigan coaching staff’s record against OSU is as follows: Brady Hoke and everyone except Al Borges: 1-0; Al Borges: 0-1. There is no explanation for the kind of play-calling skill (or lack thereof) that he displayed in the second half of the game on Saturday. For the first two quarters of the game, Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner played on the field together. The Michigan offense got the ball out to players on the edge and forced the OSU defense to make tackles in space. Sometimes they made the tackle. More often they didn’t, and Michigan gained an extra 4-6 yards per reception/carry. The result was 219 yards and three touchdowns.
In the first half, Denard as an individual was spectacular. Officially, he had 10 carries for 122 yards, including a huge touchdown right at the end of the first half which put Michigan in a position to go up by 11 points had they converted a touchdown on the first possession of the second half. The smile on my face at the thought of this must have gone from ear to ear. Even without the extra seven points after halftime, I was still happy at the momentum that Denard had sucked from the mouths of every fan in that stadium and planted in the Michigan locker room and sideline. On the plays when Denard wasn’t touching the ball, OSU was forced to account for him, which opened up other options for the offense, such as Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon.
But Al Borges, in his infinite wisdom, took Denard off the field in the second half. The result: Denard had four carries for -2 yards; Michigan offense had 60 total yards and no points. I hope, I hope, that Denard sustained an injury that I don’t know about because there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for taking the BEST PLAYER on the team off the football field. The OSU coaches and players must have been loving life at that decision.
Not only was it a horrendous call to keep Denard off the field, but once the Michigan offense started facing some adversity in the second half, Borges went back to his “I’m afraid to make a call, so I’m just going to play it safe” approach. This is called ‘playing not to lose’ and Borges has displayed this tendency in the past. Playing this way is not how you win big college football games. It is much more acceptable for a team to lose if they were aggressive in the process. Yes, maybe a kid will make a mistake once in awhile, but at least the offense is out there trying to dictate to the defense how things are going to happen.
And no, aggressive is not going for a 4th-and-2 at midfield on your first drive of the second half. That was stupidity. The head coach is the one who makes this call, so the blame falls on Hoke. The correct call was to play field position and punt the ball deep and let the defense hold the opponent to their end of the football field. It was MUCH too early for a move like that. But let’s pretend that move was actually a good call. What kind of play did Borges call? An inside run with Robinson smack dab into the strength of the OSU defense, where they have been strong all season and don’t miss tackles. Why?! Why not call something outside, where you’ve been picking up good yardage all game?? Michigan hasn’t run the ball well inside all season. So all of a sudden, in the last week of the season, against your biggest rival, an inside run is the call? That’s not how it works. That play changed everything about the game. It was never the same again. And even though Michigan still had a chance to win on the last drive of the game, they lost all of the momentum they had and never got it back.
Some folks who are reading this may point out that it was the second half turnovers which cost Michigan the game. The players and coaches certainly, but what are they going to do, rip their offensive coordinator to the media? The turnovers were created because of the ultra-conservative play-calling which became predictable without the addition of Denard on the field. Without the defense playing on their heels and keeping an eye on the whereabouts of Denard, they were able to crash the pocket and force the offense into mistakes.
Ultimately, I didn’t expect Michigan to win the game. My prediction was 26-23 OSU. But I did think that Michigan had a good chance of coming away with a victory if they ran the offense that had been established in the Iowa game. They did this in the first half and won 21-20. They did not in the second half and lost 6-0. That’s all it took as OSU has now won eight of the last nine in the series.
One quick note on the Michigan defense: for the most part, I thought they did a good job of forcing the OSU offense into field goal opportunities instead of allowing touchdown – especially on several occasions on a short field. I said coming in that the Michigan defense was going to have to stop the run to win. On Saturday, OSU ran for a total of 207 yards. Not a recipe for victory. But I do give the defense credit for stepping up when it mattered and not giving up big points and keeping the team in the game.
I guess Michigan fans can take solace in the fact that OSU’s season is done. Their season is over and they have already begun handing in their equipment. As OSU fans gave a standing ovation to the man that put the program on probation and is the reason for which this 2012 team cannot play for any of the aforementioned honors, we don’t have to hear about a Big Ten Championship and maybe even a BCS National Championship coming to Columbus. Michigan will get an extra month of practice to improve before playing in their bowl game and another offseason to bring in a Top 10 recruiting class. The future of Michigan football is still bright and this team will be even better next season.