Leland Stein III

Michigan close but no cigar versus Ohio State

In sports column on December 2, 2013 at 12:12 am
Pic cutline: - Detroiter Devin Gardner and UM fell just short of an upset of Ohio State. - Dan Graschuck photo

Pic cutline: – Detroiter Devin Gardner and UM fell just short of an upset of Ohio State. – Dan Graschuck photo

By Leland Stein III

ANN ARBOR – As has been the case all season with the Michigan Wolverines, they put up a gallant fight but came up short.

Again, before 113,511 in the storied Michigan “Big House” Stadium, the Wolverines put up a fight until the last few seconds of the game, before succumbing to the No. 3 ranked and still undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, 42-41.

“We talked about how all week we would have to play our best game to compete against this team,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said in the post-game press conference. “We did some good things, but we did some things not so good. However, there is no doubting that our kids stepped up and played with passion. This is a special game and we practiced and studied film starting on Monday with focus. It is disappointing we could not close this game out for these young men.”

Talking to many of my friends in the press box just before the game commenced, most were speculating that Ohio State, a 16-point favorite, would blow Michigan out.

And who could protest, squabble or argue with that assumption, based on the way the Wolverines have played the past seven weeks.

Leland Stein IIIThe 2013 season started with so much hope with quarterback Devin Gardner starting his first full season at the helm of this Michigan team. Living up to those expectations, the Wolverines started out 5-0.

However, after a four overtime loss in a game they should have won, UM has descended downward. After the Penn State heart breaker, over the next seven games Michigan forgot how to block for the run, protect for their quarterback (Gardner), and, defend against the run defensively.

That Penn State loss has been followed with a beat-down by Michigan State, two close very winnable games against Nebraska and Iowa, and now this.

Coach Hoke, Gardner and the entire Michigan team all said that this was enough, and, collectively they went after a win on Saturday. After trailing 35-21 in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines showed some fighting spirit and grit. Coming back time after time, eventually tying the game at 35-35 with a little more than five minutes left in the contest, only to see OSU fly down the field to take a 42-35 lead with 2:20 left in the game.

For Gardner and his teammates this was an opportunity to arrest all the football demons that have been causing them grief. With purpose and determination the Wolverines sat sail on an 11-play, 84-yard drive that gave them an opportunity to tie the game.

So, with 30 seconds left in the game Michigan went for the 2-point conversion and win. I agree completely with going for the two points,

“We had not been able to stop their running game,” Hoke noted. “We were doing a poor job of slowing them down, so going for the win looked like the best thing for us to do.”

Indeed in was the best thing, the only problem was the play UM called in their most crucial possession of the season.

“We have worked on that play in practice and it was supposed to be a rub for (Drew) Dileo” a distraught Gardner whispered in his most solemn tone of voice. “I believe it was the right call to go for two. I do not question it at all, we just did not execute.”

So Michigan went for the 2-point conversion and Ohio State (12-0, 8-0) remains undefeated. With the win the Buckeyes achieved their 24th consecutive victory and keep their national championship hopes alive.

Gardner put in as good an effort as any UM quarterback versus OSU. He completed 32 of 45 passes for 451 yards and four TDs, connecting nine times for 175 yards and a score to Jeremy Gallon, and he ran for a 1-yard touchdown that gave Michigan the first lead in the shootout that went to halftime tied at 21.

The near Michigan upset almost gave the Wolverines (7-5, 3-5) their biggest upset in one of America’s greatest rivalries since legendary coach Bo Schembechler‘s first team at Michigan beat what Woody Hayes noted was his best Buckeyes squad ever.

The loss was yet another in Gardner’s first tenure at the helm of the Wolverines. He has showed that he is a skilled athlete and field leader, but the problems on the offensive line and in the running game knocked him off the pedestal as a premiere quarterback in the country.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

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