Ohio State – Michigan: Notes and Thoughts

Michigan fans should be proud that the maize and blue won this afternoon, but Ohio State took this game to the wire. I think the way Ohio State battled throughout today’s game is commendable. It was a good, hard fought football game.

At times during today’s game, Michigan seemed on the verge of pulling ahead and taking total control of this game. At other points, the two offenses slugged it out like two heavyweight boxers.

Michigan had scored. I thought that was all she wrote, as it was late in the fourth quarter, and the Wolverines had just capped off an impressive drive. But the call would end up being reversed. The Michigan runner just shy of the goal line.

Michigan scored again. It was a brilliant fake up the middle, while junior Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson took advantage of the misdirection and sprinted for the end zone. But there was a flag on the play. Offensive holding AND a personal foul against Michigan.

After the 25 yard penalty, what had looked like an inevitable touchdown for Michigan suddenly placed them in a third and long situation.

I can only imagine what was going through the minds of Michigan fans. I would assume there was a tinge of worry that OSU could pull off a miracle (in between the normal thoughts of a Michigan fan which normally pertain to Nickelback music and their sense of self loathing.)

They would end up kicking a field goal to extended their lead to six. Just 1:54 left in the game. But the Buckeyes still had a chance.

On the ensuing Ohio State drive, the Bucks struggled. On third down, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller barely overthrew a wide open senior receiver DeVier Posey who had his man beat and who would have easily scored a tying touchdown with the extra point still to be attempted. Instead it resulted in a fourth down where Miller jumped to dive for the first down. It almost looked like a dramatic, last second play from a sports movie. The drive was saved.

After that, Miller was sacked, and with their backs against the wall, the Buckeyes struggled to run an effective two minutes offense. On a third down, Miller spiked the ball to stop the clock and cause another fourth down. It didn’t make any sense. On fourth down, the offense seemed directionless and Miller’s pass was intercepted by Michigan. Now the game was essentially over. Michigan had shot the albatross.

This Ohio State drive had been a far cry from the preceding Buckeye possession, where Miller dissected the Michigan defense through the air, completing three consecutive passes for big first downs which setup a short touchdown run by senior running back Daniel Herron. In just over a minute, OSU had gone 80 yards on five plays.

The contrast between the Buckeye’s last and second to last drives was stark.

Braxton Miller had his best passing game as a Buckeye, throwing for 235 yards, topping his previous best mark by over 100 yards. While Miller and Michigan’s Robinson are both prodigious running quarterbacks, both of them had passing days which out performed what the average fan would have expected.

Miller looked more comfortable in the pocket, he was more effective checking down, he was more diverse in the number of different receivers to whom he threw. It was evident that he’s grown substantially as a passer. He was also more effective at throwing screens and short passes.

Despite his progress, he still largely struggled on longer passes, as he overthrew wide open receivers on more than one occasion. Although most notably was to Posey on the last drive.

On the other side, Robinson was nearly flawless today passing. He completed an impressive 14 out of the 17 passes he threw. While it was only for 167 yards, several of those catches were big plays which forced Ohio State to respect the Michigan pass attack which helped create running lanes for Robinson and sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Robinson also did not throw an interception today. The Michigan win against Minnesota was the only other time this season in which Robinson did not cause a turnover in the air.

As could have been expected, both Miller and Robinson kept drives alive, and their respective teams in the game with their feet. Both quarterbacks are brilliant runners. It’s difficult to describe how Miller and Robinson move through defenses. It’s a great mix of speed, athleticism, field vision, and resourcefulness. Because of these characteristics, both quarterbacks are escape artists on runs that wouldn’t go anywhere for most football players, coupled with a constant potential to make defenders look foolish in the open field on electrifying, highlight worthy type runs.

Miller rushed for 100 yards today, Robinson for 170 yards. Both quarterbacks played great games, but Robinson ultimately had a couple more big runs and had more support from his running game as Toussaint gained 120 yards in his own right.

Ohio State was much more liberal with their play calling today. They received the ball to start the game, and the Buckeye offense came out on a mission. For a team which had struggled in the first quarter all season, Ohio State had a great start to this game, jumping to an early 7-0 lead. On the opening offensive drive for Michigan, the Wolverines had a three and out and were quickly forced to punt. What was going on?

Had Ohio State sneaked Jim Tressel into the coach’s booth?

On Michigan’s next drive, the Wolverines struck quickly. On the second play from scrimmage, Robinson was able to get to the outside, and sprinted 47 yards to the end zone. 2 plays. 35 seconds. Tied game.

After a touchback on the kickoff, Ohio State would start on their own 20 yard line. On second down, a holding would force the Bucks back 10 yards. Then OSU was called for a false start. In the blink of an eye, they were in a second and long from their own 5. After a run that went nowhere, OSU continued with their wide open play calling on third down.

Instead of playing for field position, Miller dropped back to pass amid blitzing from the Michigan defense. An offensive linemen committed an obvious hold to avoid Miller being sacked in the end zone, but the referees called the penalty which resulted in an automatic safety. Michigan had their first lead of the game, and were about to go back on offense.

After Ohio State punted as per requirement following a safety, Michigan started with field position near midfield, and would end up scoring a touchdown to extended their lead to 16-7.

On the kickoff to Ohio State, junior running back Jordan Hall made a couple of moves to avoid Michigan tackles, but had the ball knocked out of his hands. Senior wide receiver DeVier Posey was able to make a heads up play, to maintain possession. This was extremely significant. If Ohio State had lost this fumble, deep in Michigan territory, with all of the momentum already on Michigan’s side following a quick 16 points, this game could have turned out very differently, and Ohio State might not have ever been able to recover.

The Bucks would end up having a three and out, and junior punter Ben Buchanan knocked a booming kick inside the Michigan ten yard line. Michigan’s drive would end on the last play of the first quarter, as standout Buckeye defensive end John Simon sacked Robinson and forced a Michigan punt.

OSU would benefit from good field position, and even though the drive would eventually stall, they were in close enough range for kicker Drew Basil to make a 45 yard field goal, and cut the Buckeye’s deficit to six.

Michigan would have a costly turnovers on the following drive, as Robinson put the ball on the ground and gave possession back to Ohio State, just 31 yards separating them from the goal line.

Braxton Miller would have a characteristically exceptional run to score from 19 yards, just two plays later. It was impressive. The Buckeyes had battled back to take the lead 17-16, midway through the second quarter.

As Michigan regained possession, they were on the verge of being forced into a three and out, when Robinson sliced through the OSU defense, breaking a couple of tackles to keep the drive alive. Toussaint would pick up 46 yards on the following play to help setup an eventual Michigan touchdown. 23-16, U of M.

Hall had a decent return, advancing the ball to the 34 yard line with just over 3 minutes remaining in the first half. Ohio State focused on short passes, as Miller hit Herron, Hall, and Posey. Then they ran a play action pass, coupled with a great route by Posey which left him open to score from 43 yards out, and again take the lead. 24-23.

Michigan ran out the time in the second quarter and the teams went to the locker room after a jam packed 30 minutes of football.

In the first two periods, the lead teetered back and forth: Ohio State, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan, Ohio State.

To start the third quarter, Michigan had a nearly six minute drive. The drive looked like it was in danger when Michigan fumbled again, this time on a miscommunication in which a Robinson pitch went past the running back who was forced to dive on the ball for a big loss. But Robinson was able to find an open receiver after a fake on the following play to score the go ahead touchdown.

Ohio State was able to move the ball on their next possession, picking up a couple of first downs but on a fourth and six that was just outside the range of any field goal made by Basil this season. Ohio State opted to punt and play for field position.

Taking the ball inside their own ten yard line, this was the only time in the second half of today’s game where the Michigan offense would fail to score points. As the drive stalled with 1:10 remaining in the third, Michigan was forced to punt. In what appeared to be a simple lapse in concentration, the Wolverine punter fumbled the snap, and was forced to run.

This was a huge break for the Bucks as they took the ball with good field position on the 32, still down by just six.

After a couple of runs by Miller and Herron, Ohio State was knocking on the Michigan end zone, enjoying a first and goal. After a couple of failed attempts to muscle the ball into the end zone, Miller lost yards on third down. Fourth down from the four yard line, the logical thing was for Ohio State to kick the short field goal, and hope to get a defensive stop. Michigan still led 30-27.

Robinson hit a wide open receiver, Junior Hemingway for a 19 yard pass early on the drive. Then Toussaint powered his way up the middle for another first down. Robinson kept the ball on the next play and gained another 9 yards, and the Michigan offense was rolling. It would end up being an 8 play 75 yard scoring drive to extend the Michigan lead with just 4:18 remaining in the game.

I’ve already discussed how the game ended. Ohio State answered with a magical drive and scored, but was unable to get the stop they so desperately needed. Michigan kicked a field goal on that drive to put the lead back at six before a Buckeye offense who had already been performing largely about their ability hit the wall.

jrb

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