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2013-11-28

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Despite Gardner's efforts, Michigan falls to Ohio State, 42-41

By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 30, 2013

Devin Gardner has been through the wringer, beat up and battered, but still managed to stay standing on Saturday even after Ohio State scored 21 unanswered points and Michigan entered the fourth quarter down two touchdowns.

The redshirt junior quarterback remained in the pocket even after getting blasted almost every time he threw the ball, just long enough to complete three touchdown passes in the final stanza to and keep Michigan in the game.

He was limping, but still ran for first downs, including a fourth-down conversion on the drive that tied the game up in the fourth quarter.

Gardner did everything he possibly could have, and the Wolverines still lost.

Michigan couldn’t finish a furious second-half comeback against Ohio State, losing for the ninth time in ten tries in The Game, 42-41. Buckeye running back Carlos Hyde set a program record for rushing yards in a single game against Michigan with 226, and the Wolverines’ defense couldn’t slow Ohio State’s offense in the second half, giving up 21 points.

The Wolverines had a chance to tie the game late, but instead went for a 2-point conversion with 32 seconds left to try for the win. Gardner, forever the hero and villain, threw an interception.

Michigan never sent the kicking unit on the field, and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer called a timeout. In the huddle, said fifth-year senior tackle Taylor Lewan, Michigan coach Brady Hoke asked his team if they wanted to go for it.

According to Lewan, not a single player said no.

“The guys in that room and the guys in this program were the only ones that knew what were going to happen today,” Lewan said. “We knew we were going to take it to the fourth quarter. We were ready to fight. Everyone was fighting for each other. … I’m proud of these guys.”

For the first time since the Indiana game in the middle of October, this was the Michigan football team most envisioned in August — a fast and dangerous offense coupled with a bend-but-don’t-break defense. In losses to Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa, the Wolverines combined for 501 yards.

Against the Buckeyes, they racked up 603. Gardner alone went 32-for-45 for 451 yards and five total touchdowns, even though he was wearing a boot on his left foot after the game after he said he suffered an undisclosed injury during the game.

“He’s a kid,” Hoke said. “He’s learning. I think he’s learning how to be a Michigan quarterback and I think that’s a daily thing. He’s beat up like everybody is, and when he was limping a little bit, I said, ‘I don’t want to see you limp. Every guy out here can limp. We got to go play.’ He did that, and I’m proud of him.”

Michigan has struggled with running the ball between the tackles all season, so for the first half, it simply avoided that. There were pass attempts from a wide-receiver and throwback screens and hurdles from an offense that earned more yards in the first quarter (208) than the Wolverines had the entire game against Iowa last weekend. Needing to pull out as many weapons as possible to stick with Ohio State’s offense, the playbook opened.

The Wolverines used wide receiver Jeremy Gallon to stretch the perimeter, and the fifth-year senior wide receiver finished with nine receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown. Several of those catches were short passes, including an 84-yard throwback screen that set up the first touchdown of the game — the first time Michigan has scored first against Ohio State since 2007.

“Absolutely more physical,” Lewan said. “Better targeting. That’s not a No. 3 team in the country. That’s a… yeah. We played more physical.”

The game appeared to be getting out of reach on the second drive of the second half, when Gardner fumbled on a third-down run and Ohio State recovered the ball near midfield. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller scored his fourth touchdown of the day five plays later to give the Buckeyes a 28-21 lead.

The Buckeyes ripping off huge chunks of yards on the ground was a theme of the day. Running back Carlos Hyde bullied his way through the middle of the defense for 226 yards on 27 carries, good for 8.4 yards per carry. Miller underthrew three receivers in the first quarter and finished the game with just 133 passing yards, but ran for 153 yards and was responsible for five touchdowns.

As a team, Ohio State ran for 393 yards on 46 carries — 8.5 yards per carry.

Still, it was Hyde that gave Michigan a new chance when he fumbled near midfield halfway through the fourth quarter with the Wolverines down seven. Gardner then led a 13-play drive capped off by a touchdown pass to freshman tight end Jake Butt.

But Ohio State’s offense continued to blast through the Michigan defense, going on a six play, 65-yard drive to regain the lead with just more than two minutes left in the game. Michigan scored on another Gardner touchdown pass, but the interception on the conversion sealed the game.

“This is a special game,” Hoke said. “It’s the greatest rivalry there is in any sport. They know the importance of it. I liked their demeanor all week. … They were trying to get better and know their opponent. I was pleased with that and had a good feeling they were going to play they way they did today.”

With the loss, Michigan’s record drops to 7-5 — the same record that former coach Rich Rodriguez finished with in his last season at Michigan before getting fired and the worst of Hoke’s three-year tenure in Ann Arbor.