By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published September 14, 2013
Quarterback Devin Gardner, who had four turnovers, called it the worst game he has played at any level. Captain Taylor Lewan called it an “embarrassment” to the Michigan football program, which “works too hard to have games like this.” Coach Brady Hoke said it’s like a college final — how much you study, or prepare, will dictate the outcome.
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The Wolverines were not prepared for Saturday’s game against Akron, and it showed. Had it not been for a last-second goal-line stand, Michigan’s season that started almost perfectly would have been spoiled before Big Ten play even began.
Instead, the Wolverines held on for dear life, avoiding one of the worst losses in the history of the Big House by beating Akron 28-24 and remaining unblemished on the season.
“It was embarrassing,” said Lewan, an offensive tackle. “We didn’t prepare. This is on the seniors and the leadership of this team.”
Junior linebacker Desmond Morgan stuffed Zips running back Jawon Chisholm on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line for a loss of two. Then with the final seconds ticking off, another junior linebacker, Brennan Beyer, hit Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl, causing his pass to fall harmlessly to the ground in the end zone.
Hoke said he knew that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s final play call would be cable zero train, a blitz. Beyer turned around, saw his teammates celebrating and knew Michigan had survived.
To set up the improbable stop, Zips quarterback Kyle Pohl, who threw for 311 yards, hit receiver L.T. Smith for 15 yards and was ruled down just shy of the goal line.
Earlier in the drive, the Wolverines forced Akron into a 3rd-and-5 situation, but like they did so many times Saturday, the Zips turned it into a conversion and a sizeable gain. Overall, Akron was 9-for-18 on third downs.
“The problem is not tight enough coverage, not fitting the run well enough and no pass pressure,” Hoke said.
Trailing 21-17, Akron sustained an 11-play, 67-yard drive that included two of those nine third-down conversions and ended in a one-yard touchdown pass.
Michigan got the ball back with about four minutes to go in the game and needed only four plays to cover 70 yards. Gardner hit fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon for a gain of 20 and the duo’s longest completion of the day. Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint punched it in from two yards out with just under three minutes to go, regaining the lead before Pohl resumed his meticulous assault on the Michigan defense.
It was because of Gardner’s mistakes — not unlike the atrocious one he made in his own end zone against Notre Dame last weekend resulting in a Fighting Irish touchdown — that Akron found itself in the game late.
Gardner’s fourth turnover of the game, yet another inexcusable decision by the redshirt junior, came just when it looked like the Wolverines might be able to pull away.
Facing significant pressure on the second play of the fourth quarter, Gardner hurled the ball right at Zips linebacker Justin March on a screen pass. He trotted 30 yards for a touchdown, pulling Akron to within four in a mostly silent Michigan Stadium.
As a team, Michigan managed a grand total of 19 first-half rushing yards. But after an Akron touchdown to start the third quarter — a 28-yard strike from quarterback Kyle Pohl to Zach D’Orazio sucked the noise out of the Big House — the Wolverines’ offense finally showed signs of life.
On that next drive, Michigan briefly resembled the team that put 41 points up on Notre Dame the weekend before. It took just three plays — including a 24-yard rush from fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint that more than doubled the team’s total rushing yards — for the Wolverines to pull back ahead. Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner kept the ball himself on a read option and ran 36 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
But what Gardner had failed to do on an earlier read option was part of the reason the Wolverines found themselves in such a predicament in the first place. Early in the second quarter, Michigan moved the ball to the Akron 10-yard line, but Gardner chose to keep the ball instead of pitch it to his tailback and ended up losing the football.
A Blake Countess interception, the redshirt sophomore’s third in two games, gave Gardner the ball right back.