Against Ohio State, Michigan’s offense falls quiet at the wrong time

Saturday, November 30, 2019 - 4:48pm

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Alec Cohen/Daily

Shea Patterson took the snap at Ohio State’s 16 early in the second quarter, hoping to convert third down and potentially bring Michigan within two points.

But he dropped the ball, and a Buckeye fell on it. You’ve seen that before.

What happened next should be familiar, too.

After staying with Ohio State in the first quarter, trading blow for blow, the offense went quiet. Mistakes piled up. The Wolverines scored just 11 points in the second half. Jim Harbaugh spent nearly two minutes after the game diagnosing the problems: red zone issues, lack of momentum, not making plays.

But the phrase everyone who spoke to the media used more than any other was we didn’t execute. That about summed it up.

When the dust cleared on a 56-27 loss, Michigan’s eighth-straight to the Buckeyes, it was clear: the Wolverines may have had a new look offense complete with a flashy hashtag and some gaudy stats against mid-tier teams, but it wasn’t good enough to keep up with Ohio State. Again.

“It was in just the second half, a few errors,” Patterson said. “ … You just gotta play the same way for four quarters, not just two or three.”

At the end of the second half, Patterson found junior receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone for a would-be touchdown — would be, if Peoples-Jones hadn’t dropped it. Michigan was forced to kick a field goal.

Peoples-Jones had two more drops in the third quarter. Sophomore receiver Ronnie Bell had one, too, when a catch would’ve converted third-and-16. Even when Patterson tried to put the team on his back, the receivers didn’t hold up their end of the deal.

“Just made too many mistakes. Too many drops,” said senior tight end Sean McKeon. “ … Just gotta be confident in catching the ball. Gotta make the tough plays, the one-one-one matchups.”

Other times, the Buckeyes simply made plays. The Wolverines’ receivers are big, strong, athletic.

But they hadn’t faced a secondary like Ohio State’s, either. And when it came to 50-50 balls, for the first time all season, Michigan was on the wrong side of the coin.

And that’s not even to speak for the run game. The Wolverines rushed for just 91 yards and struggled to get anything going on that side of the ball the entire game. No play was more emblematic of that than an attempted fourth-and-1 conversion in the fourth quarter, when Michigan attempted to run a wildcat play and opened a gaping hole for Hassan Haskins — but Haskins didn’t see it and got stuffed.

With the run game struggling to get off the ground and the Wolverines down big in the second half, the Buckeyes could focus their game plan on trying to stop Michigan’s receivers. They did just that.

“Just gotta find a way to get on top and play with a lead if they allow you to on offense,” McKeon said. “… Can’t afford to throw the ball every play. It closes off half our offense.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the field, Ohio State put star running back J.K. Dobbins in a position to run wild. Quarterback Justin Fields picked his spots and took his shots and converted every time.

The Buckeyes were a more talented team, yes — with three legit Heisman candidates and a glut of five-star talent. They didn’t get ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff poll for nothing.

But on Saturday, they were also the better team. The team that made fewer mistakes.

“They definitely made deep shots when we didn’t, took more deep shots, coverage on those, it was kinda deflating to our defense,” McKeon said. “They converted on all of their red zone drives, converted touchdowns. We didn’t.”

Ohio State executed, plain and simple — and in doing so, showed Michigan what its offense wants to be, but has never quite actually been.

You’ve seen that before.