“It would make the season, you know? This is what we play for — to beat Ohio State.”
That was what Michigan’s Noah Furbush said last Tuesday, just four days before The Game.
Everyone knows it, from the players and coaches. The season is a disappointment if the Wolverines don’t beat the Buckeyes. And by that metric, for the 13th time in 14 years, Michigan’s season can be considered a disappointment after a 31-20 loss.
And that’ll hurt Michigan even more given how close it was to making its season.
The Daily breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s game.
Michigan’s coaching staff pulled out all the tricks for this one. The Wolverines attacked the Buckeyes with multiple new formations, keeping Ohio State’s defense off-balanced and confused. It was exactly what an underdog has to do to have a chance against a superior team, and for a while, things were working in Michigan’s favor.
The Wolverines fired off a 13-play, 77-yard drive that tied for their longest touchdown drive of the season. A nifty play-action pass near the goal-line to Sean McKeon gave Michigan a 14-point lead. Later, a quick outside screen to Kekoa Crawford gained 43 yards, setting the Wolverines up for another touchdown.
Michigan got several stellar individual performances, as well. Chris Evans carried the ball 11 times for 67 yards, with several impressive runs that featured multiple broken tackles. Rashan Gary tallied 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks, while Chase Winovich added nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack of his own. The pair anchored a defense that held its own for much of the game. Ohio State, in fact, had negative-seven total yards after the first quarter — the fewest after any quarter during Urban Meyer’s tenure.
Michigan was clearly ready to battle. But the highlights were outnumbered by the miscues.
The Wolverines have done a poor job of protecting their quarterback this year. As Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters stood on the sideline, both injured and spectating, Michigan struggled once again in pass protection. The Buckeyes tallied numerous pressures, racked up five sacks and in general, made life difficult for John O’Korn.
O’Korn, of course, didn’t make life easy for himself either.
He missed several throws in the first half. On the first drive, Michigan called a delayed route for Tyrone Wheatley Jr. in the middle of the field. Wheatley had acres of green turf in front of him. O’Korn simply missed him, and on came the punt team.
Then there was the late interception that came on the very first play of Michigan’s penultimate drive. At that point, the Wolverines had hope: they just had to move the ball 77 yards in 2:47. Difficult, but certainly achievable.
O’Korn, though, misread the coverage, Jordan Fuller recorded the easiest interception of his life and that was it.
To add further insult, Ohio State’s offense came on the field and shredded a deflated defense for one final touchdown.
The coaching staff and players probably reviewed yesterday’s tape with thoughts of what could have been. For all the scheming that went into this week’s gameplan, there were simply too many mistakes.
The miscues began on offense, where the Wolverines continually left yards and points on the table thanks to simple mistakes. There was a fumbled snap. There was a botched handoff on which the quarterback got stepped on, tripped and fell down. That turned a manageable 2nd-and-1 into 3rd-and-4. Two incompletions later, and the Wolverines had squandered a golden opportunity in Buckeye territory to win the game.
Earlier in the third quarter, Maurice Hurst made an uncharacteristic mistake. The fifth-year senior defensive tackle has been Michigan’s best player on defense all year. He’s one of the best players in the country. But on a 2nd-and-7, he failed to keep contain while stunting — and that allowed Dwayne Haskins to scamper easily for 22 yards.
That entire drive was a backbreaker. After watching Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett exit with an injury, the Wolverines promptly gave up a time-consuming touchdown drive to his backup, who converted several tough third downs and marched his team down the field with ease. A J.K. Dobbins touchdown gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game — a lead they would not relinquish.
Michigan might not have even been in that situation had it built on its quick start. Had Josh Metellus held onto the ball after Barrett threw it directly at him, the Wolverines might be celebrating their first win over Ohio State since 2011. But the ball tumbled to the turf, Barrett strolled into the end zone just a few plays later and the Buckeyes’ comeback was on.
Those are all ‘what-ifs’ the Wolverines will be thinking about for the next year. And it seems that every year, that’s what Michigan is left to think about — what might, or could, happen in the next matchup.
That’s simply what happens when mistakes pile up — you lose, and then you’re left contemplating what could have been. For the Wolverines, that holds doubly true considering those mistakes came against Ohio State of all teams.