Going into a showdown against No. 8 Ohio State, the No. 10 Michigan football team wasn’t lacking weapons, and it wasn’t afraid to use them, either.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock came in on a hot streak, throwing for more than 250 yards in each of his previous three games. He had established redshirt junior wide receiver Jehu Chesson as a big-play threat. And, of course, there was redshirt freshman safety Jabrill Peppers.
The Wolverines didn’t hesitate to use any of them in any way.
“Going into the game, we figured we’d have to score every time we got the ball,” Chesson said.
“We felt good about our game plan. We wouldn’t be a good Michigan team if before a game we were scared about our game plan. I don’t think we were in any way doubtful of the game plan.”
But ultimately, it wasn’t nearly enough. The Wolverines trailed by just four at halftime but couldn’t keep up with the high-powered Buckeyes in a 42-13 loss.
Michigan unveiled Peppers on offense for the first time in its other rivalry game against Michigan State on Oct. 17, used him periodically on offense for the rest of the season and then emptied out the rest of its playbook in its regular-season finale Saturday. They picked up a first down on their opening possession with a 12-yard pass from Rudock to Peppers in the flat, and then they went back to Peppers for a first-down carry later in the drive.
Michigan kept going on its next series. On the second play, Peppers lined up in the shotgun as a wildcat quarterback and, with Rudock split wide to the left, carried for seven yards.
In the end, though, both of those drives ended with Rudock taking a hard hit in the pocket and throwing an incomplete pass to force a punt. By the time the Wolverines regained possession, they trailed Ohio State, and they never caught up.
“A lot of it was failure to execute,” Chesson said. “A lot of it was, they gained momentum on big plays. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot of times — penalties killed us a lot. But you can’t really win that many ballgames if you’re hurting yourself like that.”
The other part of Michigan’s attack involved its red-hot passing attack. After a slow start to the season with a new quarterback and mostly new receivers, the Wolverines were rolling in the month of November. Rudock threw for 1,033 yards in the first three games of the month, 312 of which went to Chesson.
The passing game found a connection early Saturday, too, at a time when not much was going right for Michigan. A 22-yard pass to junior tight end Jake Butt set up the Wolverines’ first field goal, and a 24-yarder to junior running back De’Veon Smith put the offense in position for its only touchdown on the next drive. At that point, Ohio State led only 14-10 at halftime.
But that didn’t last, either. Early in the fourth quarter, with Michigan trailing, 35-13, Rudock took a sack from Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. Rudock injured his left shoulder on the play, and though the severity of the injury is uncertain, it was enough to sideline him for the rest of the game.
“Each week, he takes so many shots and keeps bouncing back up,” Butt said. “He took a big shot from a great player right there, so it’s tough to see your leader go down like that.”
Adding to a fourth straight loss to their archrival, the defeat cut deeper when the Wolverines’ fifth-year senior quarterback’s regular season ended.
“I know Jake’s a tough kid — really a token to his character and his physique,” Chesson said. “When I see him go down like that, I wouldn’t say I’m worried about him, but I’m definitely concerned. But I know he’s going to bounce back.”
Despite playing just over three quarters, Rudock finished with another strong performance, finishing 19-for-32 for 263 yards and a touchdown. But Ohio State piled up points more quickly, scoring touchdowns on six straight possessions (excluding a short drive that ran out the clock on the first half).
Rudock’s arm kept Michigan in the Big Ten title race deep into November, but even he and the Wolverines’ heavy playbook couldn’t match that output.
“It was never really a ‘We only have a chance if …’ situation,” Butt said. “We knew we needed to score, but we needed touchdowns and not field goals. We can’t get all the way down that deep in their territory and kick a field goal. In a game like this, it’s not going to be good enough.”