COLUMBUS – The Michigan offensive scheme worked well in the first half Saturday. About as well as a scheme that doesn’t produce a touchdown drive can work. In fact, the Wolverines were so content with their performance that they decided not to mess with success.
“(There weren’t) many adjustments,” said tight end Bennie Joppru of his team’s halftime preparation. “We didn’t think we needed them.”
The Ohio State defense proved Michigan wrong, as the Wolverines were held scoreless in the second half for the first time since their 10-7 win over Utah. Michigan quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler said that the Buckeyes went to more man-to-man coverage, as well as mixing up their looks more often in the second half.
“Obviously, we didn’t run the ball in the second half, that’s pretty much the change,” offensive guard Matt Lentz said. “They made some adjustments as good teams do.”
In the first 30 minutes, the Michigan offense controlled the ball for almost 20 minutes, ran 47 plays compared to Ohio State’s 18, and converted eight-of-11 third downs. Punter Adam Finley didn’t even have to come on the field once, as all three offensive drives took the Wolverines into the red zone.
However, the field goal kicking version of Finley was called upon too many times, and that was the problem for the Wolverines. Finley drilled three field goals in the first half to give Michigan a 9-7 halftime lead.
“We did a good job mixing up the pass and the run, and that’s what we’ve done this past month really well,” Loeffler said. “It was effective. We just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone.”
The Wolverines were invincible on third down, as quarterback John Navarre was able to take apart a vulnerable Ohio State secondary time and time again. Michigan was not spectacular running the ball, but backs Chris Perry and B.J. Askew found a way to get the necessary yardage against one of the top run defenses in the nation.
So why were things any different in the red zone?
Wide receiver Ron Bellamy said it was a lack of execution. Offensive tackle Courtney Morgan blamed it on the penalties that placed Michigan in a 2nd-and-goal from the 34-yard line on the Wolverines’ final drive of the half – a push that began on their own 7-yard line and took more than eight minutes.
“We knew we could move the ball down the field,” said Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards, whose offensive pass interference penalty cost the Wolverines a touchdown on that final drive. “When we couldn’t put it in the end zone, it was a little frustrating.”
“That’s why it’s called the red zone,” Joppru said. “Hard to make money down there.”
While the Michigan offense stalled in the third quarter, it had its chances to cash in and win the game in the final four minutes. Navarre drove the Wolverines down to the Ohio State 30-yard line but fumbled the ball to the Buckeyes for the game’s first turnover. Then, after the Michigan defense held strong and forced a Buckeyes’ punt, Navarre willed Michigan to the Ohio State 24-yard line with seven seconds to go. The Wolverines moved 56 yards in 58 seconds, but Ohio State’s Will Allen picked off Navarre’s pass to Edwards at the 1-yard line to ice the game and send the Buckeyes to the Fiesta Bowl.
“Normally, when you win the third down battle, you’re going to win the game, but we lost the turnover battle,” Loeffler said. “If we had won that battle, we might have been able to put ourselves in a better spot.”
“I still think we played well enough to win the game,” Morgan said. “It hurt. I’m just disappointed right now.”
The outcome was nothing new for Michigan or the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s second-half shutout of Michigan was its sixth of the season and its fourth against a ranked opponent.
A player’s coach: Ohio State’s offense did what it had done all season for three quarters of action Saturday: It didn’t turn the ball over, it hoped standout freshman tailback Maurice Clarett would do something special and it was content to punt the ball away and let its defense take control.
But on the Buckeyes’ game-winning scoring drive in the fourth quarter, Ohio State pulled out all the stops to make sure they “made some money,” unlike the Wolverines.
While many Buckeyes’ fans would like to give second-year coach Jim Tressel credit for the unpredictable play calling on that crucial drive, it was Clarett, the 18-year-old phenom, who told Tressel to call the pass play that resulted in a 26-yard gain and a first-and-goal for the Buckeyes.
“(Clarett) told me in the second quarter that ‘You better call that play because they can’t check me,’ ” Tressel said.
Digging deeper: Part of the reason Clarett knew the Michigan defense “couldn’t check” him was its depleted linebacker corps, which became even more of an issue in the second quarter when junior starter Carl Diggs left the game after a Craig Krenzel 2-yard run.
Diggs, a Warren, Ohio native like Clarett, broke his right ankle Saturday, and said that he will have surgery soon.
“I’m not taking anything away from (Ohio State), but I feel like if I had been there it would have been a different ballgame,” Diggs said. “I feel like I really let my teammates down.”
Diggs is the fourth Michigan linebacker to have a significant injury, as Zach Kaufman, Lawrence Reid and Roy Manning are all out for the season.
He’s back – finally: Senior safety Julius Curry has been predicting a return for four weeks. He finally got his wish Saturday, when he returned to his spot returning punts after an injury to his right knee during the Purdue game Oct. 19. Curry, however, did not get see action at safety.