There has been plenty of finger pointing from Michigan fans over the last 36 hours.
Some want to blame Jim Harbaugh and his conservative play calling for Michigan’s 62-39 loss to Ohio State. Others place blame on Harbaugh and the coaching staff for a perceived lack of preparation.
Really, the blame belongs squarely on this defense. Whether that falls on defensive coordinator Don Brown and an inability to adjust on the fly this time or the players for properly executing the game plan is unclear.
But here’s reality: Michigan’s No. 1-ranked defense lost to Ohio State’s No. 2-ranked offense. And not only did the Buckeyes win, they did so convincingly. They left no doubt as to which unit was superior, which one was inferior and planted plenty of doubt as to whether the Wolverines’ highly acclaimed defense was as good as the numbers indicated.
Because these numbers — 62 points, 567 yards of offense, six passing TDs — say otherwise. Michigan had its season average of yards allowed per game (235) shattered by OSU quarterback Dwyane Haskins alone, who has embarked on a stat-crushing season of his own.
He completed 20 of his 31 attempts for 396 yards and six — yes, count them … six — touchdown passes. OSU offensive coordinator Ryan Day had clearly done his homework on the Michigan defense, watching it give up long passing plays at Notre Dame. Watching it get beat over the middle by slants at Northwestern. A pattern had developed: remove the linebackers from the middle of the field and this Michigan defense is vulnerable.
So what did Day and the OSU offense do at the very start? Dialed up crossing route after crossing route, daring Michigan to stop it. They couldn’t — at least on the first drive — and fell behind early. When the Wolverines couldn’t turn drives into touchdowns, the Buckeyes did — with back-to-back drives of nearly 80 yards each — to grow the lead to 21-6.
Michigan’s defense was playing on skates, late to coverages and missing assignments. At one point late in the second quarter, safety Josh Metellus, his arms raised above his head, could be seen shouting something at linebacker Devin Bush, Jr. Frustration had boiled over for the Wolverines, who were out of sync and never seemed organized.
It’s one thing to beat a team on the field, but when you have them beat mentally, the results come easy. And Michigan never led in this game — even as it would score back-to-back touchdowns late in the second to pull within 21-19. What followed, however, was a seven-play, 74-yard in 41 seconds for the Buckeyes that resulted in a field goal. The only reason they didn’t score a touchdown was because time ran out on the clock.
In a way, Michigan’s loss to Ohio State on Saturday — its seventh straight in the rivalry, and 14th in the last 15 games — resembled that of the blowout loss last year at Penn State. The Wolverines were outmatched on both sides of the ball from the very beginning, able to briefly stabilize things in order to watch things go from bad to worse in the second half.
The only difference this year was the Michigan offense. And yes, there’s plenty to criticize there — they failed to convert drives into TDs early, leaving points on the board, dropped passes in the end zone and failed to protect the quarterback. But 39 points on 401 yards of offense should have been enough to win. On most nights, against most teams, that would been enough to at least be competitive.
But not this one. Michigan came out flat-footed on defense, like a dear staring at the headlights of a runaway truck, and found out early on it was not going to have much time to stop the bleeding. A 17-point third quarter turned out to be the difference, one that saw the Buckeyes block a Michigan punt and return it for a touchdown and turn a Shea Patterson interception into a score two plays later.
Then, with Michigan down but still squirming, trailing by 16 points early in the fourth quarter, Haskins rolled right and flipped a pass to receiver Parris Campbell. Campbell slipped outside, blew past an in-pursuit Metellus untouched and 78 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of three offensive touchdowns that final 15 minutes for Ohio State, which entered the game as home underdogs, reeling after a 52-51 overtime win at Maryland the week prior.
Surely, Michigan was better than Maryland. It had the talent and the speed and the coaching to slow down Haskins and company. Or so folks thought. What followed was a slow, systematic dissection of Brown’s system, and for the first time all season he had no answer.
He was a step slow just like his players were all night. Just like the offense was in converting drives. But to pin the blame for this loss on the offense is the wrong approach.
Michigan touted its No. 1-ranked defense all season long. On Saturday, living up to that standard was not even not necessary. Players just needed to show up, present some pressure and keep their opponents in front of them.
Easier said than done, of course, and you saw the result.