The No. 1 takeaway? The Wolverines played pretty well, but Buckeye mistakes were mostly why it was a close game.
Credit goes to much-maligned Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges, who called a great game all the way down to the final touchdown. His uninspired two-point conversion call, however, might have cost the Wolverines the win.
First how they got there: Borges wisely stayed away from trying to play the game in a phone booth, where he would have had his young offensive front pummeled by the Buckeyes. He spread things out and gambled that super-talented quarterback Devin Gardner would make more big plays than mistakes, and that is what happened.
Most of the time Gardner was able to get the ball to his two best players, Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess, and often it was in open space or with a mismatch, such as Gallon on a safety for a touchdown in the second quarter and Funchess on a smaller cornerback for the last touchdown of the game.
Borges also managed to get shifty slot receiver Drew Dileo matched up on Ohio State linebackers fairly often, and Gardner took advantage of that several times.
The touchdown that tied the game at 35 was a play right out of Ohio State's book – the same that Tom Herman called for the game-tying two-point conversion against Purdue last season – and it resulted in Jake Butt getting away from Joshua Perry then out-athleting Corey Brown.
But OSU players said in the postgame interviews they had an inkling of what they were getting on Michigan's two-point play, and that had to get stronger after the Wolverines showed it before Urban Meyer called timeout. It's worth pointing two times earlier in the game Michigan tried something similar toward the side of the nickel back, and the Buckeyes looked prepared for it both of those times as well (this includes the failed fourth-and-2 in the third quarter).
The final drive sort of mirrored the game as Ohio State was relatively passive to start out then got nailed by a constraint play when Luke Fickell turned up the heat with a blitz (the big screen to Fitzgerald Toussaint).
Perhaps they weren't quite ready to play or they were surprised by what they were seeing (a lack of constraint plays such as screens was a complaint about the Michigan offense as it struggled through the rest of November), but they were very block-able early, and then a key mistakes at various times helped prolong Michigan drives and probably turned a 21-point day into a 41-point day.
As for Ohio State, Herman always strives for balance, but Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison practically dared him not to be, and that failed miserably.
I mean, yeah, the Wolverines avoided getting dinked and dunked to death by screens, and they forced Miller to pull the ball down in some passing situations, but why Mattison aside from a handful of field linebacker blitzes never put an extra hat in the box to help against a running game that gained nearly 400 yards is beyond my comprehension.
On top of that, the Wolverines were beaten deep more than once by Devin Smith despite help over the top. The first time went for a touchdown and another would have been a score but it was under thrown and hit the safety in the back of the head.
Ohio State had success up front because predictably the Buckeyes' offensive line was able to handle the Michigan defensive line and Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde are hard to tackle. There wasn't a whole lot of mystery to it. When you let Miller or Hyde get going, they are nearly impossible to stop.
Other observations and play notes:
- Gallon's 84-yard reception on Michigan's first drive featured one guy taking the fake and everyone else just getting blocked on the bubble screen. Perry ended up out of position biting on the run action while the tight end blocked Tyvis Powell, Taylor Lewan handled Doran Grant and Jake Butt got Brown. Then it was out the gate.
- Lewan blocked the end and sealed the linebacker on Michigan's first TD then Gardner juked Brown in the open field.
- Michigan should have had third-and-15 on its next drive but when Funchess juked Shazier deep in the backfield he ended up turning a four-yard loss into a seven-yard gain. They converted the ensuing third-and-4 and later scored to go back on top 14-7.
- Michigan fullback Joe Kerridge was very impressive. He made numerous big blocks on the Buckeye linebackers and other force players.
- The Buckeyes were outflanked fairly often in the first half, such as on the option pitch to Toussaint for Michigan's second touchdown.
- Ohio State caught Michigan in a blitz on Miller's 53-yard TD. That took a man out of a gap and let Miller get one on one with Courtney Avery, who had pretty much no chance to stop the quarterback.
- After a third TD drive that benefited from a blown coverage and a couple of great individual plays by its best playmakers (Gallon and Funchess), Michigan only killed its fourth drive with a silly procedure penalty. Still OSU dropped an interception that cost it momentum and a bunch of field position.
- On Michigan's fifth drive, a sack was credited to Bennett but it appeared it could have gone to Joey Bosa, who beat Lewan and grabbed him up first before teammates jumped in.
- I think the start was huge. Michigan really put Ohio State on its heels and fed off its own emotion for the rest of the day. The Wolverines put pressure on the Buckeyes to keep making plays and I think that hurt OSU's execution.
- Early in the third quarter, another little mistake cost Ohio State as Evan Spencer didn't know where he was on the field and caught a pass while standing out of bounds. That wiped out a first down.
- The go-ahead TD drive in the third quarter featured a big run by Hyde when OSU had Michigan shifted over to the trips so the Buckeyes had good numbers on the back side. The line handled everything and he juked the CB then went up the sideline. Miler capped that with a TD that appeared to have two Michigan linebackers defending the same gap. Then OSU blocked the end and there was no one to option off so Miller kept it and scored.
- Heuerman's TD was an easy play and a good read because the corner blitzed so the safety had to take Spencer. If a linebacker was supposed to pick Heuerman up, he didn't and there was no one else behind him.
- There were times Ohio State mistakes prolonged Michigan drives, but there were also plenty when Gardner made a great individual play with his arm or legs. That's why I say maybe this was more like a 21-point day for the OSU defense. Examples came on the fourth Michigan scoring drive as he eluded pressure for an 8-yard pass on the first play and got away from Bosa (who had beaten Lewan to the outside) to find Dileo all alone in the end zone.
- The game was almost certainly over if Hyde doesn't fumble. They couldn't stop OSU all day.