Long before kickoff, Saturday was destined to be a grey afternoon. The air was dank and damp in the way only a mid November day can be. It was cold, not cold enough to snow mind you, but just cold enough for the rain that fell on you to make its way directly to the bone and freeze you from the inside out. Perhaps knowing what would happen that afternoon, the sun refused to show itself, condemning us to a day of artificial light, rainy skies and damp socks.
Going into the game we knew Chad Henne and Mike Hart were banged up. We knew they had played sparingly in their last three games, if they had played at all. We also knew if would take an army to keep them off the field Saturday. That they would give everything they had left in their tanks for their alma mater and their teammates. Unfortunately, at least on this miserable Saturday in November, everything they had left wasn't enough.
Despite bouncing around like a superball during warm-ups, Mike Hart was still not himself. Dogged by an ankle that won't heal Hart was held to 44 yards on 18 carries. However, even if Hart had been in top physical condition I doubt it would've made much of a difference. Ohio
State's defense rendered Michigan's zone running game useless by slanting and cutting the Michigan line to pieces. On zone left, Michigan's bread and butter behind Jake Long, the left side of the Ohio State's line was in the backfield before Hart cleared the center.
The line was in disarray from the second series onward. Ohio State was simply too fast and too well coached to be beaten by a line that has specialized in beating itself. When Carson Butler wasn't getting flagged for holding on crucial plays, he was getting run over by whichever defensive end lined up across from him. Minus the penalties, the same could be said for the rest of the line Schilling through Long. No one blocked and this provided Hart and Henne little room to operate.
Henne was a shell of himself. His arm hung at his side as thought it was barely attached to his body, straining with all its might to detach itself from him. Saddled with this rebellious appendage, Henne stood under center as no more than shoulder pads and determination. His passes fluttered and sailed, and the zip he's spoiled us with all these years was nowhere to be found, probably still lying on the turf in Champaign. Exiting the game in third quarter for what we can only surmise to be treatment or an injection of some sort, Henne returned in a valiant, but ultimately futile attempt to lead Michigan to a come from behind victory.
Despite both men grinding themselves to the point of breaking, and then churning their broken bodies even further, they were unable to accomplish what they returned to do. A victory over Ohio State and a January bowl win will be tasks left to a different generation of Michigan players to accomplish. And as Henne, Hart, Long, Crable, et al. exit stage left, that new generation will take on these challenges in an entirely different manner.
Without a doubt, Saturday was one of the worst Michigan games I have ever seen, not just in person, but ever. Michigan mustered just 91 total yards against Ohio State. Kennedy was President he last time Michigan mustered less than 100 yards. Sadly, it was apparent that was the last time any changes were made to the Michigan playbook.
Michigan continued to stubbornly insist it could impose its running game whenever it wanted to, so long as it closed its eyes and wished hard enough. Ohio State was not in the wish granting mood, and refused to grant even a glimmer of hope to Michigan's offense. OSU spend their afternoon stuffing Hart and exposing the zone running scheme Michigan has attempted to run as totally ineffective and worthless against quality opponents. The fact that Michigan had 20-some-odd rushing yards at the close of the first half only seemed to worry the fans. The fact Michigan could not move the ball through the air due to Henne's noodle-like arm and a porous offensive line didn't seem to bother the play callers. Changes should have been made to the game plan and they weren't. As a result, Beanie Wells and Ohio State will play in a BCS bowl and Michigan will play in December.
Overshadowed by the ineptness of the offense was a sterling effort by the defense. Despite allowing Chris Wells to rush for 222 yards, Michigan kept Ohio State off the scoreboard for most of the game. Allowing a single touchdown per half, Michigan's defense continually put the offense in a position to compete. Despite allowing a 62 yard touchdown run on Ohio States first offensive play of the second half, the defense played with the guts and determination it seemed to lack most of the year.
Holes were plugged. Tackles for loss were made. Ohio State may have been allowed to become a one dimensional running offense, but credit the defensive backs for making Ohio State's receivers inconsequential while the game was still in doubt. Perhaps the only spark of the day came from Brandent Englemon's second quarter interception that promised to turn the game around. Though the offense squandered this golden opportunity, the defense time and time again gave Michigan a chance to win the game.
Henne and Hart tried valiantly to stay in the game but it was obvious neither would be particularly effective. Without any arm strength to speak of, Henne was relegated to short outs toward the sidelines. Tressel seized upon this and stacked the line with 8 in the box and dared Henne to throw. Try as he might Henne couldn't. With no passing game to keep the defense honest Hart was at the mercy of the grey helmets. And for those in the stadium, all that was left was to soak up as much rain as possible and glumly trudge out onto the rain soaked streets once the final gun sounded.
For the players, nothing but questions remain. Who will return? Who will coach them? How will they finally beat OSU? IMO, both Manningham and Arrington have played themselves out of significant enough money to warrant entering the draft a year early. Arrington's year was decent, but with the injuries to Henne and the line, he was never truly able to showcase himself. And lets be honest, he did not play well on Saturday. Manningham pouted his way into every fan's dog house this season, but we were willing to overlook his flaws because of the potential and promise he showed. We also believed when it mattered he would step up and be that No. 1 receiver his potential demanded. On Saturday he couldn't catch a cold and demonstrated to anyone watching that physical play will take him out of a game and most damningly, that he is afraid of contact.
For now the rumors will swirl about who is next in line to succeed Carr. Miles? Rodriguez? Tedford? Trgovac? Kelly? Martin has already outlined the requirements for all to see. Whoever meets those requirements will inherit a national power in a form of stalled disarray. The key cogs of the past four and 23 years will be gone, yet the expectations of the fan base will be higher than ever. Several in the press have made no secret about their desire to see Les Miles enshrined as Michigan's new coach. Others will want an answer sooner.
No matter who takes the job, their best will have to be good enough to beat Ohio State on a regular basis. Because no matter how much we love our coaches and players at Michigan, when what you've got isn't good enough to beat Ohio State once in four years, then it is time for Michigan to move on.
When I woke up on Sunday, the sun shone brightly through my window. Where it was afraid to pop out of the clouds on Saturday, on Sunday it burned away the rainy and warmed the house and friends I was staying with. I'd like to believe there's a message there. After four grey years, brighter days are ahead.
Only time will tell if there's any truth to that hope.