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Recap: Michigan Defeats Virginia Tech, 23-20 (OT) To Win Sugar Bowl

Yep, that's Gibby under there.  15-19 on the year for the sophomore.  Nice.
Yep, that's Gibby under there. 15-19 on the year for the sophomore. Nice.

That was one of the wackiest games of college football I've ever seen. Generally the BCS gives us some good games, even though Kirk Herbstreit is an idiot and claims that neither team belonged in the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl had a tough act to follow, with the premiere games coming Jan. 2 - the Rose Bowl was a great game in which Wisconsin narrowly lost to Oregon despite giving up 600+ yards, and the Fiesta Bowl was an instant classic, seeing Oklahoma State mount an improbable overtime comeback from some pretty bad kicking on Stanford's part.

The game did not disappoint. THE CONTENT YOU CRAVE right after the jump. 2000 words? Aww yee.

First Half Recap

Michigan lost the coin toss, despite having Lloyd Carr out at midfield as a wrinkly talisman. (Aside: he was a pretty stoic dude out there, even though he obviously had to be proud of his senior recruits... classy to the last) Virginia Tech deferred and kicked off (a terrible shank by the new kicker) to a Michigan team that had its first blow of the evening - David Molk was injured in warmups and was not on the field. Predictably, Michigan fumbled its first two snaps and barely escaped with a punt. Bad special teams in this game would quickly become a trend, as Hagerup kicked the ball straight up for a rather meager 26-yard punt.

Logan Thomas and the Hokies took over, marching down to a first-and-goal, but all-ACC tailback David Wilson inexplicably decided to run backwards while reversing field for a 20-yard loss on the play, forcing Virginia Tech's complete rookie of a kicker (0-2 in his career) to come out and try a kick due to suspensions (largely documented by ESPN graphics, oh, about three times). Of course, Michigan faces a green kicker and he drills it. 3-0 Hokies. Here's Wilson's run:

Michigan's next offensive series consisted of Denard being stopped more, a nice pass to Grady for the first down, and then a bad interception, handing the ball right back to the Hokies, who then put together a 9-minute drive in which they converted two LONG third downs (of 20 and 13 yards, respectively) which really irritated just about everyone but the Hokie fans. Game commentary at this point consisted of the word "demoralizing" and I don't know what else because I yelled a whole bunch at the TV. Somehow, the defense again held the Hokies to a field goal (this kicker was now 2-2, causing me to bang my head into a wall) and proved that third-and-short was easier to defend than third-and-long. At this point, Michigan was stuffing the run, giving NOTHING to David Wilson, which suprised me to no end. 6-0 Hokies.

Michigan managed one first down and Denard was stuffed again, forcing a second BAD Hagerup punt, going only 24 yards and making this author pine for the days of the Space Emperor (who could've played due to a first round bye with the Pats anyway, right?). Virginia Tech marched down the field, converting two third downs and finally remembering how to run the ball by pitching it outside rather than running right into Mike Martin, for gains of 32, 11, and 5 yards in a row. What followed was the first inexplicable Beamer decision of the night, choosing to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Michigan 3. Michigan got the stop, making a strong statement defensively by stopping the 6'6 Logan Thomas for a loss. Still 6-0 Hokies.

Michigan's next drive was nothing short of miraculous. After two nice gains by Toussaint and Denard on the ground, the offense seemed to stall, and Hoke called upon Matt Wile to punt due to Hagerup's inability to do much of anything. Brady Hoke is clearly magical, because Wile's hesitation led to a roughing the kicker penalty on VT which kept the drive alive. After a beautiful QUARTERBACK throw by Denard, a checkdown to Toussaint for a first down, Michigan looked to be humming. Denard was then sacked and stuffed. On a 3rd-and-17, he heaved up a prayer down the right sideline and a VT defender missed the pick, allowing Junior Hemingway to snag it and walk into the endzone for the first Michigan lead of the night. 7-6 Wolverines.

Michigan kicked off to the Hokies with about a minute left in the half, but lighting struck again and the special teams unit forced a fumble that Blake Countess nearly returned for a touchdown (man, I wish he did...). This set up the wackiest play of the night, a fake field goal with 19 seconds left. I'll let this speak for itself:

I have no words, except I'm super glad the long snapper can catch. Also, did it look like Gibbons false started/held on the play? Glad those weren't called. Anyway, with all the breaks going Michigan's way, they settled for a field goal to go up at halftime 10-6 despite getting completely outplayed for most of the half. Virginia Tech mistakes and Michigan luck kept them in it - I would have been happy going down 6-0 - with Denard doing nearly nothing and the defense forgetting how to defend the pass, Michigan was still in it, but some great breaks gave them the halftime lead. 10-6 Wolverines.

Thoughts Running Through My Head at Halftime

  • Did I just set out an empty snifter in front of me or just drink my bourbon really fast? Is that score right?
  • That was the quickest first half I've ever seen. I don't know about y'all, but I saw a LOT of commercials and very little football. Was I just amped up?
  • Special teams was largely a disaster for both squads, with VT yielding a fake field goal and fumbling, and Michigan failing to punt or cover returns. Yet for some reason both teams had to be strangely satisfied, right? 2-2 for the VT kicker and two lucky breaks for Michigan?
  • The defense had kind of a Jekyll-and-Hyde outing in the first half. They played extremely well against Wilson and Thomas for the most part but couldn't defend Danny Coale or third-and-long.
  • That fourth-down stop was a game changer, especially against such a good rushing attack.
  • This is not the usually savvy Frank Beamer that we've seen before. Think he had an off night? That "bus schedule in the game program" trick was pretty good though.
  • Hoke most likely points invisible magic rainbows.

Second Half

Holy wah. Michigan starts off by forcing a three-and-out. Whatever Hoke said at halftime worked. But then Michigan took a 14-yard sack again and was forced to settle for another mediocre punt, setting up the Hokies just shy of Michigan territory at the 49. Then the improbable happened: Frank Clark intercepted Logan 6'6 Thomas on the first play on a screen to set Michigan up in Tech territory. After a nice Toussaint run, Denard made a sensational throw to Hemingway for his second touchdown. I maintain that this was actually a perfect throw to where only Junior could reach it. I'm sure that all season, Gorgeous Borges told him to throw to the endzone off his back foot ONLY if his best receiver could ONLY catch it on one foot over a defender out the back right? 17-6 Michigan.

Tech threatened again on the ensuing possession, driving from excellent field position at their 42 all the way to the Michigan 19, but the defense again refused to yield, making the VT kicker 3-3 on the day and causing me to clench my fists and shake my head. But who cares - Michigan's up 17-9.

Michigan had another three-and-out, but Matt Wile finally became the first Michigan punter to crack 30 net yards on a punt, this one going for a whopping 33 yards. Virginia Tech put together a hell of a drive, including a Logan Thomas 13-yard scamper on 4th-and-11 and a pass interference call on Countess in the endzone that saw my hat hitting literally everything in my living room except my television and fairly agile cats. Tech finally scored their first touchdown of the night and had a beautiful play-action call to convert the two-point try and tie it up. 17-17.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Michigan finally found their offensive rhythm, going three-and-out again. The defense bailed them out, though, and Danny Coale (the WR-punter that Gobbler Country was so worried about) made a horrendous decision to fake a punt near midfield and then attempted to kick it while being tackled, fumbling it and leading to a Michigan recovery. Rugby kick? Not sure. Beamer called it a kick-run option, which evidently failed:

Michigan put two passes together in an otherwise unimpressive drive, managing to get into field goal range for Gibbons, who continued his solid day and knocked through a 39-yarder. 20-17 Michigan with about 4:20 left in the fourth quarter.

This is where things got weird for me. Tech drove the length of the field and set up a game-tying field goal, but why didn't they go for the touchdown? To me, it seemed like Beamer eased up on the gas pedal here, which could have proven costly (and obviously, it later did) but more aggression here might have sealed the game for Va Tech. Instead, the same kicker comes out and ties the game as time expires, sending the game to overtime.

Not having Lloyd Carr out for the overtime toss helped Michigan, as they won the toss and obviously went on defense. Two solid defensive plays set up 3rd-and-5 from the Michigan 20 for Tech, and then this happened:

I still think this could have gone either way. It was an incredible grab, and kudos to Coale for coming all the way back from his punt fiasco and nearly winning them the game. I saw the ball move just a little and maybe his arm was on the sideline? Far from "indisputable". In my opinion, the entire replay system in football should be overhauled - just some simple changes. Stop pretending like the replay system is perfect and bandying around the phrases "confirmed," "stands" and "indisputable" - just send the play upstairs and check to make sure they got it right. I played a game last night where I pretended to drink every time they said the word "indisputable" - and I died a pretend death after five minutes of severe alcohol poisoning. Does any of that make sense? Whatever. Tie game, Michigan ball, 20-20. Score it to win it.

They did exactly that. No words:

Michigan wins. Congrats to the senior class - oh, here's a fun one too - drink every time Hoke says "these seniors". Really, it's great. Why do you think my recap is up at nearly 5PM?


  • Seriously, so many lucky breaks, right? Let's examine all of them: Running into the kicker, fumbled kickoff, pass interference penalty on a Denard INT, a Denard INT ruled incomplete, Hemingway's first TD, the fake-FG fiasco, the Coale punt, the Coale catch that wasn't, and the missed Tech FG?
  • But wait, no it wasn't all lucky breaks: VT's four made field goals, Hemingway's second catch, Michigan's stout defense, that fourth-down stop, Gibbons coming through with three clutch FGs, largely penalty free football, incredible play from Martin and an injured Molk... right?
  • So take either side. Michigan played their hearts out and won. That's all I'm going to say from now on.
  • Congrats to Virginia Tech for playing a great game - any one of those balls bounces the other way and Michigan loses (perhaps rightfully? Nah.)
  • Seriously, Beamer might have outcoached himself on this one.
  • The best thing of the night: No Matt Millen. Incredible. Closely followed by watching highlights at a bar this afternoon in Columbus next to a crying baby in a Buckeye outfit. I should probably change my clothes.
  • HT to ESPN for the videos.
  • Lastly, Greg Mattison earned every cent of his salary and deserves a massive raise, though he's already making somewhere north of 750K this year...

What It Means

I'll keep this short. Huge win for Michigan - they got outplayed and still won. Seriously, less than 200 yards of offense and nothing special from Denard, yet their defense carried them? Still some kinks to work out, but I have no doubt Hoke, Mattison, and Borges can work them out. Lofty expectations for 2012 - more on this in the coming days. Congrats to the Michigan Wolverines, Sugar Bowl champs, 2012.

Go Blue!