Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller exposed Michigan's lack of interior talent
One week ago, Iowa was running through the interior of the defensive line on its way to a victory, leaving many to wonder if the defense was even capable of playing up to Ohio State the following week. Carlos Hyde and his offensive line answered that question with a resounding no, rushing to the tune of 393 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Scheme wasn't an issue during the game, as Michigan looked to be in position on more than one occasion. The defensive line was simply pushed around, giving way to offensive lineman who plowed open lanes for Miller and Hyde with disgusting consistency. Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black, Brennen Beyer and company just didn't have what it took to keep the Buckeyes from taking whatever they wanted on the ground, whether it be on isolation runs, power runs or zone reads. Michigan needs its young defensive lineman to step up during the bowl break and off season; I'm looking at you, Taco Charlton and Willie Henry.
Poor safety play haunts the defense
I said that Michigan would need to play with Thomas Gordon, Jarrod Wilson, Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess for the vast majority of the game in order to win. Wilson stood on the sideline with a cast on his arm, watching as Josh Furman and Courtney Avery gave up big plays that would ultimately cost the Wolverines.
Ohio State got on the board on a long third down play, going straight over the top of Furman on a simple go route. Not only did Furman commit the cardinal sin of safeties, but he failed to make up ground on the receiver and watched as he galloped into the end zone. A third down that could've given Michigan the ball back instead turned into a tie ball game.
Avery didn't help any more than Furman, either. Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller exposed him in the secondary, breaking down and forcing him to open up before leaving him in the dust.
It's clear that both safeties are behind the younger Wilson in terms of talent and instincts; Greg Mattison should add Wilson to his nightly prayer list so Michigan can better deal with big plays in its bowl game.
Without Gibbons, kicking will be an issue
Brenden Gibbons sat out of The Game, which in turn led to Brady Hoke calling a timeout on Matt Wile just before an attempt that would have left the Wolverines down by four points -- an attempt that Wile missed.
That wasn't the only issue. Wile again didn't punt with great consistency, and his last kickoff sailed out of bounds, giving Ohio State a short field in the most critical of moments. Kickers often go unnoticed, but Michigan would be noticeably happy to have Gibbons back for its bowl game.
Devin Gardner is still capable of greatness
After weeks of dealing with struggles and legs that were beaten up by his own offensive lineman, Gardner came out and performed at the highest level possible; it wouldn't be absurd to say that Gardner out-dueled his counterpart but didn't have the same kind of supporting cast needed to pull out the victory. Gardner completed 32 of 45 pass attempts for an amazing 451 yards and 4 touchdowns. And before the interception on Michigan's final play, his lone turnover came when his legs were being crushed by two Ohio State defenders, and I'm still not sure if that was a fumble.
It goes without saying that Devin Gardner managed to slay some of his demons despite losing the biggest game of the year. He showed accuracy, the ability to escape the pocket on a bum pair of legs, and most importantly, and ability to lead a team under dire circumstances. He is unquestionably the stater for 2014, and anyone who wants to contest it is out of their damn mind.
The coaching gap isn't nearly as big as once believed
Urban Meyer and the rest of the Buckeye coaching staff looked like a well-oiled machine for the majority of the 2013 regular season, destroying defenses and turning in the most sacks of any team in the Big Ten. Michigan, on the other hand, looked inconsistent at nearly every position on both sides of the field from one game to the next.
Then the two staffs put it all out there during Saturday's contest. Suddenly, many Michigan faithful are more confident in Brady Hoke's ability to lead his team to the Promised Land. Al Borges' fantastic game plan still might not save his job, and Darrell Funk should still probably get the axe, but at least faith in Hoke has been strengthened.
Michigan has a budding star in Ben Gedeon
After all of the pandemonium on defense, Michigan can still point to Ben Gedeon and know that something good came from that side of the ball this weekend. The young linebacker showed everyone why many call him a freak, running down talented Ohio State backs and bringing Braxton Miller down for a sack. The instincts are there; combine that with his 6'3", 236-pound frame, and Greg Mattison could have one fantastic linebacker to work with for years to come.
This game, with all of its moments of pure fantasy and absolute hell, was a three-hour reflection of Michigan's season as a whole -- and of the disconnect between Michigan's talent and coaching ability. Saturday proved that the roster already has enough talent on it to contend with and defeat elite teams, but Brady Hoke and the rest of the coaching staff need to prepare every week as if it's Ohio State week, and I think this near victory will help every last one of them become better.
As depressing as the ending to this year's rivalry game was, I truly believe that Michigan fans, players and coaches will one day soon look back and point at this game as the time that it all came together. Devin Gardner played like a future professional on injured legs, the offensive line showed flashes of ability on the ground and in pass protection, and the Wolverines were this close from turning Ohio State's season upside down. With that bit of hope seen at the end of the tunnel, Michigan can build toward the future with more confidence.
Whatever bowl game Michigan plays in should be seen as a springboard for next season. Devin Gardner returns with Devin Funchess, Jehu Chesson, Derrick Green, DeVeon Smith, Amarah Darboh, Jake Ryan, Raymon Taylor, Willie Henry, Frank Clark and a cast of other players capable of helping Michigan elevate to the next level. I'm excited to see where the program moves after this season.