With a little over four minutes to go, Akron's Kyle Pohl tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to put the Zips ahead, 24-21. Now that enough time has passed to start making an attempt to understand what happened, I wish I could say that I knew Michigan would go 70 yards in four plays en route to the end zone. But that's not what was going through my mind at the time.
The moments after Akron's final score was a mental tug-of-war. First, I remembered that yes, this was still Akron. Michigan would drive down the field and score, and this would all go down as an unfortunately uncomfortable blip on the radar. I remembered last year's Northwestern game, then thought, "But that was Northwestern." I then remembered the 2004 San Diego State game, one Michigan won just 24-21 (i.e. the game Mike Hart became The Guy).
I remembered we won that one, and that there was no way this could happen here on this day. Not after the cathartic, high-octane performance last week against Notre Dame. There's just no way, right?
Then, of course, I remembered Toledo. Then, I remembered the other one.
All of this ran through my head in the span of thirty seconds or so. The rationalizing calculus was "yes no yes no no yes NO *flatlining resignation.*
Luckily, Michigan did go 70 yards in four plays, but, of course, the drama didn't come to an end with Fitzgerald Toussaint's two-yard plunge. With just under three minutes to go, the Zips drove down to the Michigan four yard line after starting at its own 25. With a 4th & 3 from the Michigan 4 and one final play to decide the game, the specter of Toledo and Appalachian State loomed once again (this Akron team is certainly worse than the latter, and probably isn't any better than the '08 Toledo team, which finished 3-9).
Pohl dropped back, and everything existed as a possibility, as the 22 players on the field moved to decide which universe would be chosen as the one that would exist in this realm of reality.
In one universe, Pohl drops back, hits Zach D'Orazio, and the Zips run around the field, their helmets held up to the Ann Arbor sun. In another, a banana peel falls right underneath Pohl's cleats; he slips, and falls, 2005-Henne-against-Wisconsin-style. In yet another, like the Futurama episode where everyone has differently colored hair than the real universe, Brady Hoke, a 6'8'' viking fresh off a successful coaching tenure at Nordic State University, smashes his battle hammer against the Big House turf, causing the Akron offense to forget the play call in a daze; Pohl then throws it to Terry Bowden, who catches it--with his hands, which are made of Dreamland BBQ, because this is an alternate universe, of course--because Michigan is playing a defense with SOFT CORNERS. In this alternate universe, the fans are okay with this defensive alignment.
But, in this universe on this day, the pass fell incomplete, well past D'Orazio's outstretched arm. Thomas Gordon, who was in coverage on the play, pulled himself up from the Big House turf as if the Zips had just scored. Jibreel Black and James Ross, who were pressuring Pohl on the play, got up with the all the equilibrium of a top in its spinning death throes. Blake Countess, who was near the play, gave nothing more than a feeble golf clap.
As The Victors blared and other players ran to the student section, Thomas Gordon moved slowly. He stuck his mouthguard in his helmet and walked. Not all victories are made of the same stuff.
Given the amount of e-ink that has been spilled about this game here at Maize 'n Brew (and elsewhere), I'll try to keep these sections as brief as possible (I'll probably fail at this anyway). We all saw what happened, and there's no use saying "well, that was bad" over and over again.
Also, we can play the transitive property game all day, but, as always, that's not the way to go about making sense of this nonsensical thing called college football.
In any case, what is worth talking about is infrastructure, the things that we know are reproducible, for good and for bad. After last season and three games this year, we can safely come to a few conclusions regarding things that will more or less remain issues the rest of this season. Here are a few for the offense:
- Run blocking. Like others, I do get the sense that Toussaint misses a few cuts here and there, but he's shown flashes thus far of his 2011 form. With that said, his ability to flash that form is contingent on run blocking, which has for the most part been a dicey proposition once again. Despite going up against an Akron defensive front, the Wolverines managed to pave the way for just 71 yards on 19 carries for Toussaint (with a long of 24). That equals a paltry 3.7 YPC. Eliminating James Madison QB Michael Birdsong's 11 carries for one yard against Akron last week, JMU racked up 187 yards on 40 carries against the Zips; that's good for 4.7 yards per carry. JMU's top rusher, Dae'Quan Scott, averaged 4.0 YPC (27 carries, 107 yards). Michigan generated less production on the ground against Akron than JMU did.
- Devin Gardner miscues. For the third time in as many games, Gardner, for all of his dazzling runs and laser-like strikes to Jeremy Gallon, made some brutal, head-scratchingly bad mistakes. In this one, he tossed three interceptions and coughed up a fumble. As far as time as a starting quarterback goes, Gardner is still "young." He will improve in this department, but his meltdown in this game against a squad like Akron does not bode well for Big Ten schedule. Fortunately, Michigan has what should be a comfortable win coming up this week at UConn, but, after this past week, no game can be considered a gimme given Gardner's issues with taking care of the football.
- WR targets. I'd have to watch the game again with an eye for targets, but Jeremy Gallon is still Michigan's only true receiving threat on the outside. In this one, Gallon reeled in six of Gardner's 16 completions, for a total of 66 yards. Devin Funchess made the most of his two receptions (65 yards, one TD), but he is obviously still a wide receiver sort playing tight end. Jehu Chesson picked a good time to notch his first reception, a 33-yarder for a score, but didn't do anything else otherwise. Jeremy Jackson was catchless*, and Joe Reynolds had one for a yard. Meanwhile, at the slot, Drew Dileo was catchless as well (which I didn't really realize during the game for obvious stress-related reasons). It's nice that Chesson got on the board, but Michigan's non-Gallon receiving production will continue to be a point of concern, especially as Michigan goes on to face teams with better secondaries than CMU, Notre Dame and Akron. On the other hand, there aren't many of those on the schedule.
- Upon Gardner's second quarter fumble, Michigan failed to come away with points in the red zone for the first time this season.
- In the first half after the opening TD drive, Michigan went: punt, missed field goal, fumble, interception, interception.
- Gardner's third down incompletion on the first drive of the second half, intended for Gallon, was one of the best examples of Gardner's rattled state. With Gallon crossing from left to right, Gardner zinged it a mile behind Gallon. Gallon did a sort of "throw it here, man" shrug after the play. Regardless, it would do everyone well to forget about the Notre Dame game and remember that Gardner, a guy who played wide receiver for much of last season, is still very much a work in progress.
- Jourdan Lewis got quite a bit of run in this one. I'm not sure what to say other than I do think he'll be a pretty good player for Michigan at some point.
- On the bright side, Gardner did set a personal career high for rushing yards in a game, which is nice. You can find this and other important tidbits at the always oddly comforting MGoBlue "Notes" section.
- That's probably enough about this game, don't you think? At least they won. As we all know, the alternative is much, much worse, as hollow as this victory felt.