If you were a fan who believed Michigan would fight and keep this Ohio State game close, you were absolutely right. It was another roller coaster ride that started off with their best first quarter of the season on the defense, but missed opportunities on both sides of the ball that decided the outcome in a heartbreaking 31-20 loss with 112,028 in attendance.
This was a sign that the young team is close to being great, based on what's happened since the Penn State game. The team was pinged by most experts and analysts to have three to four losses and that became reality this past weekend.
While it’s always more enjoyable after a win, there were some great highlights and performances, so lets get to it and hand out some position unit grades.
The condition of Brandon Peters was still on a day-to-day status leading up to kickoff and some people were hopeful that he was cleared to play. When the players came out on the field, he was not out with the team throwing and it would be John O’Korn to start as quarterback. With the struggles O’Korn has faced this year, he knew this would be a game that could end his career with a monumental win over their biggest rival.
To win this game, having a 200-plus yard game in the air would make that tall task easier. O’Korn and the game plan allowed the Wolverines to go up 14-0 in the second quarter. In the end, his 17-for-32 attempts for 195 yards and one touchdown was overshadowed by the amount of missed opportunities that ended with an interception with over two minutes left and the chance to win the game. He also escaped the rush on eight attempts, but ended with five sacks for a loss of 35 yards. He took the loss very hard and commented on it after the game.
#Michigan may have brighter days ahead of them, but after the 6th straight loss to the #Buckeyes, it certainly has taken a toll on the seniors, especially quarterback John O'Korn. #TheGame pic.twitter.com/S1tdru62xO— Justin Rose (@JRoseWXYZ) November 25, 2017
Michigan will find out this Sunday where they will be heading come bowl season. The added bowl game practices and time to prepare will help Peters through his recovery while there is no clear sign who plays in the game yet.
Wide receivers/Tight Ends: C
Nine players had at least a catch against the Buckeyes. Kekoa Crawford led the group with two catches for 57 yards. This group also had the tight end duo with Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon, but only a combined four catches for 38 yards along with one touchdown.
This will be one position group to watch going into next year with most of the unit returning. The freshmen return trio of Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tarik Black and will have added time to improve before starting in 2018 on the road at Notre Dame.
Running backs/Fullbacks: C+
This is one group that has been so dynamic and impressive leading up to the Wisconsin game. It seemed like with a developing offensive line, better blocking and protection they started getting into a nice rhythm, but it came to slow halt the last two weeks.
Chris Evans and Karan Higdon had 11 carries each, but only had a combined 122 total yards. The Wolverines ran 36-of-68 plays on the day for an average of 2.8 yards per play.
Against the last two top 10 ranked defenses, Michigan has 158 net yards rushing and 79 yards average per game. Prior to those two games, they averaged 209.8 yards rushing per game on the first 10 games. While the quarterback situation will be an ongoing debate, another is how this unit will be next season or who may emerge as a potential leading rusher with everyone returning except Ty Isaac.
Offensive line: B
Cesar Ruiz started again at right guard and Mason Cole made his 50th consecutive start this past weekend. The offensive line had its hands full with the Buckeyes’ front seven, which led to several penalties and five sacks for a loss of 43 yards. The last two weeks has seen issues for a developing line, but is has definitely been moving in the right direction.
The line will lose seniors Cole and Patrick Kugler, so we will likely see Cesar Ruiz at center in 2018 if I had to predict it now, along with potentially Chuck Filiaga getting significant playing time.
Defensive line: B
This group contributed to an amazing stat for the first quarter.
Ohio State had -6 total yards in the first quarter vs Michigan.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 25, 2017
That's the fewest total yards for the Buckeyes in any of their 313 quarters under Urban Meyer.
This line was a force in the first quarter until the Buckeye offense starting humming as we likely predicted would happen at some point. Two guys emerged and had a huge game:
Rashan Gary: 11 total tackles (4 solo/9 assists and two sacks)
Chase Winovich: 10 total tackles (3 solo/7 assists and one sack)
One of my favorite plays of the game came with least than five minutes and Ohio State is driving up by four points. Gary comes up big on third down and the drive ends with a missed field goal. He also talked after the game about the lack of execution is what allowed the buckeyes for success on offense.
3rd & 1.— Due# (@JDue51) November 26, 2017
Game literally on the line and the defense does its job. pic.twitter.com/7S4RHxrajZ
Senior Maurice Hurst also played well with three tackles and with his consistent defensive performance in the regular season, he was recently invited to play in the Reese's Senior Bowl alongside his senior teammate Mike McCray.
Senior Mike McCray went out with a bang in his last game in The Big House. He had 11 total tackles (9 solo/2 assists) and found this short clip of his highlights.
Devin Bush had five tackles on the day, and with that performance, he moved his season total as the team leader to 94 total tackles, 20 more than Mike McCray at 74 in second. Ever since the first play against Florida, Bush has been all over the field and attacking whatever offense they face. There were, however, plays that he rushed the box and allowed for big yards to happen on the ground by not waiting back, mostly by J.T. Barrett. He also contributed in several plays with almost a blocked punt and this one, which resulted in a sack by Rashan Gary.
Khaleke Hudson has also continued his dominant performance over the last half of the season with five tackles. If you want one group to be very excited and confident about heading into 2018, it's the linebacker unit, which may be one of the best in the country.
With Barrett going out of the game due to injury, freshman Dwayne Haskins came in and played well and made plays when needed. He completed 6-for-7 throws and 94 yards with some amazing throws. The secondary played well and helped keep the Buckeyes to only 124 yards passing, a season low for their high flying offense by 59 yards.
The group was led by Josh Metellus with six tackles, along with Lavert Hill and J'Marick Woods at five tackles each. Tyree Kinnel also contributed with four tackles on the day, who after the regular season leads the team in solo tackles with 42. He left the game and had Woods replace him on this nasty collision.
With this group bringing back all four, next year may be an even better secondary unit with the young talent that's all getting their feet wet.
Special teams: B-
Donovan Peoples-Jones had one of the best plays of the game on 42-yard punt return that set the Wolverines up for a short field and touchdown.
Go ahead and count the number of Buckeyes Donovan Peoples-Jones shed on this punt return. pic.twitter.com/i73w0YHeC9— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 25, 2017
The kicking game by Brad Robbins was consistent on seven punts for an average of 41.1 yards.
The biggest mistake was when Quinn Nordin missed his third extra point attempt. He would have brought up the grade without that missed extra point due to the plays by Peoples-Jones.
You can blame the refs, players, and/or coaches based on the outcome of this game and loss. While I think some of the calls were very questionable, there were mistakes and missed opportunities throughout the game on both sides of the ball.
The team had six penalties for 50 yards, 25 fewer yards and three penalties less than Ohio State. I think they had a great game plan overall that exposed a struggling secondary, but the throws just weren't there and they couldn't execute.
The defense had a few mistakes and allowed big plays in games this year, but played very well overall against the last two opponents. Don Brown and the staff created the third best defense in the country after the regular season, with one return starter. That is truly amazing.
Michigan Defense (Week 13)— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) November 26, 2017
Scoring D: t-14th
Total D: 3rd
Run D: t-21st
Pass D: 1st
QB Rtg: 3rd
The progression of this team will be more focused on the offense next year, specifically the quarterback. The recent news about Wilton Speight leaving Michigan for his final college season will mean all of Jim Harbaugh’s quarterback recruits will likely compete for the starting position.
I know an 8-4 season was not how some fans thought it would end, but you have to look ahead to the bowl game and focus on this team taking the huge leap forward next year beating their three rivals on the road.