Michigan Monday

Michigan Monday: Happy Warriors Super Fun Time

I don’t always do a Michigan Monday after The Game because the purpose of the piece is to keep Ohio State fans up to speed on what’s happening with the Wolverines, and since they just watched the game I’d be writing about, there’s really no need.

But I did say way back when I first took this column over from Tom Orr that if Ohio State ever loses two in a row to Michigan, there would have to be a post-mortem Michigan Monday. And here, 17 years after taking ownership of this column, I am finally living up to my promise to the people.

This isn’t going to be your standard Michigan Monday, despite the increasingly standard results of The Game. This is going to be one of those “thoughts pieces” that don’t require a set format. (Here’s a thoughts piece from yesterday as well, asking a bunch of questions that OSU will need to answer moving forward.)

The Wolverines beat the Buckeyes 45-23 in Ohio Stadium on Saturday in perfect conditions. Everything was set up for Ohio State, including Blake Corum’s injury. The Buckeye coaches said earlier in the week that they expected Corum to play and their gameplan wouldn’t change. He did play, but only sparingly. And the OSU gameplan didn’t change.

As such, there were receivers running open as a run-defense focused secondary kept losing track of the receivers that they were responsible for.

We all said coming into this game that you have to make JJ McCarthy beat you. McCarthy did exactly that, but he got as much help from Ohio State as he did his own teammates.

McCarthy only completed 50 percent of his passes on the day, but he sure completed the right 50 percent.

The Ohio State secondary has battled injuries all season long, but in this one they were battling themselves — and unlike Michigan, they lost.

Of everything that happened on Saturday, to once again have some defensive coaching malpractice cost Ohio State this game has to be a knife wound to the gut for OSU head coach Ryan Day. Five Michigan touchdowns accounted for 349 of the Wolverines’ 530 yards of total offense. That’s nearly two-thirds of their total yardage. On the Wolverines’ other 55 plays, they managed just 3.3 yards per play.

Day no doubt after the game is saying “If you just take those five plays away…” That may give him some hope and confidence that things aren’t necessarily as desperate as they seem, but just taking five plays away is a lot like saying if you just take the gun out of John Wilkes Booth’s hand, the Lincoln Family wouldn’t have left such a poor review of Ford’s Theater on Yelp.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was brought in to fix last year’s problems, and for the most part, he had. Saturday, however, was an exhibition in players and coaches not matching up well.

Knowles has said that his defensive scheme “bakes in” five big plays from the opponent, but you can’t bake in five 70-yard touchdowns. You don’t have enough oven. His aggression now has people wondering if he’s Ohio State’s Don Brown. That’s more than a bit premature, but if the mustache fits…

In reality, this label won’t be accurate until Knowles continues to do the same thing and expect different results next year and the year(s) after.

But Day also has plenty of self-inflicted wounds as well. The Buckeyes ran the ball 20 times for 125 yards in the first half, but then ran the ball just nine more times in the second half. That number would have been 10, but somebody failed to alert OSU’s backup long-snapper on what was supposed to be a fake punt that would have gone for significant yards. How that happens, I don’t know.

You can look at the stats and see Ohio State’s 492 yards of total offense and say that they did their job, but going 0-for-3 on touchdowns in their final three red zone attempts would argue otherwise.

So what does it all mean?

It means that Jim Harbaugh’s team came into Columbus with the kind of confidence that withstands adversity and lasts all four quarters — and whatever overtimes may arise. Ohio State, meanwhile, brought hope. But the other side of hope is doubt. You can’t have one without the other, and as the tide turns, what was once hope reveals itself as doubt.

If this was a potluck, the Buckeyes would have signed up for the paper plates and napkins.

Jim Harbaugh called his team “happy warriors” last week and it was scoffable, provided that Michigan lost in this game. But they didn’t. There is no scoffing.

Happy warriors? Really?

Yes really.

Michigan played this game with confidence and daring. They executed. They didn’t worry about what could happen if a play didn’t work. Jim Harbaugh only thought about what was going to happen when it did. Even the 57-yard field goal attempt up 31-20 in the fourth quarter was a dangerous call and didn’t work, but Harbaugh was thinking about the 14-point lead it would have given them.

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Or the halfback option pass from between the tackles with Kalel Mullings, who was a linebacker weeks earlier. That could have been a terrible call, but it worked. Michigan made their breaks and took advantage of Ohio State’s breakdowns.

The Buckeyes came into this game determined not to let the same thing happen again, but it did. And worse, it happened in a different way, but led to the same collapse at the end.

The Wolverines never cracked. Never blinked. Just kept staring straight ahead, like the killing machine Jim Harbaugh always wanted.

Happy Warriors. Victors Valiant.

The tide has turned, and it’s no small feat to turn it back. Jim Harbaugh lost his first five times as a head coach in this series, but has now won two in a row. And next year, they get the game in Ann Arbor.

It took Harbaugh seven years to get one win over Ohio State. Ryan Day won’t get that long. Was Michigan wrong to stick with Harbaugh? Plenty sure called for his job, but UM’s patience is now paying off.

Ryan Day needed this win to avoid the pressure that is now on his shoulders. It is going to grow by the day. Doubt builds and questions go unanswered. And you can really only erase that doubt and answer those questions one time per year.

Unless, of course, they meet again in the playoffs…

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