By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – In all likelihood, Michigan could have taken No. 3 Ohio State into overtime Saturday. Once the Wolverines scored, they could have kicked the extra point for the tie. Instead, they went for the win.
The two-point conversion attempt failed, and the second-guessing began in earnest.
Head coach Brady Hoke cited his defense’s inability to stop the Buckeyes’ run game as the main reason for the decision. Given that Ohio State gashed Michigan for 393 yards on the ground, Hoke’s reasoning there was sound.
Of course, the Buckeyes had trouble stopping the Wolverines, too. Quarterback Devin Gardner completed 32 passes for 451 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan moved the ball at will just about as well as Ohio State did.
Hoke could have made the safe call, extended the game and sent his defense back out to try to stop Ohio State again in overtime. He made the bold call, the one he thought would give the Wolverines the best chance to win.
The defense, while the main factor in that choice, likely was not the only one.
Gardner walked slowly into the post-game press conference with a boot on his foot. He said he hurt it during the game but that he would be all right. Throughout the game, Gardner’s mobility proved an important part of the Michigan offense. While he did not scramble for much net yardage (35 positive and 25 negative) because he took three sacks, he kept plays alive with his legs long enough to get first downs or find open receivers because of his ability to move well.
With Gardner hurting, the Wolverines likely would not have been as productive in overtime. Combine that with the Ohio State running game, and going for the win seems like a legitimate choice if not an automatic one. If the shootout had continued into overtime, the Buckeyes would have had the edge.
Taking those factors into account, Hoke also made the decision a collective one, senior left tackle Taylor Lewan revealed after the game.
“Ohio State’s head coach called time out, we went over and [Hoke] asked, he said, ‘Seniors, do you want to go for it?'” Lewan recounted. “And I don’t think there was one guy that said no. Every single person said yes. We’re behind these coaches 100 percent.”
The Wolverines gambled, and it did not pay off. If the play worked, Hoke would be a hero. Since it failed, he will likely be criticized. Either way, Hoke got a team that had struggled all season to play one of its best collective games against its hated rival in the last game of the regular season.
The Wolverines were expected to be creamed. People talked about the possibility of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer running up the score to give the Buckeyes a stronger case for the BCS committee. Many Michigan fans sold their tickets, resulting in a Big House crowd that included many, many Ohio State fans. Tickets were available for as little as $29.
Despite all that, Michigan lost by a single point, 42-41.
You win some, and you lose some, and Hoke got Michigan closer to a win Saturday than anyone expected. He and offensive coordinator Al Borges called a solid game. The last play was no exception.