Hoke’s gutsy call may have failed, but it was the right one in this instant classic

by | Dec 1, 2013 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

No guts, no story. Michigan took a giant chance in the dying sunshine of Saturday afternoon, trying to rewrite its season in the final paragraph. Having just scored to pull within 42-41 of undefeated and third-ranked Ohio State, the Wolverines pushed all the chips to the middle of the table, ignoring a game-tying extra point and going for the victory with a two-point conversion.

There were 32 seconds left.

This was jumping from the plane. This was skiing over the ravine. This was James Bond bravado, leaping to land on the speeding motorcycle to zoom away from the bad guys, a pretty woman hooked behind you.

“We went over and (Brady Hoke) asked us as a team, ‘You want to go for it?'” recalled Taylor Lewan, U-M’s senior offensive lineman. “I don’t think there was one guy that said no.”

Why should they? It was the right call. It was the right call because momentum was on their side, because the overtime odds were worse than the two-point conversion odds, and because, sadly, their defense had been nonexistent against OSU.

Mostly it was the right call because when you have nothing to lose, a victory is all that can lift you – especially against a rival you hate so much, you see red, even if they’re not wearing it.

It was the right call.

But it didn’t work.

Instead, Devin Gardner threw to the end zone, and a freshman defensive back named Tyvis Powell jumped in front and snagged the ball, leaving the intended receiver, Drew Dileo, empty-handed and leaving Gardner, a valiant warrior all day, flat on his back, looking at the sky and no doubt asking, “Why, Lord, why?”

As the Buckeyes swarmed one another, the Michigan Stadium crowd of 113,511 remained still. Reality was sinking in. The spell had been broken. The amazing day was over. The Buckeyes’ perfect season was preserved. Michigan was going to lose for the fifth time against seven victories.

And the greatest upset since Bo Schembechler’s 1969 signature triumph was about to join the empty air of amazing things that never happened.

No guts, no story.

Long drives on both sides

“I think there were a lot of positives, and I think there were a lot of negatives,” Hoke said after one of the most exhilarating, exhausting and excruciating games in this storied series.

Positives and negatives? The numbers scream it. Here was a game in which Michigan had touchdown drives of 99, 84, 83 and 78 yards, yet gave up touchdown drives of 91, 86, 75 and 75 yards itself. Here was a game of few punts, no field goals and no prisoners. Here was a street fight, all punches and counterpunches, sock and get socked, bloody and get bloody – including an on-field brawl that saw two Buckeyes and one Wolverine ejected.

Here was the undefeated, 16-point favorite, third-ranked Buckeyes trading punches with the disappointing, unranked, 7-4 Wolverines. Yet after more than 1,100 yards of combined offense, acrobatic runs, leaping catches, even an Olympic-quality hurdle of a defender, the prevailing feeling was whoever had the ball last would win.

Which is why Michigan went for two.

“We weren’t doing a good job of slowing them down,” Hoke said, “and we wanted to go win the football game.”

Fighting to the finish

They didn’t, in the end. And when future fans look at the stats of this game, they’ll see why: a Michigan defense that gave up nearly 400 rushing yards to two players alone. Combining their efforts, quarterback Braxton Miller (153 yards) and running back Carlos Hyde (226) averaged 8.8 yards a carry, ripping through the Michigan defense as if bursting through paper.

“That’s not very good,” Hoke said, glumly.

No, it’s not. Neither were the fumble and some ill-time penalties that killed, among other things, a long kick return.

What was good, however, was Michigan’s tremendous offensive effort in this game. And those who were screaming last week – or are screaming louder now – for Hoke’s head should listen to the choked voices of his players when they talk about team, heart and playing for one another.

“The guys in that room… were the only ones that knew what was going to happen today,” said an emotional Lewan.

Added a downcast Gardner: “We’re a team that fights.”

And it was a fight. Or as receiver Jeremy Gallon (nine catches, 175 yards) said: “It’s a war.” Ohio State was better by a few plays and a few inches. Its defense seemed to sniff out the two-point conversion play. But there’s a blackened circle around the Buckeyes’ eyes this morning, and in a year where Michigan has little to point to, that shiner is a bit of a shine. Ohio State may have won nine of the last 10 in this series, but the Buckeyes were a whisper away from their dreams being dashed.

No guts, no story. It was a good call in a bad season, and it almost changed the ending. To even have a chance at that – given how erratic Michigan has been this season – is something worth writing about.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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