Michigan came into the Akron game riding that special kind of high that comes with putting a douchebag coach and fanbase in their places during a primetime game where they looked dominant.
Akron came into the Akron game 1-1, 37.5 point dogs, and coached by Terry Bowden. None of that would portend well for a team even on its best day, much less a MAC team on the road at one of the largest sporting venues in the world that is inhabited by some of the most occasionally present fans in the world. Did I mention that Akron is coached by Terry Bowden? I feel like I might've, but I just want to reiterate: Akron is coached by Terry Bowden. And the ghost of Chuck D'Amato.
But Akron has another weapon up their sleeves, and that is the psychic force of nature that is a group of players under the auspices of one James Patrick Tressel. I find it hard, nay, impossible to imagine a scenario where even Jim Tressel, university administrator, doesn't help teams beat Michigan through sheer force of will. It didn't work out this time, but man it was fun to watch while we were all thinking it would.
I missed the first seven minutes of the 1st quarter because I was out getting groceries, but that's okay because the eight minutes that I did see was more than about half of the Michigan student section did (they didn't see any of it because they didn't show up). Anyway, there was a long TD pass from Gardner to Funchess and Akron hit a long field goal. Other than that, pretty boring. 7-3 Michigan.
Johnny: Do Michigan students not like donuts? What would entice them to games instead, pithy bon mots and foie gras?
Ace: I think the students realized they like beer and sleep more than donuts and less sleep, then most of them stuck with the drinking once they caught a glimpse of the game—I find it difficult to blame them for this, and I usually go pretty hard on the student apathy angle. Foie gras would only invite the wrath of the locals. (I'd probably be one of those locals, but this isn't about my moral outrage about force-feeding animals for personal pleasure. This is about a terrible football game.)
Johnny: BON MOTS IT IS!
To be fair, in 2007 Ohio State did lead a very crappy Akron team only 3-2 going into the half. To be even fairer though, Michigan looked incompetent at times on both offense and defense and wasn't getting better. Michigan's offensive line in particular looked terrible, and Devin Gardner killed a potential TD drive by throwing his prerequisite interception. And then he did it again. If Akron doesn't miss two field goals, they lead. Instead, 7-3 Michigan.
Johnny: I don't believe in hangover games. I do, however, believe in coaches watching gametape of systemic problems and then exploiting those problems for their gain.
Ace: Like, for example, realizing that your quarterback is totally unstoppable on the inverted veer, which happens to be the only run play your team can execute with any efficacy, and then running that play because the opposition literally cannot bring said quarterback to the ground? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea!
Instead, Al Borges played it conservative, tried to protect his quarterback, and called for a bunch of zone stretches and powers that the interior line—quite terrifyingly—couldn't block against bleepin' Akron. Oddly, he still called plenty of those waggles that usually get the backside DE a free shot at Gardner, so even when protecting his quarterback he didn't really protect his quarterback.
It's hard to blame Borges too much, however, when Gardner is coughing the ball up four times, including another gift pick-six. I'm not saying I was ready to do something rash after that play, but if there'd been matches in the press box, we might've had a Thich Quang Duc situation on our hands.
The assembled 90,000 Michigan fans nodded sagely as the Wolverines came out flatter than a pancake and Akron put together an impressive TD drive to take the lead. No wait, "nodded sagely?" I'm sorry, I mean "started to boo loudly." Akron put together a touchdown drive to take the lead, and then Borges then woke up and called a bunch of power/read running plays to help Michigan add a couple of their own, effectively ending my fun? Maybe? 21-10 Michigan.
Johnny: Still seems like the defense for you guys continues to be soft in the middle of the secondary.
Ace: Indeed, though I think the problem starts on the outside—the safeties have actually played really well. Michigan has now given the majority of the snaps to three different players in three games at nickel field corner (first Channing Stribling, then Delonte Hollowell, and this week Jourdan Lewis—the first and last being true freshmen) while moving their best cover corner, Blake Countess, down to nickel. Countess has played very well; everyone else, not so much. Michigan played bend-but-don't-break again Akron (sigh), giving plenty of cushion on the outside and allowing slant after slant after slant, and then both Raymon Taylor (the other starting outside corner) and Lewis got beat over the top for huge gains despite the aforementioned cushion. There's a huge dropoff between Countess and the rest of the corners and it's hampering Michigan's ability to do anything but play vanilla coverage and hope they don't die via a thousand cuts. Death narrowly averted, I guess.
Also not helping matters is the fact that the linebackers aren't getting enough depth on their zone drops, which contributed to some of Akron's success passing over the middle. Again, Greg Mattison is getting limited by his personnel's, er, limitations.
Then things got interesting. A Gardner pick six put Akron back in it, and if it weren't for an endzone pick, Akron would've regained the lead. Michigan's offensive line continued to look like utter crap, and allowed the Zips to stick around. Terry Bowden then summoned his eldritch horrors of the night, and goat sacrificed his way to the lead with a TD. Michigan responded, took the lead, and set up an epic Akron comeback touchdown that will echo in the halls of college football history.
Except, instead of that, they were stopped inside the five repeatedly within the last 30 seconds of the game and Michigan somehow escaped 28-24.
Johnny: Uh, soooo... what the hell was that?
Ace: I don't know. Pick a position group and there's a serious concern. Quarterback? Devin Gardner Turnover Machine Activated. Running back? Fitz Toussaint is missing open cutback lanes, and he needs those because the offensive line can't open holes against Akron, which, again, is Akron. The defensive line can't generate any pressure on their own. I covered the concerns about the linebackers and defensive backs earlier. As a bonus, the special teams were a disaster, with Matt Wile shanking three punts, Brendan Gibbons missing his only attempt, and the archaic pro punt formation nearly costing Michigan a blocked punt and a big return. The sunniest possible view after this game is that it was the proverbial letdown and Michigan still escaped with a win; it's impossible to look at this game objectively and not see major issues that go well beyond stuff you'd file under "intangibles", which—like you—I don't put much stock into anyway.
Johnny: Again, I'm not a big fan of saying that a decent team had a poor game because of "hangover" or "looking ahead." If there are problems, they exist. They can be fixed, but that doesn't mean they're flukes or whatever. The win over Notre Dame was thrilling, but the luster on that has already begun to wear off.
Here's what I think happened: Akron's defensive line was just good enough to wreck havoc on a generally really bad Michigan offensive line, and that led to problems all over the field on the offensive side. Gardner almost single-handedly lost the game for Michigan, accounting all four Michigan turnovers. Michigan fans might point to his 351 yards of total offense and while he's deadly on scrambles, but his decision making under duress remains terrible. Fitz Toussaint will never create for himself, ever. If the hole is there, he'll hit it and do okay. If it isn't, automatic two yard loss.
Defensively the secondary is a mess. Akron should not be throwing for 300 plus yards on anyone (they didn't even get that against James Madison), but the middle of the field is almost always open in Michigan's defense when teams feel like exploiting it. Countess has been opportunistic, but aside from him there's really no one to fear too much in the backfield at this point.
This was a bad win by what I still think is a decent team. But Michigan has a ton of gigantic, glaring holes in their team that need to be addressed ASAP or Big Ten season will be very difficult for them.
Ace: Aside from your frankly bizarre crusade against Toussaint, who's a decent—not great, but definitely decent—back when he's actually getting blocks, I agree with all you said above. In lieu of providing any more analysis of a game I'm doing my best to forget (thank you, Elmer T. Lee), here are my final thoughts in terrifying GIF form.