In general, a football team has a pretty good idea of which plays bring success and which have a negative result.
And by the end of the year, there shouldn't be any major lingering issues on how to utilize talent on offense.
The Michigan Wolverines seemingly had theirs in overdrive during three games prior to Saturday's 26-21 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. But along the way, Michigan lost its firepower and failed to get the job done in the most important match of 2012.
Capturing a second consecutive triumph in The Game wasn't in the cards for the Wolverines, who hoped to play spoiler to Urban Meyer's 11-0 Buckeyes at The Shoe in Columbus.
Michigan was close, but a steep drop-off in both play calling and execution during the second half cost it bragging rights and helped the Buckeyes close the year as a college football juggernaut (minus sanctions, of course).
That's the difficult part, most likely, for the Wolverines, whose evaporated BCS aspirations compound the loss to Ohio State.
Failing to effectively use the uber-talented duo of Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson in the second half hurt, too.
Finishing the year with a record of 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten) is respectable, but it's hard not to imagine a more competitive game—even a win—this past Saturday had offensive coordinator Al Borges followed similar game plans that led to victories over the Northwestern Wildcats, Minnesota Golden Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes.
Beating the Wildcats was no easy task, but Borges implemented the right plays at critical junctures that allowed Michigan to escape Northwestern in overtime, 38-31. Gaudy wins over the Gophers and Hawkeyes only stoked discussion of how opposing teams were going to halt Borges' strategies.
He was nearly a genius—at least for three weeks.
But, Borges' lack of wizardry when it mattered most just contributed to the season-ending equation, which goes as follows:
A loss to Ohio State plus no chance of BCS bowl due to loss to Ohio State, multiplied by Borges' ineptitude after the first half, equals a disastrous finish to an otherwise solid year in which the Wolverines beat the Michigan State Spartans for the first time in four years and fell just shy of beating the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Falling to Ohio State was possible.The Buckeyes showed they were the Big Ten's elite time and time again.
But then again, the Wolverines had momentum on their side—Gardner played the role of hero while Robinson sat with a right elbow nerve injury. Knocking off the Buckeyes was doable, but Borges and head coach Brady Hoke brilliantly collaborated and decided to move forth on 4th-and-3, putting their team in a hole instead of progressing toward the end goal, which was a win.
Punting would have been the better option at that point of the third quarter. Pinning Ohio State deep in its own territory would have been ideal. The defense was hit or miss when it came to defending Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller, but the Wolverines made stops and would have benefited in the long run.
Instead, Robinson ran between tackles—let that sink in for a second—on what proved to be a game-altering blunder.
Ohio State tacked on a field goal, but should have put six points on the board. Michigan didn't pay too dearly, largely due in part to key, drive-stifling tackles from Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan.
Borges was bailed out by Greg Mattison's boys. Plain and simple.
From that point on, Borges all but eliminated Robinson from the game plan. That wasn't the Borges that manipulated a Gardner-Robinson backfield so well against Iowa. That was the Borges,who, for whatever reason, took the ball from the best athlete on the field, forcing Gardner to throw down the seams and sidelines in an attempt to keep Michigan from sinking.
No running game. No threat. Ohio State knew Robinson wouldn't throw, so Borges essentially sent a smoke signal to Meyer's sideline, making it known that the Wolverines were keeping the ball on the ground.
An interception in the fourth quarter pulverized any shot of winning. It wasn't all due to Gardner, who failed to really take control Saturday—he had no other choice but to throw the ball into tight windows.
He had no other option but Devin Funchess on that play.
All the "we win as a team, lose as a team" talk only goes so far. There comes a time when individuals have to take blame for their poor production and/or bad game-time decisions. Robinson did after Michigan's loss to Notre Dame.
He threw four interceptions and fumbled once. The senior knew he had to accept blame and face the following criticism. Robinson even took blame for Saturday's mishap, something which Borges and Hoke should have handled.
"I made a bad read on the run, that's my fault," Robinson told AnnArbor.com.
Hoke echoed Robinson's thought, citing the use of the same play in the past as reason why he called on Robinson instead of doing the logical thing -- punting.
"(Robinson) maybe should have been in a gap wider," Hoke told AnnArbor.com. "And, he had broken three (long plays) from that same run."
No, and no.
He shouldn't have been put in that position in the first place.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81