The No. 11 Michigan Wolverines likely scheduled the Akron Zips at home in Week 3 in hopes that it would lead to an easy victory, but that couldn't have been further from the case. It took a late touchdown and a goal-line stand on defense, but the Wolverines were able to escape with a 28-24 win.
MICHIGAN HOLDS! Fitzgerald Toussaint scores game-winning TD as Michigan beats Akron, 28-24. Devin Gardner goes 16-30, 248, 2 TD, 3 Int.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 14, 2013
One week after a huge, emotional victory over rival Notre Dame, the Wolverines clearly experienced a letdown against a seemingly inferior MAC opponent.
Had Michigan lost, it would have been a monumental upset. Akron has been one of the worst teams in college football over the past several seasons as evidenced by its long losing streak against FBS teams and on the road, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Akron has lost 23 STRAIGHT GAMES vs FBS TEAMS. Akron has lost 27 STRAIGHT ROAD GAMES. Zips lead Michigan w/ 4 minutes left.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 14, 2013
On top of that, Akron hadn't beaten a Big Ten school since 1894, so the deck was clearly stacked against the Zips.
Akron came just short of its first win over a current Big Ten school since 1894... Zips lost at Michigan 28-24.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 14, 2013
According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, Michigan actually paid Akron $900,000 to play against it at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., but that plan nearly backfired.
Paydays this weekend: Michigan paying Akron $900K, Michigan St paying Youngstown St $650K, Minnesota paying W Illinois $375K— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 13, 2013
Although Michigan is likely to take a hit in the rankings, Wolverine fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Here is a closer look at how the Zips almost scored one of the biggest victories in the history of their football program.
The game started off in predictable fashion as the Wolverines moved the ball on their first drive and scored with ease. Quarterback Devin Gardner found tight end Devin Funchess for a 48-yard touchdown, and it seemed as though the rout was on early, but the Akron defense bore down and kept things close.
Michigan's next two drives consisted of a three-and-out as well as a missed 45-yard field goal by kicker Brendan Gibbons. The Akron offense was able to take advantage of Michigan's ineptitude on offense and special teams as Wolverines punter Matt Wile shanked a punt deep in his own territory.
Zips kicker Robert Stein connected on a 45-yard field goal, and by virtue of no scoring in the second quarter, Michigan entered the locker room with a nervous 7-3 lead.
Akron came out of the break determined as the Zips marched 75 yards in just under four minutes, culminating in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Pohl to Zach D'Orazio. Michigan responded as Gardner scampered for a 36-yard score just two minutes later to put the Wolverines back on top.
Michigan then extended the lead five minutes later as Gardner found Jehu Chesson for a 33-yard touchdown. With a 21-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter, it seemed as though the No. 11 Wolverines had averted disaster, but things went haywire in the fourth as Michigan was attempting to shut the door.
Gardner had looked quite strong prior to the fourth quarter despite a pair of second-quarter interceptions, but his poor decision-making cost the Wolverines dearly early in the fourth, according to Larry Lage of the Associated Press:
Michigan answered with a three-and-out, and it was clear that the momentum was firmly on Akron's side. The Zips drove deep into Michigan territory on the ensuing possession and had an opportunity to take the lead from the two-yard line, but Pohl was picked off by Jarrod Wilson in the end zone.
Akron was 2 yards away from taking lead, but Wilson picked off a pass in end zone to let #Michigan cling to 21-17 lead with 11:06 left— Larry Lage (@LarryLage) September 14, 2013
Even though things seemed to swing back in Michigan's favor, the Wolverines couldn't capitalize as they failed to move the ball on their next possession. Akron was once again on the move, however, thanks to the great play from Pohl. The Zips then grabbed the lead as Pohl threw a one-yard touchdown to Tyrell Goodman.
That left Michigan with just 4:10 to drive into scoring position, but the Wolverines' offense finally came alive after its long fourth-quarter slumber. A 35-yard run by Gardner followed by a 20-yard strike to Jeremy Gallon and a pass interference penalty put Michigan in position to score. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint found pay dirt from two yards out, and Michigan regained the lead 28-24.
Michigan one again seemed safe, but Akron showed its heart once again in the latter stages as 2:49 proved to be plenty of time for the Zips to move down the field. Despite a number of penalties, Pohl was able to reach the 2-yard line. Akron was stuffed on a third-down run with five seconds left, which gave the Zips one shot at the win.
Michigan took a big risk by sending the house, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports, but it paid off as Pohl misfired, and the Wolverines survived a massive scare:
Michigan hangs on for 28-24 win. Full house blitz to end the game and force an incompletion. Gutsy defensive call at the end. Wow.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 14, 2013
Head coach Brady Hoke can't be happy with his team's effort, but it was a win nonetheless.
Devin Gardner (QB, Michigan): C-
While Gardner certainly made some plays on Saturday as evidenced by his stat line of 248 passing yards, 103 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, he made far too many mistakes at critical points in the game. Gardner's pair of second-quarter interceptions were damaging as they gave Akron confidence, and the fourth-quarter pick was absolutely critical. Gardner admittedly looked spectacular at times, but there were too many instances of Michigan struggling to move the ball on offense.
Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB, Michigan): C
Toussaint stepped up late by punching in a short touchdown with a couple minutes remaining in the game, but he has to shoulder much of the blame for the shortcomings of Michigan's offense. Gardner was the one who made mistakes, but the Akron defense didn't fear the Michigan running game as Toussaint gained just 71 yards at 3.7 yards per carry. Toussaint has to be more consistent moving forward if Michigan is going to have success in the Big Ten.
Kyle Pohl (QB, Akron): A-
Who was the player of the game?
Pohl's numbers technically weren't much better than Gardner's, but the outlook on his performance is far more positive due to the fact that he wasn't supposed to do much of anything. Pohl finished the day with 311 yards, and the majority of that yardage came in the fourth quarter. Pohl also threw a pair of touchdowns as well as two interceptions. One of the picks was crucial as it occurred at the Michigan 2-yard line, but Akron fans have to be happy with his effort.
Zach D'Orazio (WR, Akron): A
Pohl couldn't have possible played as well as he did without the help of sophomore wide receiver Zach D'Orazio. The 6'2" pass-catcher provided a matchup problem for Michigan's secondary as he made a number of big plays en route to a six-catch, 97-yard performance. D'Orazio caught a touchdown early in the second half to give Akron its first lead, which was huge in terms of making the Zips believe that they could pull it off. They ultimately fell short, but D'Orazio was integral in Akron's run.
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