Brady Hoke's Michigan Wolverines helped remind the college football world that even huge favorites can use a little luck against less than quality opponents. After trailing Akron 24-21 late in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines pulled out the win, 28-24, on the strength of a quick 70-yard drive and an end-of-game defensive stand.
Michigan kept the Zips out of the endzone, but this was no epic defensive stand to boast about. Rather, it was a sigh of relief to see the final pass fall just out of the Akron receiver's grasp. This Michigan defense, shredded to the tune of over 400 yards by Akron, showed the world that sometimes it helps to have the football gods seemingly on your side.
36 seconds on the clock, first and ten from around the ten yard-line and the Zips just could not get out of their own way. First a delay of game that pushed them back to start the final four plays. Then a pass that was just too hot for 6'5" target, Jarred Dillard to handle.
Next an interior route to L.T. Smith that gave Akron the first down and stopped the clock. A positive for Akron that would turn into not just a negative due to the lack of urgency from the staff, but compounded by the review booth's late decision to check the spot.
Upon the initial decision of first down, Akron had a shot to send a play in and get a play off while the clock still held 24 seconds. Instead, following a slow approach to the line, which cost Akron nine seconds, the Zips lose the time on the clock and the new set of downs.
That is not a stop by Michigan, or a big play on defense during that time that the ball sits, spotted, waiting for Akron. Rather, that's poor management by Terry Bowden and his staff, plus a little good luck on the review.
What happens next, for a smaller and slower team, playing against an opponent that has largely stuffed the run game all day, is another very Michigan-friendly decision: Akron runs the ball on third down. Not just a run play, but a play, with the clocking ticking down from 15 seconds, that requires motion and a toss.
With the clock winding down from 15, Akron did not do themselves any favors in playing to something that Michigan has defended relatively well, all game. The attempt to pick up the first down was a waste of a shot at the endzone.
After Akron's quick timeout, following the failed third-down attempt, the final play of the game stands as a tip of the cap to the Wolverines. A team that benefited from some bizarre decisions by the Akron staff and a nicely timed spot challenge, showed some mettle on the final play of the game.
Instead of lining up with coverage and trying to stop the Zips in the back-end, Michigan decided, with dreams of going undefeated hanging in the balance, to get aggressive. Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl had spent his day dissecting the defense and, with an upset just a few yards away, Michigan decided to opt for pressure instead of hoping Akron made another bad pass or poor decision.
Defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, dials up a zero blitz, all man coverage, no safety help, no linebackers underneath to help, just the four guys in coverage on their own while seven defenders go after the quarterback.
The pressure does it's job, Pohl is forced to throw before he is ready, he cannot get his body into the throw, sailing it too high and too long for his receiver to get to, and it falls incomplete. Michigan wins, and the dream of a BCS Bowl, and more, stays alive.
Akron taught Michigan plenty of lessons, most notably that the intermediate interior of its defense needs work in pass coverage. This final stand for the Wolverines against Akron showed, yet again, that teams some times need a little help to pull things out.
Although Akron helped along the way, a cap must be tipped to Mattison for opting for pressure on the final play. Many coordinators opt to play coverage in that situation, something that often ends up with a touchdown being scored.