Michigan vs. Northwestern: OT Drama Hides Wolverines' Offensive Flaws

Phil CallihanContributor INovember 16, 2013

USA Today

Michigan dodged a bullet against Northwestern, winning 27-19 in triple overtime. Two times in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines were deep in the red zone but came away with only a single field goal for their efforts.

Trailing 9-6 with time running out, Michigan was in position for a potential game-tying field goal. That is until quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked for a loss of 13 yards to knock the team out of field-goal range.

Nov 16, 2013; Evanston, IL, USA; The Michigan Wolverines celebrate their overtime win against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. The Michigan Wolverines defeated the Northwestern Wildcats 27-19 in triple overtime. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA T
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan appeared to be headed for its third straight defeat until Gardner hit wide receiver Jeremy Gallon for a 16-yard gain to get them back in range two plays later. But Gallon couldn't get out of bounds to stop the clock, and Michigan was forced to run their field-goal team on the field as time ran down.

Placekick holder Drew Dileo got in position and took the snap just in time for kicker Brendan Gibbons to make the 44-yard, game-tying kick.

Michigan was barely set long enough to run its final play.

Michigan then won the game in overtime, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal to beat Northwestern, 27-19.

Lost in the drama is that the Michigan offense has scored a lone touchdown in the past 12 quarters of regulation.

EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 16: Devin Gardner #98 runs of Michigan Wolverines runs the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field on November 16, 2013 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Quarterback Devin Gardner was sacked an additional five times versus Northwestern for a loss of 40 yards. With two regular-season games left, Gardner has been sacked 19 times this month alone and narrowly avoided throwing multiple interceptions to Northwestern defenders who had their hands on numerous passes but we couldn't make plays.

How bad was the Michigan offense in regulation? Early in the fourth quarter, Northwestern shanked a punt from its own end zone and gave Michigan a 1st-and-goal from the 10-yard line.

In four plays, Michigan lost a yard before settling for a 28-yard field goal from Brendan Gibbons.

On its next drive, Michigan moved the ball down to a 3rd-and-2 at the Northwestern 4-yard line. Running back De'Veon Smith was stopped for no gain before Gardner lost a yard trying to convert the fourth down.

A touchdown on either of these two drives would have given Michigan a good opportunity to win the game during regulation.

EVANSTON, IL - NOVEMBER 16: Shaun Austin #32 of the Michigan Wolverines runs the ball as Damien Proby #46 of Northwestern Wildcats defends at Ryan Field on November 16, 2013 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

While Michigan failed to score a touchdown until overtime, the running game did post positive yardage, something it failed to do in its previous two games. Running backs Derrick Green (19 carries for 79 yards) and Smith (nine carries for 39) were more successful finding holes than previous starter Fitzgerald Toussaint, who didn’t play in this game.

The final score looks respectable, but it was bolstered by both teams having success moving the ball in overtime. This game was dominated by kickers, either punting or making field goals.

Both teams only scored touchdowns when punting wasn’t an option in overtime.

Michigan still hopes to win 10 games this season and desperately needed a victory after two consecutive losses.

The game was a victory, but the Michigan offense is still searching for ways to protect Gardner and consistently move the ball behind a lackluster offensive line.

With only two games remaining, including a season finale with Ohio State, those answers can’t come soon enough.