Brady Hoke didn’t seem all that hesitant when it was time to put the cards on the table.
No, the third-year Michigan coach let it all hang out Saturday afternoon, calling the gutsiest play of his career—instead of sending “The Game” with Ohio State into overtime, Hoke opted to cash in all at once.
"We play the game to win," Hoke told reporters after the 42-41 loss to the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes at The Big House, via MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner. "I thought about it.
"And we did it."
Well, they didn’t actually do it, but they tried, which was a small victory considering the tumultuous season that served a 7-5 record on a plate of bitterness.
One can’t really blame Hoke for attempting the brave move. His quarterback, Devin Gardner, had been spectacular in the first half and serviceable in the second.
Just moments earlier, Gardner helped put Team 134 into the position to topple its rival by finding Devin Funchess in the end zone.
That last-ditch gasp earned the redshirt junior a shot to win it all. Like his coach, he was a battered underdog looking for redemption.
Unfortunately for Gardner, who threw for 451 yards and accounted for five touchdowns, the prayer-like pass didn’t find its way into the hands of Drew Dileo, who waited just inside the goal line for the payoff.
Instead, Ohio State’s Tyvis Powell caught the ball, sealing the Buckeyes’ 24th straight victory before Dec. 7’s Big Ten title bout with Michigan State in Indy.
No risk, no reward.
It was a fitting end to a contest that should have been easily controlled by Ohio State, which held a 35-21 lead in the third quarter before being hit by Michigan’s 20-point fourth quarter.
Fitting because of how hard the Wolverines fought.
Fitting because of how Gardner battled back from weeks of pain.
Fitting because Hoke finally showed that he wasn’t afraid—he gave his fanbase everything it wanted, except the win.
Hoke deserves credit for having the Wolverines at their best, even if it was too little, too late. Better late than never, right?
Remember the losses to Nebraska, Penn State and Iowa? Those triumphs were pick-pocketed by the other side. Hoke essentially gave away three games in 2013. His team could have achieved 10-win status if not for late coaching miscues.
Michigan lost four of five by a combined 11 points. Blame that on lax coaching. The 2013 Wolverines were indeed equipped to pass by most of the Big Ten.
|43-40 (4OT) L||Penn State||Happy Valley||Deep ball to Allen Robinson in fourth quarter|
|17-13 L||Nebraska||Ann Arbor||Ameer Abdullah's 4th-quarter rushing (UM didn't adjust to ground-and-pound)|
|24-21 L||Iowa||Iowa City||UM led 21-7 at the half but completely fell apart in second half.|
|42-41 L||Ohio State||Ann Arbor||Going for 2 was the right call, despite loss|
Now, that’s not meant to discredit the Huskers, Nittany Lions or Hawkeyes—they indeed earned their pieces of the pie. But it’s difficult not to assume that the game plan from Nov. 30 wouldn’t have worked wonders throughout the season.
During the first half vs. the Buckeyes, offensive coordinator Al Borges finally dove into his bag of tricks and used his athletes’ strengths, rather than bottling up weapons and calling the same draw and bubble screen time and time again.
Hoke concentrates on the defense. He rarely ever wears a headset, which brings his involvement into question—does he really know what’s going with Borges in the watchtower? Either way, Borges made Hoke look good, which has been rare lately, in the biggest game of the year.
Borges' calls led to converting eight of 14 third downs and 603 total yards, not to mention great ball control—Michigan held the ball for more than 33 minutes and committed just one turnover.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison couldn’t halt Ohio State’s offense, but his men somehow played well enough for spectators to forget that Wolverines defensive backs were getting torched by the Big Ten’s No. 1-rated scoring attack.
It was “ready, set, go” for Braxton Miller, who had an efficient 286 yards of production and accounted for five—yes, five—touchdowns. Carlos Hyde ran for 114 yards in the first half, only to finish with a Border War record of 226, per ABC’s live broadcast.
How was this game close? How on Earth did the Buckeyes barely escape Ann Arbor?
Hoke wore his big boy pants, that’s why.
Walking into halftime tied 21-21 was the best-case scenario imaginable. Not many thought Michigan would make things interesting, let alone challenge Big Bad Urb.
Saturday turned from “a game” to “The Game” because Hoke didn’t back down from the challenge. All or nothing. It was really that simple.
"I don't think there was one guy that said 'no,' " senior left tackle Taylor Lewan told reporters (via Baumgardner). "Everyone said yes. We were behind our coach 100 percent."
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81