It's been almost 48 hours and I'm a lot calmer now than I was on Saturday, so I can finally write about the latest gut-wrenching Michigan defeat at the hands of Ohio State. Obviously, I'm disappointed for a ton of reasons but there's one big thing that is disappointing me greatly with all of the fans and pundits out there:
Everyone is taking sides on why Michigan lost this game. On the one side, you have bitter, skeptical Michigan fans that are crying foul over the referees who managed to call an extremely lopsided game with penalties largely being given to Michigan and almost nothing being given to Ohio State, including a stunning lack of holding calls on an offensive line that allowed Buckeye starting quarterback JT Barrett to be sacked eight times, all before a controversial 4th and 1 ball spot in double overtime that gave the Buckeyes a first down when replays continued to show that Barrett was short of the line to gain.
On the other side, you have people blaming Michigan's three turnovers, Jim Harbaugh's "conservative" play-calling and undisciplined behavior as the reason for the loss and calling the people angry at the referees complete whiners, unable to get over the fact that they lost fair and square.
The truth, as always lies in the middle. Both sides are right......and wrong.
Michigan had many chances in regulation to win that game. Defensive coordinator Don Brown showed the nation exactly why he's the best in the business and exactly why Harbaugh hired him, because he spent the entire afternoon making Barrett's life a living hell. The aforementioned eight sacks and an uneasy 124 yards passing. Curtis Samuel was nullified for most of the game. Mike Weber was non-existent. The most that Ohio State could legitimately drive the field for offensively was one field goal at the end of regulation to tie the game.
The problems for Michigan were all on offense. Two interceptions, one of which was run back for a touchdown and another that led directly to a short field touchdown in the red zone gave Ohio State all of the offense it needed, and a fumble lost at the goal line by Michigan QB Wilton Speight that stopped a Michigan touchdown drive. 91 total yards rushing and an inability to run the football in the second half, a problem that the Wolverines have had all season, didn't help the situation. All they really needed was one more score to get to 24 points OR just a few more first downs to run more time off the clock and give the defense a real breather and it would have been a Michigan victory. Take out the turnovers and it might be a shutout with the way the defense was playing. None of that happened, the game remained too close and the Buckeyes were able to force OT and took control from there really.
Even Jim Harbaugh himself who made it clear he is "bitterly disappointed" in the officials performance in the game would tell you that all of the above is true about his team. He loves his guys, but he still knows the missed opportunities they left out on the field to ice the game before OT was even a possibility. All of the people that tout this as the reason Michigan lost are making a valid point.
Here's the problem: You CANNOT make excuses for bad officiating, especially in a game of this magnitude. In spite of all of Michigan's mistakes on offense, it still did EXACTLY what it needed to do to WIN the game in double overtime, including a 4th and 1 stop of Barrett to seal the victory. The referees gave him a generous spot, reviewed the call on the field and refused to overturn it, despite ample "un-doctored" evidence that he was short. The defense did their job and were told "no" by the referees. That's what happened, whether you think it is whining or not. Everything that we think they SHOULD have done before that point doesn't change the fact that they DID everything they needed to do to still win it and it was taken away from them by the officials.
Ignoring that and simply saying that losers are the ones that whine about referees is completely taking the referees off the hook for being incompetent and that's unacceptable. It's not just a problem in the Big Ten either, it's rampant across college football and other sports as well, we've all seen it. As a longtime fan, you expect that high profile teams are going to get a benefit of the doubt on calls being at home, even against a rival, but far too many of the calls in the game were beyond suspect and the one-sided nature of the penalty flags just can't be tossed aside or made to be insignificant. Michigan needs a team that can outplay Ohio State and the referees as well and they were punished for only being able to outplay Ohio State. The refs got them in the end, plain and simple.
Teams never lose a game because of one definitive reason. It's always a combination of reasons as to why they came up short in the end. The Michigan defense did all it could to fight through the deficiencies of the offense and did a damn good job of it, putting them in position to win the game in double overtime. Their reward for that work was to have the officials tell them it was worth nothing in the end. Sad, but undeniably true.
Those that want to say this is talking out of both sides of my mouth will point to the three turnovers, the 91 total rushing yards and the 9 for 19 on third down numbers as to why I am full of it. Those that disagree with them will point to the 7 penalties for 59 yards against Michigan compared to the 2 penalties for 6 yards for Ohio State and wonder just like I do, how in the hell that is even balanced, especially when Michigan's defensive line was controlling the line of scrimmage for the entire game. Not one holding call? Really?
In the end, bad mistakes on offense AND horrific officiating BOTH contributed to Michigan losing its 14th game in the last 16 years to the Buckeyes, a statistic that just gets more painful to think about every year. This one takes the real cake though, because the team battled through its own issues and errors to get into a position to win and STILL couldn't do it.
One thing is certain: Urban Meyer was relieved to win that game and while moral victories are non-existent, it is clear that the gap between Michigan and Ohio State in terms of talent is all but gone now in just two short years with Harbaugh at the helm and the Wolverines, despite not leaving Columbus with a win are far ahead of where most people thought they would be......with Brady Hoke's players still largely starting on both sides of the ball.
I think it's safe to say that "The Game" means something again, finally after all these years and it won't be too much longer before Michigan is on the right side of one of them.
Of course, we'll have to wait another year for that to be the case. Right now it just stings really, really, really badly.