After a Fitzgerald Toussaint 2-yard touchdown run with 2:49 remaining, the Wolverines held on with two clutch defensive plays on their own one-yard line to keep the Zips from the epic upset at the Big House.
A win is a win, but it was apparent the U-M offense had some issues. And it all started with junior QB Devin Gardner.
Gardner threw three interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one in the process. He would finish with 248-yards passing with two touchdowns and would also lead the Wolverines in rushing with 103-yards on 10 carries.
“We almost lost to Akron,” Gardner said. “No disrespect to Akron, but we almost lost after coming out and having a great win last week in front of the whole world. And we come out and almost blow it. And majority (on) me.”
While Gardner took ownership to his self-admitted worst game of his Michigan career, fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan had a different position on who was to blame.
“We didn’t prepare. This is on the seniors. This is on the leadership of this team. Extremely poor, poor leadership – especially on my side,” Lewan said.
“Being the one offensive captain on this team, I put that offensive performance on myself. Devin didn’t have enough time to throw. Our running backs didn’t have enough holes. That’s my fault. It’s my fault.”
Michigan finished the game with 177-yards on the ground, but continued to hurt itself with key holding penalties on long runs and was never able to get a rhythm going with the run game. According to Lewan, the offensive struggles all came down to lack of preparation.
“We didn’t prepare as a team,” Lewan said. “That is truly embarrassing for Michigan that we came down like that. It’s not fair to the fans. It’s not fair to the people that are associated with this program. It’s not fair to the freshman on this team that aren’t playing. This is the seniors’ fault. This is the captain’s fault. We will not come out like this again.”
While U-M coach Brady Hoke admitted he liked how the team prepared in practice last week– specifically on Wednesday and Thursday – He compared Michigan’s preparation to taking a college exam or lack thereof.
“You take finals and test and everything in college,” Hoke said. “You got to study. And how much you study is usually how well you’re going to do. Maybe the effort wasn’t there totally”
While Gardner was adamant that he was the one the blame for the U-M offensive woes, he guaranteed the team would respond next time out.
“I was not the best quarterback for this team today,” Gardner said. “Like (Lewan) said – it’s embarrassing. We’re going to respond. We won the football game. We’re going to respond, I can guarantee you that.”
Michigan next plays at Connecticut on Sept. 21, to end its non-conference schedule. They are still undefeated, but there is going to be work done this week if Lewan has anything to say about it. Especially as U-M prepares for Big Ten play and its goal of winning a Big Ten Championship.
“I’m fired up,” Lewan said. “I’m fired up and we got a lot of work to do if we want to accomplish (these) goals. This senior class, Devin, Jake Ryan, we’ve all worked too hard. Too hard to have games like this. Way too hard. You all don’t even know.”
Now it’s time to see it.