A week after the Wolverines dropped their first game of the season to Penn State in a four-overtime thriller, they came back and put up 751 yards of total offense.
Forget that it was against the Big Ten’s worst defense -- 751 yards against the worst defense in the league is good. It’s good against the worst defense in the country (which Indiana is close to). It’s good against robots on a video game.
Michigan defensive back Thomas Gordon (left) had two interceptions in the fourth quarter as the Wolverines held off Indiana to win.
It was 4.6 yards per rush and 24 yards per completed pass. It was 35 first downs and 83 plays. It was highlight-reel play after highlight-reel play, heroics after heroics.
Quarterback Devin Gardner, who has shown some shakiness lately, went 21-of-29 with no interceptions. He threw for 503 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for three more. He broke Michigan’s passing record and total yardage record, while falling just one yard short of the Big Ten’s total yardage record.
Many of those yards in the air came on behalf of wideout Jeremy Gallon, who broke the Big Ten single-game receiving record with 369 yards. He had 170 yards in the first half. And then he went on to one-up himself by getting 199 in the second half , which by itself would’ve been his career best game.
Add to that running back Fitzgerald Toussaint rushing for 151 yards and four touchdowns. His average of 4.7 yards per carry was 3.7 yards more than last week. He had his best performance since Nov. 12, 2011, and never before had he reached the end zone four times in a game.
And all of this production was with two brand new starters on the offensive line -- a freshman and a walk-on playing at the guard spots.
By all offensive standards, Michigan had a truly impressive performance that deserves to be applauded.
But once that applause dies down, there is one question that needs to be posed: why did Michigan need 63 points and 751 yards of offense and video-game performances from its offense to win? It’s not as though this was a blowout. This was a relatively closely-played game and the Wolverines needed the offense to put up those kinds of numbers.
Why? Well, because the other half of the team wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain.
It was the opposite side of the coin from previous games for Michigan. For weeks, the defense has bailed out the offense -- when the Wolverines needed a goal line stand for a win over Akron, linebacker Brennen Beyer came up big; when the Wolverines needed a play against Connecticut to seal the game, linebacker Desmond Morgan came away with a pick; when the offense has needed it, the defense has stood its ground.
On Saturday, the offense bailed out its counterpart.
The defense had its moments. It came up clutch when it needed to. Twice in the fourth quarter safety Thomas Gordon intercepted a pass -- first when the Wolverines led by just two, then when they led by nine.
But it felt like an up-and-down story similar to the past few weeks. The offense would come up big, but only after it had turned the ball over or failed to convert. Against the Hoosiers, the defense came away with stops, but only after it had laid out the red carpet for Indiana to saunter through most of the game.
The Hoosiers didn’t put up Michigan’s offensive numbers, but they were close.
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They rushed for 162 yards (at an average of 4.9 per carry) and passed for 410 yards. The 572 total yards is the most any Indiana team has gained against Michigan in the 62 meetings between the schools.
And Indiana did all of that while only possessing the ball for about 22 minutes. It put together six touchdown drives against the Wolverines, none of which lasted more than two minutes. Quickly, and surely, the Hoosiers took care of business.
All in all, it left Hoke feeling none too pleased.
“A lot of frustration, sick feeling -- that kind of thing,” Hoke said of his defense. “We’ve got to play better. You don’t win championships without playing defense and we didn’t play very good defense today.”
Michigan now gets a bye week to work on its game -- one which is not quite in any type of championship form.
It'll have a week to dissect what exactly went wrong and what little went right, defensively. And it will work to make amends when it faces the burgeoning offense of Michigan State.
“I’d like to see the same offense show up,” Hoke said. “But maybe a different defense.”
If this offense shows up again, and this defense plays up to its potential, the Wolverines could be the team they’ve talked about being. It’s a team no one has really seen yet, outside of the Michigan locker room.
Hoke was asked about his team’s identity at this point in the season, and put on the spot, he couldn’t come up with an answer.
Who can blame him? After all, the Wolverines have been good. They’ve been bad. And they’ve been somewhere in between.
They’ve been an offensive machine and a defensive stalwart. They’ve made plays and ruined other teams' hopes of doing the same. They’ve closed out well and started out strong.
But the problem is they have yet to do it all in one game for 60 minutes.