September 14, 2013
Borton's Blog: Anything but easy
It was supposed to be a day at the beach. Sunshine, cool ocean breezes, tiny umbrellas in the cups, and the complete and utter capitulation by an overmatched foe, genuflecting at the Michigan football shrine. Michigan's offensive line continues to fuel concerns. Of Fitzgerald Toussaint's 19 carries (for 71 yards), 11 went for two yards or less, and seven lost yardage. U-M coach Brady Hoke estimated Toussaint lost 50 more yards on penalties, often holding calls.
The Wolverines and their fans instead faced a ride on a tsunami-driven bamboo pole, carried several miles inland, leaving all barely clinging to life in the top of a palm tree. Michigan was supposed to let a get a breather when Akron came to town.
Until the final second of U-M's 28-24 wild ride over the Zips, there wasn't a breath to be gasped. When exhalation ultimately arrived, smiles didn't follow.
Only relief remained, along with a Katrina-sized surge of anger from one Taylor Lewan.
The fifth-year senior captain didn't return to Michigan for this. He made that abundantly clear in his incendiary post-game tirade. Lewan pointed a beefy index finger directly at himself, the Wolverines' veteran leadership, and the team's preparation in a week that was supposed to be far less stressful.
It doesn't always work that way, Akron reminded the Wolverines. Only the ultimate goal-line stand saved untold embarrassment for Michigan.
Or, in Lewan's case, fueled more.
"It was embarrassing," he insisted. "You've got to give it to Akron. They played a hard-fought game. We didn't prepare. This is on the seniors. This is on the leadership of this team. It's extremely poor, poor leadership, especially on my side.
"Being the one offensive captain on this team, I put that offensive performance on myself. Devin [Gardner] didn't have enough time to throw, our running backs didn't have enough holes, and that's my fault. My fault."
Gardner, whose four turnovers - including three interceptions, one for a third gift touchdown to an opponent in three weeks - served as a potential Zips-line to an upset, begged to differ. No, it was my fault, Gardner ruminated.
"We almost lost to Akron," Gardner said, as disbelieving as the 107,120 that wandered out of Michigan Stadium suffering Appalachian State flashbacks. "No disrespect to Akron, but we almost lost after coming out and having a great win last week in front of the whole world. We come out and almost blow it. The majority [of the problems involved] me. I'd have been sick if we didn't have the chance to pursue our goals of a national championship and a Big Ten championship because of the way I played today."
No disrespect to a couple of Wolverines angry enough to chew brass and spit Winchester cartridges, but they're both wrong. There was more than enough blame to spread around on a near lost afternoon.
"That can't happen," Hoke underscored. "That's 50 yards of rushing. That's the rhythm of a game."
Gardner once again put his decision-making and execution under the microscope. His turnovers turned a potential rout into a cliffhanger against a team destroyed by Central Florida and shootout survivors versus James Madison in the season's first two weeks.
"I talked to Tom Brady, and he talked about being the best quarterback for the team, every time out in practice and in the game," Gardner recalled. "I was not the best quarterback for this team today."
Michigan's defense allowed touchdown drives of 75 and 67 yards in the second half, then saw the Zips move from their own 25 to the U-M 1 prior to the gutty goal-line stand that won the game.
"Taylor is absolutely right - it's about leadership," fifth-year senior safety Thomas Gordon insisted. "We preach it all week, but obviously we didn't execute today.
Special teams chipped in as well, Matt Wile shanking punts on the way to averaging 33 yards on the day. There was already a punting competition on this team, with walk-on Kenny Allen booming away in practice. It just ramped up.
Yes, Akron made some plays. But if Michigan made its plays - if it executed even close to how it did under the bright lights against Notre Dame - the Zips get zip. The Wolverines need to learn, and quickly.
At least they already know it. Their day in the sun almost produced third-degree burns.
"This is the seniors' fault," Lewan fumed. "This is the captains' fault. We will not come out like this again."
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