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November 30, 2013
Young Ohioans step up in rivalry
It takes a certain amount of gumption to accept a scholarship offer from Michigan when you have spent your entire young life within the borders of Ohio.
In the two states, the rivalry permeates every corner of life. Kids in Ohio are raised to loathe anything Maize or Blue - and vice verse. And heading North as an Ohioan can sometimes be a scary prospect. As a high school senior, College Football Hall Of Famer Chris Spielman famously brought up his interest in Michigan to his father - before he was told he'd be disowned if he even thought about becoming a Wolverine. He eventually became one of the most storied defensive Buckeyes in recent memory.
But over the years, Ohioans have made a huge impact on The Game as members of the Michigan football team. Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, Elvis Grbac, Bob Chappuis and hundreds more Ohio natives have left their mark on the Wolverines, and in The Game, specifically.
Michigan's 42-41 loss Saturday was no different - and all of the production from the Ohioans on the roster was not necessarily expected.
"They understood what it was, what this game was about," fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, a Floridian, said of the team's Ohioans. "Freshmen or not, it's Michigan vs. Ohio. It's not a game, it's a war. They understood that, and they made big plays."
Freshman tight end Jake Butt, who came to Ann Arbor from Pickerington, Ohio, has been a pleasant surprise all season, but his numbers haven't been jaw-dropping.
He came into the Ohio State game with 12 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. He had never caught more than three passes in a game, and his longest reception in the first 11 games was 19 yards.
Against the Buckeyes, Butt played the best game of his young career, grabbing a career-high five catches for a career-high 85 yards, averaging 17 yards per catch and hauling in a career-long 37-yarder.
With the game on the line and just five minutes left in the fourth quarter, redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner lofted a two-yard pass up to Butt, who outmuscled an Ohio State defender for a game-tying score, 35-35.
Freshman running back De'Veon Smith, a native of Warren, Ohio, also had the best game of his young career.
Smith had taken carries in just two games before Saturday, rushing seven times for 13 yards in garbage time of Michigan's season-opening blowout win over Central Michigan and adding eight carries for 41 yards in a 27-19 triple-overtime win at Northwestern.
With the Michigan rushing attack stumbling down the stretch (amassing a total of 130 rushing yards against Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa), Smith added a spark against the Buckeyes.
He finished with just seven carries, but he made the most of them, rushing for a team-high 57 yards (8.1 yards per carry), including a 38-yarder in the third quarter, which tied an end-around run from sophomore slot receiver Dennis Norfleet in the Central Michigan game for the longest run from scrimmage by any Wolverine this season.
"I was proud of them," fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, a an Arizona native, said. "It's a team sport. A guy's number gets called, he has to step up. That's what we've got to do, every single time. My number was called as a freshman. Jake's number was called as a freshman. You're expected to play at a Michigan level.
"I was proud of those guys. This team will be a Big Ten championship team before you know it."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolverines also got much-needed support from young Ohioans.
Junior middle linebacker Desmond Morgan (who played Saturday) and sophomore outside linebacker James Ross III (who didn't) both left last week's game at Iowa early with undisclosed injuries. Freshman outside linebacker Ben Gedeon of Hudson, Ohio and sophomore middle linebacker Joe Bolden of Cincinnati stepped up in their place.
Gedeon finished with a career-high six tackles, tying fifth-year senior safety Thomas Gordon and junior cornerback Raymon Taylor for a team high, including his first-career sack and tackle for loss.
Bolden added five tackles, including his second-career sack.
Freshman defensive end Taco Charlton (also from Pickerington), who entered the game with one career tackle, cut down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller for a one-yard gain on a 3rd and 13 in the second quarter, forcing one of just three Buckeye punts on the day.
"They're getting better, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "They're freshmen, and they're getting better."
Did it mean a little more for them, because they're from Ohio?
"Oh, I would imagine," Hoke said, with a little smile.