Michigan football team triumphs again in unlikely, notable season
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
No worries. All that was on the line was his program's most important field-goal attempt in, well, when was the last time the Michigan football team had so much riding on one swing of the leg?
Players said in the past week no matter how good they felt about their 10 wins and victory against Ohio State, their accomplishments would be cheapened with a loss in the Sugar Bowl.
The miracle against Notre Dame and the road comeback against Northwestern and the defense discovering itself against Illinois and, yes, even the win against Ohio State, all would have lost some of their shine.
It was the difference between being remembered and becoming a legend for Team 132.
And there Michigan was, in overtime against the Hokies, just a 37-yard field goal separating them from validating the past 12 months.
But Gibbons wasn't thinking about any of that. He was thinking about girls.
Brunettes, to be exact.
"Every time we were struggling in kicking, Coach (Brady Hoke) tells me to think about girls on a beach or brunette girls," Gibbons said after the game. "So that's what we did, and I made the kick."
Gibbons split the uprights, to be exact, giving the Wolverines a 23-20 overtime win they badly needed.
The always quotable Taylor Lewan summed it up best, in his own special way: "So many emotions, but if I had to put one thing down, I’d say it's like a box of kittens.
"Have you ever seen a box of kittens? It’s the feeling you get when you see a box of kittens. You’re excited. You’re happy by it. ... It feels all warm and fuzzy. I feel warm and fuzzy."
The Wolverines needed this one for their seniors, who went through a football hell none expected to incur when they signed up to play for college football's winningest program.
After going through two coaches — and the fifth-year seniors, three coaches — and a 15-22 stretch, they can appreciate a reversal of fortunes as few can.
Hemingway will go out as a Sugar Bowl MVP, and he turned the trick despite grabbing only two catches. But they were both big ones, scores of 45 and 18 yards — Michigan's only touchdowns of the day.
He began his career as one of the few players who participated in the program's last bowl win, a Capital One Bowl victory against Florida to end the 2007 season.
Michigan failed to qualify for the postseason the following two years, and was blasted last year by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. It was the end of Rich Rodriguez in Ann Arbor.
It also was the start of Hoke, who insists this team "is not about Brady Hoke, it's about the seniors." But the seniors are him. He is the seniors.
Together, they've built a resiliency that carried them to unlikely victories, most notably against Notre Dame. And now Virginia Tech.
"I think it was just an attitude, 'cause we've been through the worst of the worst," senior lineman Ryan Van Bergen said. "We've lost by 30 and we've won by 48. We've been through every situation.
"The one constant is what your mind-set is and what you're going to do to correct things. When you develop that mind-set, because of all that adversity, you're in every game."
Hoke has left his footprint on this program in 12 months, a stretch that is fittingly punctuated by Michigan's first BCS win since the 2000 Orange Bowl. A game that, oddly enough, also is memorable for being decided by the kicking game in overtime.
Only, that was one was gift-wrapped in the form of a missed extra point by Alabama. This one, Gibbons had to earn it, first with a 39-yarder on the team's final fourth-quarter possession and again from 37 yards in overtime.
As Gibbons came to his rest, eyes on holder Drew Dileo, there was weight on his shoulders. It was baggage.
It was team baggage. But it was personal, too.
He went 1-of-5 last year. He lost his job two games into the season and watched as his head coach held open tryouts to the student body for his position.
Gibbons has risen this year, going 10-of-14 in the regular season. But knew he had something left to prove, even after hitting to help force overtime.
"You make that (fourth-quarter) kick, everyone’s confident in ya, but you still got haters that don’t believe in you," he said.
This team has been about the seniors, but in a lot of ways, no one encapsulates it better than Gibbons, who has gone from depths some kickers never survive to becoming one of the Big Ten's most consistent kickers.
It was a triumphant season, in search of a triumphant ending. For Gibbons, and for Team 132.
As he lined up the kick, teammates crowded along the sideline. Some stood on benches to see over them. Fifth-year senior receiver Kelvin Grady stood off by himself on one knee, head down.
He couldn't look. Didn't have to, either, as the crowd behind him told him all he needed to know.
Michigan was back on top.
"He’s a hero in my eyes," said Lewan, who lived with Gibbons last season. "It’s a classic zero-to-hero moment."
The same could be said for the Wolverines.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 10:05 a.m.
A lot of questions have been answered. Many of the doubts have been erased. I won't go negative by being realistic about what almost happened to Michigan's season. In fact, I think it's best to focus on the assurance we now have that Brady Hoke is The Man and will be so next season and into the future. What's most reassuring about Coach Hoke and his staff is that they are (1) committed to relentless pursuit of B1G championships and (2) that they are experienced, wise and flexible about how to achieve that goal. In history and literature around the world: heroism is defined first by the obstacles and setbacks a hero-to-be unavoidably faces. The thrill is in the overcoming of those things. So that's what is facing the Michigan Wolverines program. Next season includes some serious threats to achieving the stated goal. If anyone imagines the heart-stopping games like the one against Notre Dame are in the past: they're in for a rude shock when the 2012 season rolls around. Michigan has a large junior class this year, those guys will all be seniors next year. Hopefully, when they step onto the field 8 months from now, they will have become formidable players who will have matured into Michigan's Leaders and Best. Hail to the Victors Valiant! Go Blue!
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 8:06 a.m.
Never been prouder to watch our Michigan Wolverines win especially with our new coach who just always says and does the right thing ,...and gave the word TEAM a new passionate emphasis which was clear as our Wolverines won through team effort ! GO BLUE !! Let's make sure we pick the replacement for our sadly missed and wonderful Men's Soccer Coach Steve Burns as well as we did with Brady Hoke ! Integrity,Passion,and Team Effort ! Thanks for a great season.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 3 a.m.
An ugly win is better than a pretty loss. Go Blue!
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 3:57 a.m.
Yes, I agree.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.
Borges needs to go !
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:59 a.m.
They got Lucky, Lucky, Lucky. They came out flat as a pancake. I can not remember this season seeing them miss that many tackles. They should of been losing been 21 -0 at half. VT looked like they where playing in a higher gear than the wolverines the first half. Every time Denard went back to pass had to hold breath would it be a good pass or another bad pass. U of M Defense could not the stop the VT quarterback from scrambling. VT picked on Countess the whole game and he got beat way to much. U of M Offensive play calling was horrible the worst of the year. Touissant looked like he ran scared and could not hit a hole. U of M coaches failed in having them ready for this game. Do not get me wrong I bleed Blue but they got lucky. Sorry. Whole new group of recruits coming in next year will help. Next years schedule is a (you now what) breaker. Look for them to go undefeated next year and Denard Robinson to receive the Heismann.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.
How is it "lucky" that we stopped Va. Tech twice inside the 5 and they got only 3 points, and that they were in the red zone 5 times and only got 1 TD ? There was no luck in that ... our D toughened up and stopped them. People made plays when they needed to. Do you think Junior's 2 TD catches were "lucky" ? No, once again someone made a great play. Our 2 TD's were not luck, and neither were our 3 FG's. Neither were the 2 turnovers we forced, and neither was the stop on their late fake punt ... Jake Ryan made a great play to stop him.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 8:41 a.m.
There were no holes for Touissant or Denard to hit. VT D Line totally dominated our O line.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 4:02 a.m.
I agree with you its a game of inches. But, if they played there game to there potential they should of won easily. I am sorry U of M coaching staff did not have them ready for that game. Offensive play calling was awful.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 3:07 a.m.
It's a game of inches, but you put yourself in the position to be lucky. Michigan ran a bend-don't-break defense and a stop David Wilson defense. If VT kept throwing the ball, they could have won. They didn't. That was their choice, not luck. If VT scores TDs rather than field goals, they win. They didn't. It was their mistakes that cost them the game, including missing the field goal in OT. Denard have a good feel for their defense and didn't make great decisions, but Michigan's players put themselves in the position to make great plays. I would call that skill, coaching, awareness, football smarts and instinct before calling it luck. With that said, fortune smiled on Michigan yesterday. Go Blue!
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 11:46 p.m.
Was at the game and it was a somewhat sedate atmosphere surprisingly (and really empty). You couldn't tell so much on TV but in person it was obvious that VTU was crowding the line and daring DR to throw. Our line could get no protection and DR just couldn't find anything. For that matter, neither could Fitz and it just looked like Michigan was out of sync all night long. Sort of like that Notre Dame game. VTU appeared very fast in person and defensively sound, but I was surprised at how unprepared Michigan was for anything other than what they showed. I hope that next year, they continue to improve, but there will be big time adjustment with the loss of RVB, Molk and Martin.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:17 a.m.
Meant to add that despite how unprepared they looked and how poorly the offense executed, there is just something about this team which is fun to watch, fun to embrace, and make us all proud. Just seeing DR's smile at the end of the game, with him leading the charge to the student section, and their hugs.....It is truly wonderful. Reflects on how well they are coached, and how they are just so different than past few years. Hoke and his staff have brought an intangible to this team (as have the senior leaders and DR) that make it difficult to beat them. Hearts of champions, even if they didn't get the B10 ring.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.
Junior's emotion (when he said you all don't know what we have gone through) said it all. When you think of the past 3 years of total and unnecessary nonsense, this year's team was definitely something special. Junior's speech and emotion/passion for Michigan also brought tears to my eyes. Thanks to all the players, to Coach Hoke and Staff for proving that coaching does indeed make a difference and thanks to all fans of the Blue and here's to many more great years to come! I love this school and team! TEAM 132! HAND SALUTE!!! GO BLUE!!!!!
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:58 p.m.
This team lost 56 to 14 in the gator bowl last year to Mississippi State! Some people are upset we only won with a bit of luck in down to the wire BCS game, after going 10-2 in the regular season. Virginia Tech had a tremendous defense. The quickest, fastest, most athletic defense I've seen all year. This was a great win against a very talented team paying tenaciously. This season was wonderful. We'll never see such improvement in a team from one season to the next. that would be impossible..
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:04 p.m.
Some like to criticize Denard for not playing better but like you said VTs defense gave him no time to breath- fast fast fast. Maybe the little bit of luck ( karma ) made up for the bad luck against Iowa.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.
Michigan is #5 for 2012 in college football early rankings . . . <a href="http://www.chatsports.com/michigan-wolverines/a/Early-look-2012-preseason-college-football-rankings-10-2-1700" rel='nofollow'>http://www.chatsports.com/michigan-wolverines/a/Early-look-2012-preseason-college-football-rankings-10-2-1700</a>
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.
It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine...!
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.
Over/Under 10.5 on how many stories AA.com puts out today about Michigan's Sugar Bowl win?????????????
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:28 p.m.
Actually, make that Over/Under 30.5
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.
Congrats to Coach Hoke, Coach Mattison, Coach Borges and staff, and to all players on the team, especially the seniors, for a great turnaround season. This team played up to it's full potential, and perhaps beyond, so I do not understand some of the negative comments. The coaches made it clear early on that this team was far from the high standard that they set, and yet they continued to improve as the season went on. After the disappointing loss to MSU in October, we regrouped and finished the season 5-1, including a BCS bowl win. 11-2 and a BCS bowl win is a great accomplishment for this team ... let's enjoy it ! Last night the Va. Tech D was impressive, and they played far better than I thought they would. I know that their was highly ranked in the nation, but I thought that it was because they didn't really play a tough schedule, other than Clemson. Even though they played great, our guys managed to make enough plays to score 23 points win the game (such as Junior's 2 great catches). Our D in the red zone is amazing ... many times this year teams had moved the ball against us, including Va. Tech, only to be stopped by our D or held to a FG. All of this with basically the same players as last year. Wait until we get a couple of great recruiting classes to build on this foundation that we now have. The future of Michigan football is very bright, and it's great to be a Wolverine. Go Blue !
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.
ted, are you kidding me ? The team has all new coaches and a new offensive system, taking over for the "offensive genius" we had previously, and we score MORE points this year per game than last year. I say again, CONGRATS to Coach Borges. Man, one tough game against a tough D and some people are ready to hang the coach.
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:27 a.m.
Congrats to Borges ?!! Are you kidding me ? The offense was terrible thanks to him. How many times is he going to force Denard to throw down field from the pocket when he has shown he does not have the ability to do so. Everybody seems to understand this except him. People are starting to wonder how dense is this guy. The defense has bailed him out all year. He is a joke
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.
This game was all about the defense holding a very good team to mostly field goals. This in turn, helped a somewhat shaky offense put up enough points to win. Go Blue!!! Did anyone else notice how long the game ran and how many commercials there were? At some point having so many commercials is going to affect the game itself...
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.
You have to wonder if there is any point in getting tip top condition anymore-- with all the commercials the least conditioned team has plenty of time to rest.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.
The mvp game award is a great tribute to any player. I would like to see two awards given one for defense and one for offense.
Blu n Tpa
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.
Let's take a moment to reflect on how Michigan got here. First, who out there really thought that this team would go 10-2 in the regular season, get into a BCS bowl game and then win it with the same kicker that was benched last year? Anyone? Or that the defense would climb from near the worse to near the best in Coach Hoke's first season? And, that the new offense would morph into more than a DRob highlight reel, with a better running game and passes to a tight end? How is it possible that some out there have already forgotten where this team came from, the worst 3 years of football in Michigan history, and the worst defeat at a bowl game just one year ago? These players took in all the direction from the new staff, believed it, trusted it, lived it and have acheived far more than anyone could have dreamed. And some of those that write here find fault with the WIN. Coach Hoke preached accountability to the players and in return he got respect and results. And for all the disappointment being laid at Coach Borges'feet about his offense, remember that he adjusted to what was here and it won games. Or would you have perferred the results from the last staff and their first season? Yeah, that's what I thought. Brendan Gibbons is Michigan! They are Michigan! This is Michigan! Go Blue!
Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 8:58 a.m.
It looked to me like VT's D totally dominated Michigan's O line. Their whole defense made our offense look slow. Touissant never had a chance. Denard as a runner never had a chance. Even in the secondary- there was very little separation between our receivers and their D backs. But Michigan's red zone D and special teams kept us in the game. If you're in the game then you can win with some luck. Great contributions by three star freshman recruits Frank Clark and Jack Ryan; and of course walk on Jordan Kovacs again. Without them we lose. Did anyone see what happened to five star William Campbell? Man recruiting is an inexact science.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 11:43 p.m.
If you have watched Denard enough this year you should know that he is vulnerable to a middle blitz. He is too short and it blocks his ability to see the field. You know Denard, he just throws it up for grabs. he should have been intercepted at least 5 times last night.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:58 p.m.
@1BlockRadius -- yes, well put. I watched a lot of football this past week and I saw a lot of QBs picking up blitzes and hitting receivers on quick crossing patterns. I've been asked why I'm unusually down about last night's victory ... and it's for the reason you allude to: if last night is any indication of Borges reverting back to some notion of "I'll keep pounding up the middle until they break," then I think it represents a regression of the offensive philosophy that will not serve us well into the future. I am not a fan of "spread-for-the-sake-of-spread," but I do recognize the value of speed and controlled up-tempo execution. We saw Borges be relatively creative during the last three games of the regular season. Then *poof* ... it's gone for this game. Why? The injuries? Did the offensive timing degrade during the layoff worse than they let on? Or -- my deep fear -- did Borges take this opportunity to go back to his comfort zone in preparation for next year? I like ball control football. But I don't when it's not working. Increasingly, with today's fast and athletic defenses, plays that take time to develop in the backfield don't tend to work. I hate to say this, but watch what Meyer does with Miller and his offense this coming year. He's going to blend a little power with some spread and some speed and he'll have success doing it. It'll look a lot like Wisconsin this year with Wilson ... with what will likely be a better defense.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:21 p.m.
I believe the problem with the offense last night was with the play calling. There were a lot of blitzes up the middle. Watching from my couch I saw Dave Molk miss a block. Now that may not have been his assignment or his fault, I'll wait to look at film what the play call was, but that was the first time all year I've seen a defensive lineman go right by molk and sack Denard. At any rate, when things like that happen you need to adjust and roll out denard to the right, play the spread.... WHERE WERE THE BUBBLE SCREENS ? I know Borges gets angry when it gets brought up in pressers, but that bubble was open on almost all of those up the middle blitzes. The average fan might just see a sack and blame denard, but I think it's a lot deeper than that. I don't mean to Monday morning quarterback, but I'd just like to hear an explanation on the play calling. Why No Bubbles ???
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:13 p.m.
@rightmind250 -- that doesn't explain what happened last night. If Denard played like he did against Illinois, Nebraska or OSU the game would have had a completely different look. Instead last night looked like the MSU game of earlier this year -- lots of runs up the middle that didn't work, and some really bad passing. And we can't blame the weather.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.
DonAZ, It's called Denard. he's a sprinter, not a QB. Hemmingway kept him on the field this year, otherwise they would have moved on to the backup stiff.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.
Agree with all you wrote. I would just like a better understanding of what happened last night. The regression of the offense was striking.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.
Much more important than the 11-2 record, Michigan football this season went back to the foundation and repaired the damage done there in the recent past. That is all very good. There is much work still to do, but 2011 showed how a house built on solid footings can weather a storm. This team has many players with big hearts who lowered their heads and went to work. Some are well known seniors such as Molk and Martin; some are up-and-comers with names like Ryan and Countess. The season began against Western Michigan with some indications of what was to come. Kovac's beautiful hit on WMU's Carder behind the line of scrimmage stands out in my mind. It one play it set the tone for determined defensive play. For me the most satisfying was the Illinois / Nebraska game combination. Coming off a disappointing loss to Iowa, the Illinois game showed Michigan had the grit to go back to work, and the Nebraska game showed the team was serious and determined. The victory against OSU showed the limits of the new defense, but that was offset by a determined and creative offensive scheme that stayed in the game for the victory. If we plot the season on a graph it would show some erratic play early, then a mid-season dip against Michigan State and Iowa, followed by a very nice steady progression upwards -- Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State. Then came this Sugar Bowl. Despite the win, the graph would show a disheartening dip back to MSU game levels. I can only hope it was an anomoly. The final polls will come out in a week. Michigan may or may not crack the top 10. It matters for recruiting purposes, but being in the top 10 does not make this a top 10 team. Michigan had a very good season but few should believe this team is a finished project. Far, far from it. We have a good class coming in. We have some good returning players. Let's hope the line on the graph starts where it left off after OSU. Let's hope the Sugar Bowl will be an errant data point.
Billy Bob Schwartz
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 11:12 p.m.
Good comments, DonAZ. One thing that happened at the start of the game probably had a serious impact on the offense. Starting out with a different center and having the bobbles right off the bat must have been unsettling. It's hard to be confident when that happens. One thing I liked most about the season was the unwillingness of the team to give up. The ultimate was the ND game, but last night was another example. That last VT drive was pretty much a sure thing, but our guys didn't read it that way and let up. They played all out the whole way. Go Blue!!
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.
Just heard on the local radio that Ryan Van Bergen had some pre game ankle tweek, as well as Denard. All seems very weird. Not to mention Brink and Heininger out for the game. Molk was 50-75% as well. Michigan was really in the hole. It might explain why the team seems off in the Surgar Bowl. This was more of an anomaly for the reasons above, plus the 5 week layoff. For me, going forward is the upcoming recruiting class. Maybe we can land De Anthony Arnett among others. Spring ball is way up the road. Gotta love that Notre Dame loss to FSU. It will be fun playing against Brian Kelly, even at SBN next season.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.
Congrats! Hoke and "The Team" represented the Blue School and the B1G 10 well. Sadly, the B1G 10 was only 4-6 in the post-season. However, the state up north did its part. Well done. Looking forward to next year!!! PS: Congrats to your kicker.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.
Thank you for the positive comment.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 11:41 a.m.
Finally fell asleep for a couple of hours and still I woke up antsy cause I had to read more about my beloved Wolverines. Man I wish I had a blueberry muffin right about now. Anyway, many opinions after that game and I had differentiating ones myself. I was very frustrated by the Offensive game plan and in-game play calling, I'm hoping there were extenuating circumstances that led to that confusing play calling. Maybe Molk's injury hindered it, who knows. But Denard did not play very well, there were many plays I thought he way under executed on and was generally pretty shaky in the pocket. VT's Defense deserves credit nonetheless. I hope he continues to improve and minimizes these kinds of performances next year, his final one. We need him to be a stud in the opener against Bama, I plan on being there for that game. There are many more things I can cite, however, I just want to say thank you to the coaches, players, especially the Seniors and everyone else involved in providing us fans with a wonderful and hugely successful season and a rebirth of U-M Football, no matter the level of play, we won a BCS Game for us and the Conference. The future looks very bright and 11 wins is a hell of an accomplishment, Go Blue!!!
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.
250...what is "dimb?"
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.
@rightmind 250 Considering Brady Hoke took over a team that went through the worst era in U-M football history and went 11-2, he'll replace that talent easily, just like they used to before Rich Rod. The underclassmen on offense and defense will step up their game next year with more experience.
Blu n Tpa
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.
Mick, hope you find that blueberry muffin. Great season and let's hope for more the same next season. This is Michigan! Go Blue!
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.
I think we saw a glimpse of the future last night and it looked pretty dimb to me. Unless UM plans on starting 3 freshmen on the o-line next year they are in for bi time trouble. Now you know why Denard was testing his status in the nfl draft. Denard? He got worse as the season went on. I remember Hoke saying he was 70 % accurate in practise, but as Allen Iverson said, "it's just practise". With Hemmingway going to the NFL, who is going to bail out Denard? Every downfield pass he throws is a hail Mary. With Mike martin graduating the d-line is also in big time trouble. I think Will proved last night he is a legitimate 5-star bust. The line backers are average to a little above. Countess got burned big time last night. The safeties still have no clue when it comes to pass defense. That's reality. You must of had a couple cups of kool-aid with that blueberry muffin.
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 10:38 a.m.
Congratulations and thank you to the team, Coach Hoke, and staff!! Fantastic win. It is so great to be a Michigan Wolverine!!!
Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 10:01 a.m.
On the whole, it has been a total team effort this entire season. The usual hero has been Denard on offense with some Fitz Toussaint in the latter part while the defense featured Kovacs. The Sugar Bowl featured Brendon Gibbons and Special Team effort. The locker room attitude is clearly, The Team! The Team! The Team! Thanks to Brady Hoke and staff for making that up front and center. It took the entire team to win 11 games this season as it took the entire team to pull out a Sugar Bowl win. It's Great--To--Be--A--Michigan--Wolverine...(repeat 3x) GO BLUE!!!