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Published: Sunday, 11/20/2005

Wolverines had their chances

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk smothers Michigan running back Mike Hart for a loss in the first quarter at Michigan Stadium. Hawk had seven tackles, giving him 382 for his four-year career. Hart was held to 15 yards rushing on nine carries. Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk smothers Michigan running back Mike Hart for a loss in the first quarter at Michigan Stadium. Hawk had seven tackles, giving him 382 for his four-year career. Hart was held to 15 yards rushing on nine carries.
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ANN ARBOR - In most walks of life, if you don't finish the job, you don't get paid.

For Michigan against visiting rival Ohio State yesterday, and for the 2005 football season in general, what the 7-4 Wolverines will remember best is that unfinished business meant unfulfilled objectives.

When Michigan kicker Garrett Rivas made a chip-shot 19-yard field goal with 7:49 remaining at the Big House yesterday, all the Wolverines needed to do to "get paid" was continue playing the same type of defense which had enabled them to blank the Buckeyes' potent offense over the first 23:20 of the second half.

Instead, OSU junior quarterback Troy Smith carved up the Michigan defense for two late touchdown drives in the final

6:40, thus issuing a stop payment.

Michigan's 5-3 Big Ten finish included two other near-misses - Wisconsin's late comeback win at home over the Wolverines, and the Wolverines' late meltdown here against a Minnesota team that appeared ready to drop its 17th straight game against Michigan.

"A lot of our games came down to the last minute," sophomore quarterback Chad Henne said. "One of our goals at the beginning of the year was just to finish. This year we didn't finish some of the games we should have.

"Things didn't go our way [vs. OSU]. We had a great game plan, but we just came out a loser."

After starting strong and dominating for most of the first half, Ohio State basically put the game on a platter for Michigan with a pair of costly turnovers and some shoddy special-teams play that created poor field-position situations on three other occasions.

"Not everything is going to go your way," Smith said of overcoming his team's mistakes. "So, as long as you believe in your coaching staff, good things are going to happen. I just want to give all the props and respect to the guys up front. Without those guys, this couldn't happen."

The Buckeyes' chain of errors started when freshman tailback Maurice Wells lost a fumble at his 36 on his first and only carry of the day. That enabled the Wolverines to pull within 9-7 on a Henne-to-Jason Avant touchdown pass 5:18 before halftime.

OSU later offered up a Smith fumble, two muffed punt returns by Ted Ginn Jr., and a shanked punt by A.J. Trapasso.

Then there was the failure to stop a fourth-down sneak by Henne from his 38 early in the fourth quarter and, finally, OSU linebacker Anthony Schlegel's untimely holding penalty well away from UM's intended receiver on a third-down incompletion that would have forced a Michigan punt. That led to the Rivas field goal which gave UM a 21-12 lead.

"I thought we did a lot of great things," Carr said. "We won the turnover battle, which normally means you've got a great chance to win. We did a great job in the kicking game, and we did some very good things defensively.

"In the end, Troy Smith was the difference in the game."

Some felt Smith's heroics, which included a scramble and 26-yard completion to Anthony Gonzales to set up Antonio's Pittman's game-winning touchdown run with 24 seconds to play, could have been prevented.

"I think it was more of what we weren't doing, as far as up front not putting pressure on them," junior linebacker Lamarr Woodley said. "He should have never got that pass off.

"When you have a nine-point lead, it's the defense's job to make sure that the other team doesn't score. We didn't hold up our end."

UM defensive tackle Pat Massey agreed.

"Before that, we were doing a decent job of containing [Smith] and we kept the momentum on our side," Massey said. "But that big play was kind of a big letdown for us.

"We had guys there, it was just a matter of getting him on the ground. He moved around and found receivers. [Smith] was the best we've seen, and it showed today. I think Troy was the difference-maker out there."

Carr was more forgiving of the defense.

"We had 'em third-and-10 and [Smith] scrambled to his left and we had position to make a tackle. We would've had them fourth and maybe five yards, but he made a great move to evade a tackle. And, it looked to me like we had him for a sack on the play where he scrambled out of there [on pass to Gonzalez]. That was, without question, the biggest play of that drive, maybe the biggest play of the game."

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.



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