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COLUMBUS — At different points this season, Michigan's undoing in losses could be linked to turnovers, penalties, or poor execution approaching the end zone.
When near perfection was figured to be necessary for a win, all three of those issues surfaced to derail an otherwise successful first half in a 37-7 loss to Ohio State.
By halftime, the Wolverines were outgaining OSU 258 to 229 in offensive yards but trailing 24-7 on the scoreboard.
UM coach Rich Rodriguez said he felt good about a first quarter that ended scoreless for both teams.
“The first quarter — first half really — we moved the football and just didn't finish drives,” Rodriguez said. “Poor execution at times, critical times, when we needed to. To win a game like this, you have to finish more drives.”
• After forcing a three-and-out on the opening drive, UM opted to not send out its unreliable field goal unit for a 45-yard attempt. An incomplete pass on fourth down ended the drive.
• Facing third-and-17 toward the end of the first quarter, quarterback Denard Robinson took off running and appeared to have crossed the first line marker before fumbling at OSU's 9. Orhian Johnson made the strip, and Nathan Williams recovered.
“They pretty much twisted me and then stripped the ball out of my arm,” Robinson said.
• An illegal motion penalty assessed against Jeremy Jackson on the first play of an early second quarter drive negated a 25-yard hook up between Robinson and Darryl Stonum. The drive, which ended in an 18-yard punt, was doomed from the beginning.
• Though it was not an easy play to be made, Roy Roundtree was unable bring in a pass at OSU's 10 on fourth-and-8. It was one of several drops for UM's top receiver.
“You have to make those kinds of plays to be a good football team,” Rodriguez said.
• After his team had driven to OSU's 48, Vincent Smith put the ball on the ground to end UM's final drive of the half.
The unsightliness carried over into the second half, when Tate Forcier threw an ugly interception on the first offensive play.
“We had some things going moving the football — running and throwing — and we didn't finish drives,” Rodriguez said. “Some of that was [OSU], but a lot of that was us.”
KOVACS SHINES: Jordan Kovacs saved his best performance of the season for his team's most important game. A UM fan growing up, Kovacs, a graduate of Clay, recorded an astounding 17 tackles, eight more than the game's next most, and intercepted a Terrelle Pryor pass to avert an OSU scoring chance late in the first half.
Kovacs now leads the team in tackles with 112, surpassing linebacker Jonas Mouton (111) who entered the game atop the Big Ten.
Kovacs spared his team a deeper deficit on the final play of the first half when he stepped in front of a Pryor pass at the 1-yard line. Zig-zagging down the sideline, Kovacs traveled 44 yards before being brought down.
“I knew he was going to take a shot at the end zone and sure enough he did,” Kovacs said. “I just broke on the ball. “I thought I might have a chance to return it. Just didn't make it far enough.”
ROBINSON HURT: Robinson dislocated two fingers in his left (nonthrowing) hand toward the end of the first half and was limited to two series in the second half.
“When we put him back in, he wanted to try it,” Rodriguez said. “He said, coach, let me try it one time. He went in and he came back out and said I can't feel it.”
Robinson said the injury occurred when a Buckeye player's helmet was driven into his hand.
Forcier relieved Robinson for one second quarter drive and most of the second half. He was 8 of 15 for 82 yards. Robinson completed 8 of 18 passes — several passes were dropped — for 87 yards to go along with 105 rushing yards.
“We thought he was competing pretty well, but that set us back a little bit,” Rodriguez said.
HAGERUP SUSPENDED: Will Hagerup, the Big Ten's fourth-rated punter, was suspended for the game and did not travel with the team as punishment for violating team rules. His replacement, kicker Seth Broekhuizen, had a brutal afternoon. Of Broekhuizen's three punts, two traveled 18 and 24 yards, both of which gave OSU possession in UM territory. The Buckeyes took advantage, scoring 10 combined points.
Hagerup is averaging 43.6 yards per punt.
SHORT YARDS: Junior Hemingway (concussion) did not make the trip. … Left tackle Taylor Lewan suffered a knee injury in the second half and was replaced by Ricky Barnum.