Michigan learns about the vast chasm between good and great

Sometimes, you just get your arse kicked in.

All year, the story of Michigan had been one of improvement. Some of it, probably, was assumed to be a wider gap than it really was, just because of the natural assumption that Jim Harbaugh was not Brady Hoke. Everything Michigan did well flowed from the belief that the Wolverines were suddenly that much better; everything they still weren’t good at was the product of the cupboard not being fully stocked with elite players.

Saturday against Ohio State, the Wolverines got their butts handed to them, 42-13. They lost their quarterback, and they lost the momentum they’d built from a season of turning around issues that have plagued them for the better part of a decade, such as inconsistent quarterback play and feebleness on the road (4-1 this season).

There’s something about Ohio State, though, particularly when you tell the Buckeyes they suck, as everyone other than Michigan seemed to be doing during a grave-dancing week that followed a home loss to Michigan State.

The Buckeyes taught the Wolverines just how far the gap is between simply improving and being pretty good to being truly great. This is about the Michigan side of things, one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, even though the desire to drink this one away has to be there for everyone owning any measure of Maize and Blue clothing in their closets.

It wasn’t just that Ohio State won. It was how the Buckeyes won, and how salty of a contrast there is between these two programs when it matters. Late in the game, after OSU was piling on points just for the sake of piling on points because that’s what you do in a rivalry, a camera shot of several OSU fans in Ann Arbor dancing, holding up a massive “Welcome Home Coach Harbaugh” banner, made its way on television.

Salt, meet wound.

It’s hard to tell the full story of this final week of the season for the Wolverines. Since defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow saw his season end, Michigan was either okay or flatly terrible against the run. OSU was the second team in three weeks to run up over 300 yards on the Wolverines, the other being Indiana.

This time around, the Wolverines were rolled for 369 yards on the ground, a clip of nearly 7 yards per carry, along with an astounding 20 runs that went for first downs.

After the IU game, Harbaugh pledged that it’d get fixed. It did, for a week. Even in the spots of success the Wolverines had, getting gashed on defense never let them expose a passing game that, at times, was working well. The passing game doesn’t work well when on the bench, which is where you are when the defense cannot stop the run.

The overall specter of Michigan’s season looks good from a colorless brass-tacks point of view. The fact is, this is a 9-3 football team coming off a 5-7 season in which the program was deeply fractured both on the field and with its fan base.

So much as changed in a year, and almost all of it has been positive. The reality is, though, that you’re measured in the Midwest in football by how you fist-fight your rivals, no matter how tough the other backroom brawls are. That reality ends in 2015 with Ls to the two most desired skins on the wall, one a bad-luck “once in a million years” play against Michigan State.

The other, a steaming garbage fire against these Buckeyes.

The improvement is palpable, but if this was the Hoke, Rich Rodriguez, or even Lloyd Carr era, there would be howling from the hills.

That’s the funny thing about sports. Not in every walk of life do you get to control your own destiny with your effort. In things like sports, you mostly do, which is probably why we scream at the television over these competitions versus Jeopardy or chess. Without question, Ohio State figured out the line between having enough of that effort and not having enough within a week’s time.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, they say, but nor was it torn down in such a short time, either. Michigan got better this year, and on the final game of the regular season … The Game … the Wolverines learned just how much better they’ll need to be.

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