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Wolverines win despite defense

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller looked down the field and likely couldn't believe what he saw.

Against a defense that guarded versus the big play all season long, that had gone from a sieve in the Big Ten in 2010 to one of the league's best units in 2011, receiver Corey Brown was streaking down the field.

And no one was anywhere near him, resulting in a 54-yard touchdown six plays into Michigan's 40-34 win over Ohio State on Saturday.

Michigan's defense struggled for one of the few times all season. In the biggest game of the season for the Wolverines, they had one of their biggest letdowns. After, though, most didn't care. Because Michigan won -- and created a defensive stop on the last possession to seal it.

"We were kind of embarrassed, as a defense, that we had given up that original touchdown," senior defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen said. "We mixed up two coverages, the exact same coverages twice."

What wasn't pretty was this: Ohio State had averaged 315 yards a game entering Saturday. It gained 372 against Michigan. Miller averaged 76 yards passing and 59.5 yards rushing entering the game. He ended up completing 14-of-25 for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 100 yards and another touchdown.

It was one of the better -- and stronger -- offensive games of the season for the Buckeyes.

"We knew we had to be aggressive," Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said.

Michigan recognized early it might have some trouble. All season long, Michigan has had intermittent problems with teams that liked to reach the perimeter. The Wolverines handled it well against Nebraska a week ago. They struggled with it a month ago against Michigan State.

And did so again Saturday against Ohio State.

"They did a nice job stretching the field, which is part of what they do offensively," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "They threw the ball well and max-protected a bunch.

"With [Miller's] ability to run and the dual-threatness that he presents, we got distracted a little bit with our eyes from a technique standpoint and they hit some."

But here might be the most interesting thing of all for Michigan. The Wolverines, a season ago, would have taken this type of defensive performance.

Now, it is considered somewhat of a disappointment -- this in a game where Michigan got its second safety of the season and held Ohio State running back Dan Herron to 37 yards rushing – more than 70 yards under his season average.

It was that thought which Michigan went out onto the field for the game's final possession. All day, Michigan's offense had played well. Had moved the ball well and had seen one of quarterback Denard Robinson's more efficient performances.

"Defensively, we wish we wouldn't have given up some things," defensive lineman Mike Martin said. "But we made some adjustments in the fourth quarter.

"We knew it was going to come down and for it to come down defensively, we were going to make sure we put it on our back and came through for this team."

Up six points, 40-34, entering the game's final possession, Michigan knew keeping Ohio State out of the end zone would be all that separated the Buckeyes from the win. The defensive players told the offense, essentially, don't worry about it. They had this.

The defensive linemen called their own stunts inside, Van Bergen said, and pressured Miller. It ended with a Courtney Avery interception, sealing the biggest win for the Wolverines in a long, long time.

"It wasn't the prettiest," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "But it'll do."

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.