Michigan Is A Mess

If you are an Ohio State football fan, you naturally pay attention to what is happening with That Team Up North.  If you’ve been doing that this year, you know it’s not a pretty picture.

Michigan football is a mess right now.

Three weeks ago the Wolverines were crushed by Notre Dame, 31-0, in the last currently scheduled game of a long and storied rivalry.  Last week they got pasted, at home, by Utah, 26-10.  And yesterday they were crushed — again at home — by Minnesota, 30-14.  Michigan now stands 2-3 for the season, and they haven’t even played any of the Big Ten’s power teams (to the extent that the Big Ten has any power teams this year, which admittedly is a very debatable proposition).

Michigan’s offensive statistics are abysmal.  They are 104th in the BCS in the points scored category and 108th in passing yards.  The fan base is up in arms, Michigan’s home sellout string is at risk, and there are rumors of growing discord in the locker room.  To make matters worse, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke seems overwhelmed, confused,  and absolutely clueless about how to fix the problems.  Yesterday Hoke continued to play a wobbly and apparently injured player, which causes some fans to wonder whether he’s paying attention and whether he’s really got the players’ best interests at heart.

Michigan’s woes have been going on for years, since the end of the Lloyd Carr era.  Two bad coaching hires, and resulting years of bad records and frustrating losses, have left a once-premier program teetering on the brink.  It just shows you how, in college football, the line between dominance and mediocrity is a thin one.  A bad hire, a few lean recruiting years, and any elite program could be suffering mighty Michigan’s embarrassing fate.

To Urban, And The Defense

Well, it doesn’t get much better than 12-0 and a win over Michigan.  Okay, it would be nice to have a bowl game in our future . . . but that wasn’t an option.  12-0 was the best we could do, and we did it.

I give a lot of credit to Urban Meyer.  He took a 6-7 team and turned it around.  He got it playing with passion, and he got it to believe in itself.  He had a great senior class and good coaches to help him, but Urban Meyer set the tone.  Obviously, we hope that he continues to recruit and coach as well as he did this year.  If he does, the future for Buckeye Nation is bright.

And how about the Buckeyes’ defense?  When they missed the tackle on Denard Robinson that allowed the long TD run at the end of the first half — and Robinson’s incredibly annoying spoon motion — I got a bad feeling.  But the defense rose to the occasion in the second half, belting around the Michigan offense, forcing Robinson to fumble, stopping him on crucial plays, delivering crushing hits, forcing turnovers, and sucking it up as the offense muffed opportunity after opportunity.  With the way the defense played in the second half, Ohio State should have won this game for two TDs or more.  This big win goes to the defense — and to Carlos Hyde, for finally grinding out those tough, classic Big Ten first downs on the ground that salted away the victory.

I also need to give kudos to Michigan.  One reason this game is the best rivalry in college football is that, year in and year out, the games are close and incredibly hard fought, no matter the records the teams bring to the game.  This year was no exception — a nail-biter filled with bone-jarring hits and great plays.  Every time the Buckeye defense forced a turnover in the second half, Michigan’s defense rose to the occasion and denied the Buckeyes the score that would have put the game away.  Michigan was in the game at the end only because their defense played tough-as-nails defense.  Anyone who watched the awful Michigan defenses during the Rich Rodriguez tenure has to give Brady Hoke some serious props for bringing the Michigan defense back to its roots and traditions.

For now, though, we’ll raise a glass to Urban Meyer, the Ohio State defense, and a much-cherished win in The Game.  Beating Michigan never gets old.

Welcome, Coach Hoke

The Michigan Wolverines have hired Brady Hoke as the new head football coach.  Hoke, who looks somewhat like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is a former Michigan assistant who was the head coach of San Diego State and formerly the head coach at Ball State.

Hoke’s hiring brings Michigan’s coaching search to an end.  I imagine that end cannot come soon enough for Michigan fans.  Former coach Rich Rodriguez was fired after a humiliating New Year’s Day loss without a designated successor ready to step in and take over.  The firing left Michigan without a head coach during some of the crucial days of the recruiting period.  It also kicked off a search process in which Michigan at times seemed like the awkward kid at the sock hop whose invitations to dance are embarrassingly, publicly spurned by everyone in attendance.  Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL and Les Miles decided to stay at LSU before Hoke accepted Michigan’s offer.

None of that means anything now, of course.  Hoke will have a chance to put his stamp on the program, and the best way for him to do that would be to guide his Wolverines to victories over Michigan’s big rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State.  And any Ohio State fan who believes that that result is wildly improbable would do well to remember an infamous article that appeared in The Michigan Daily on January 22, 2001.  The Daily sports columnist chuckled in wonderment at the very notion that a newly hired, “Division I rookie” coach could possibly expect to prevail against the mighty Wolverines and their star-studded roster in a game at the Big House the next season.  In the annals of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, that article is like the 1948 Chicago Tribune “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline — because the “Division I rookie” coach was Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes did in fact beat the heavily favored Wolverines in the game at Ann Arbor in November 2001, and Coach Tressel has gone on to lead Ohio State to victory in 9 of the 10 years he has coached the Buckeyes in The Game.

So, I welcome Coach Hoke back to the greatest rivalry in sports — and I hope that, despite his best efforts, he tastes bitter defeat when the 2011 version of The Game kicks off in 10 months.