Irresistible Force And Immovable Object

Saturday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes will take on the Michigan State Spartans in the Big Ten championship game. It should be a classic matchup in which strength is pitted against strength — and correspondingly, weakness against weakness.

This season, Michigan State’s defense is the immovable object:  the number one defense in the country and third-best scoring defense. You can argue about the weakness of the Big Ten this year, but Michigan State’s gaudy defensive stats would be impressive under any conditions.  The Spartans stop the run, rush the passer, guard receivers like glue, and consistently play tough, disciplined defensive football.  In their signature game against interstate rival Michigan, the Spartans dominated physically, limited the Michigan rushing game to a ridiculous -48 yards on the ground, and beat down Wolverines QB Devin Gardner with sack after sack.  Michigan State held Michigan to 168 yards, offensively, and won convincingly, 29-6.  Against Ohio State, by contrast, Gardner and Michigan put up huge numbers, scored 41 points, and almost won.

The Buckeyes offense, on the other hand, has been the irresistible force.  No one has come close to shutting down the two-headed Ohio State rushing game behind power runner Carlos Hyde and elusive quarterback Braxton Miller.  Ohio State features an experienced offensive line and receivers who can spread the field and present a meaningful deep threat.  All together, it amounts to the third-ranked scoring offense in the land, one that has put up more than 30 points in every game this season.

What will happen when this immovable object confronts the irresistible force?  Which team will win the physical battle at the line of scrimmage and wear down the opponent as the game progresses?  And, when the Spartan offense faces Ohio State’s defense, which team will have the advantage?  Michigan State has struggled on offense, and Ohio State’s defense looked like the Keystone Cops against Michigan.  Their battle also looks to be evenly matched.  Both teams are well coached, and those of us in Buckeye Nation still have a soft spot for Spartans head man Mark Dantonio, who coached the stout Buckeyes defense when Ohio State won the 2003 national championship game.

In any rational world, people would be amped and anticipating what should be a terrific battle.  Unfortunately, the game has been overshadowed by incessant yammering about the BCS and which two teams deserve the nod for the championship game if Ohio State, Florida, and Auburn all win tomorrow.  It’s unfair for both Michigan State and Ohio State, which deserve to be evaluated in their own right on their own, exceptional records.

Commentators may be able to make the ludicrous assumption of a victory against this hard-as-nails Michigan State team, but Ohio State certainly can’t.  I hope Coach Urban Meyer and his staff — and the Buckeye senior leaders — have Ohio State focused relentlessly on this game and the challenges posed by a rugged Spartans squad.

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One For The Ages

In a rivalry filled with memorable games, this year’s version of The Game has to be one of the greatest ever.  Back and forth, with the game ending on a thwarted effort by Michigan to get a two-point conversion and spring a stunning upset.  But Ohio State’s defense, which had been gashed repeatedly during the day, finally made a play, Tyvis Powell knocked down the pass, and the Buckeyes hung on to win.

IMG_1829This was the kind of game that makes the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry the greatest rivalry in college sports.  Michigan ran just about every play in their playbook, their much-maligned offensive line held up, and Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was a warrior who played a virtually flawless game.  He never quit, and neither did the Wolverine coaching staff.  Michigan just kept coming, and coming, and coming.  They gained more than 600 yards — 600 yards! — and were clicking on all cylinders.  I give great credit to the Michigan team, from the head coach on down, for developing a near-perfect game plan and showing what this rivalry is all about.

Fortunately for me and other Pepto-Bismol-guzzling members of Buckeye Nation, the Wolverines had no answer for the Ohio State offense.  For the Buckeyes, the accolades must start with the offensive line.  The Buckeyes front wall pushed the Michigan defensive line around like a precision lawnmowing team, and Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller took full advantage.  The Buckeyes ran for 393 yards — 393 yards! — and Carlos Hyde rumbled for the most yards ever by an OSU running back against the Wolverines.  I was especially glad to see Carlos Hyde, who has been a monster, bounce back from his fumble to score the winning touchdown.

So, the Buckeyes’ winning streak continues.  The pundits can talk all they want about style points, and we can worry about that porous defense next week.  For tonight, Columbus and Ohio and Buckeye lovers everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief and crack open a cold one.  The Buckeyes won against their great rival, stay in the hunt for a BCS title game spot, and move on to the Big Ten championship game next weekend.  That’s good enough for me.

When Wisconsin Comes To Town

Tomorrow night the Wisconsin Badgers come to town for a night game at Ohio Stadium.  Technically, Ohio State has played four games already, but I think their season really starts tomorrow.

Wisconsin is a perennial power that has been the Big Ten’s representative in the Rose Bowl for the last three seasons.  Last year, the Buckeyes and the Badgers played a bruising game up in Madison that Ohio State won in overtime, 21-14.  It was a defensive struggle in which Wisconsin throttled Ohio State’s high-powered offense and held it to only 236 yards.  That game was a good representation of what Wisconsin always seems to bring to the table.  On offense, the Badgers are known for handing the ball to a gaggle a fine running backs who pound you behind a huge, corn-fed offensive line and mixing that diet of hard-nosed running in with an occasional pass.  On defense, the Badgers will pressure and hit and try to rattle their opponents, physically and mentally.

IMG_1835Wisconsin’s performance this year suggests that tomorrow’s game may be different — or maybe not.  The Badgers’ quarterback, sophomore Joel Stave, has thrown for six touchdowns, including three to fine receiver Jared Abbrederis.  But in last week’s Big Ten opener against Purdue, Wisconsin ran for a mind-boggling 388 yards on their way to pulverizing the Boilermakers, 41-10.  Ohio State’s defense has played against spread offense, quick-throw teams so far this year.  Tomorrow night, they had better be ready for  up-the-gut football with an opponent that would like nothing better than to derail the Buckeyes’ national championship aspirations.

When the Buckeyes are on offense, the big issue will be how quarterback Braxton Miller plays.  After missing two full games and most of a third with an injury — and watching back-up Kenny Guiton break a number of Ohio State offensive records on the way — Miller will be trying to reestablish himself as the premier quarterback and offensive weapon in the Big Ten.  He’ll also be looking to use every arsenal in the multi-faceted Ohio State attack.  With power runner Carlos Hyde back in the backfield after a three-game suspension, along with fellow running backs Jordan Hall and freshman Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, Miller has plenty of options in the ground game, and Guiton has shown that Devin Smith, Corey Brown, Chris Fields, and Evan Spencer can catch and run for quick scores.

Tomorrow night’s game will answer a lot of questions about this Buckeye team.  Can their defense handle a team that plays the prototypical Big Ten power game?  How does the Buckeyes offensive speed match up against a big-time opponent that will tackle hard and do whatever it can to force turnovers.  We’ll see tomorrow night, and I’ll be there are the Horseshoe to see it.  I can’t wait!

76-0

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes trounced the Florida A&M Rattlers, 76-0.  The game was expected to be a rout — and it was.  Ohio State had more than 600 yards of offense and only had to punt once.  Florida A&M put up only 80 yards of offense and never got close to the Ohio State goal line.  Ohio State was favored to win by 57 points, and it almost exceeded that line by halftime, when the Buckeyes went into the locker room ahead 55-0.

IMG_1440People here in Columbus complained about the quality of the game.  It wasn’t a much-heralded match-up, to be sure, but it’s not entirely the fault of the OSU Athletic Department.  The Buckeyes had scheduled Vanderbilt, but the Commodores backed out.  So, Ohio State went looking for someone to fill the open date, and the Rattlers agreed to be the sacrificial lambs.  We shouldn’t feel too bad for them, though — they got a nice fee for coming to Ohio Stadium and getting pulverized.

Although games like today’s aren’t competitive, they still can be interesting.  You get to see players you’ve only heard about until now.  Today, freshman running back Ezekiel Elliott had his coming out party, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and we got to see third-string quarterback Cardale Jones run the offense.  They both look like they may be able to contribute in the future.  Other players who’ve been working hard in practice had their chances, too.  Carlos Hyde came back after a three-game suspension and got some touches, the OSU defense manhandled the Rattlers’ offense, and Braxton Miller got another week of healing as Kenny Guiton put up another OSU offensive record.

Next week, the season starts in earnest as Wisconsin comes to the Horseshoe.  After next Saturday night, we’ll have a better idea of how good this Buckeyes team really is.

More (Sigh) Black Eyes For The Scarlet And Gray

Today the Ohio State football team, through Head Coach Urban Meyer, announced disciplinary action against four — four! — student athletes.

IMG_1846Running back Carlos Hyde was suspended from football activities pending the outcome of criminal and student code of conduct investigations.  Hyde reportedly was named in a police report relating to an alleged assault of a woman in a Columbus bar.  In the meantime, cornerback Bradley Roby was involved in a disturbance in a bar in Bloomington, Indiana and faces misdemeanor battery charges.  A freshman, Marcus Baugh, won’t be participating in team activities and will have to sit out the first game after being arrested for underage possession of alcohol, and yet another freshman, defensive lineman Tim Gardner, was sent home and will not be part of the 2013 team after being charged by Columbus police with “obstruction of official business.”

I hate to read this kind of news, because it is an embarrassment to the University.  It plays into every stereotype about Ohio State being a football factory.  After dealing with a series of NCAA violations that left the team ineligible for a bowl last year, the Buckeyes had been working hard to refurbish the team’s, and the school’s, reputation.  This news just makes the effort to restore the University’s reputation that much harder.

I recognize that student-athletes are young, and young people often make bad decisions.  That rationale may work for freshmen, but there is no excuse for upperclassmen like Hyde and Roby to be in a bar in the wee hours, putting themselves in a position where bad things predictably could happen.  They are supposed to be leaders, not problems.  Rather than setting good examples, they’ve made Urban Meyer’s job that much more difficult — and have provided more fodder for more crass jokes and snide comments about The Ohio State University.

Hunting For Wolverine

Tomorrow, Ohio State’s season boils down to one game.  Fittingly, the Michigan Wolverines stand between the Buckeyes and a perfect season.

This scenario has played out before.  Michigan has ruined the season for many otherwise perfect Ohio State squads, and Ohio State has wrecked Michigan dreams of unbeaten seasons.  Going into tomorrow’s game, every Ohio State fan knows that Michigan will do whatever it takes to beat the Buckeyes, smash the Buckeyes’ hope for perfection, and start Urban Meyer’s OSU coaching career off with a losing record against Michigan.  Every Michigan fan knows, too, that the Buckeyes want to crush Michigan, get revenge for last year’s loss, and return to the glory days when Jim Tressel led Ohio State to a 9-1 record against the hated Team Up North.

This will be a great matchup between two pretty good teams in the greatest rivalry game in college football.  In Ohio State-Michigan games, the great players have a way of stepping up — Denard Robinson, for example, probably played the best game of his collegiate career when the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes last year — and otherwise obscure players can achieve lasting gridiron glory by making the hard hit and recovering the crucial turnover.  We can expect a tough, hard-hitting game tomorrow, because that’s just the way The Game is always played.

I think the key to the game is the Ohio State defense.  The Buckeye D played its best game of the year last week against Wisconsin, but Wisconsin played a traditional Big Ten offensive game.  Michigan, on the other hand, has a bit more of a spread mentality, and Ohio State has struggled to defend against the spread.  If Ohio State can contain Robinson, in his new role as multi-purpose offensive sparkplug, and pressure Devin Gardner, that will take them a long way toward winning.  Consistent with my view that The Game sees big players rising to the occasion, I’ll be looking for John Simon, Ryan Shazier, and Bradley Roby to make some big plays if the Buckeyes are going to win.

Offensively, the Braxton Miller Show ground to a halt last week.  Wisconsin had a great plan, executed it to perfection, and kept Miller bottled up and off balance.  Michigan will try to do the same — but it remains to be seen if they can bring the same defensive assets to bear that Wisconsin deployed.  I think the answer for the Buckeyes may be Carlos Hyde, who has run with punch in recent weeks.  If the forecast for tomorrow is accurate — and they are expecting temperatures in the 30s, with some wind — being able to run the ball effectively may be the key.  Beanie Wells killed Michigan during his career; Carlos Hyde would like to do the same.

Columbus is stoked for The Game.  Let’s go, Buckeyes!

The Buckeyes, At 9-0

I was very glad to see the Buckeyes beat Penn State tonight — and not just because the win left the Buckeyes undefeated and 9-0.

Ohio State controlled the line of scrimmage.  On offense, the Buckeyes ran the ball down the Nittany Lions’ throats.  Braxton Miller was brilliant, but I liked that Carlos Hyde ran very hard and got a lot of tough yards for the Buckeyes.  I also liked that the offense put the game away when Miller combined with Jake Stoneburner for a backbreaking 72-yard touchdown pass.  I liked the call and the killer instinct that we are seeing from Coach Urban Meyer, and I also liked that the play crushed the enthusiasm of the previously raucous Penn State “white-out” crowd.  Quieting the crowd in one of college football’s best atmospheres was very satisfying.

In my view, though, accolades must go to the defense.  The Silver Bullets were back, and dominated the Penn State offensive line.  Penn State could not run the ball, and the Buckeyes harassed Matt McGloin into the crucial turnover — the pick six that Ryan Shazier turned into a touchdown.  I thought the Buckeyes’ D controlled the Penn State offense, and that is what I like to see from the Ohio State defense:  tackles behind the line of scrimmage, hard hits, and quarterbacks forced to throw the ball out of bounds as they are running for their lives.

I never thought this team — which had a losing record last year — would make it to 9-0.  They may not be the best team in the country, but they play hard.  That they have reached 9-0 is a testament to the team’s toughness and — frankly — the Big Ten’s weakness.  Next week the Buckeyes play the Fighting Illini.  I’ll be there, and I’ll be hoping to see more of the hungry, hard-hitting team that I saw tonight, ready to take it to 10-0.