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.

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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 Game, 2010 Edition

Tomorrow is The Game.  I’ll be there, sitting in the Horseshoe in Section 12A.  The game will have the traditional noon start and the weather will be crisp and cold, with highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s.

Other than the start time and the weather, I don’t think there is much that is predictable about this edition of The Game.  Michigan has a great offensive player in lightning quick QB Denard Robinson, who is rewriting the Michigan record books.  Robinson is easily the most explosive offensive player that Buckeyes will have faced so far this year.  With Robinson at the helm, the Wolverines have scored points in bunches.  Michigan’s offense will pose tremendous challenges for the Ohio State defense.  No team that has faced Michigan so far this year has shut down the offense, and I don’t expect the Buckeyes to do so, either.

On the other side of the ball, it is fair to say that the 2010 Michigan defense is not very good.  In fact, for those of us who grew up with the rivalry in the ’70s when Michigan always fielded a stout, hard-hitting defense, Michigan’s current defense is virtually unrecognizable.  The 2010 Wolverines have given up an average of more than 39 points per game in Big Ten play and have — statistically, at least — one of the worst defenses in college football.  In last week’s Michigan loss, Wisconsin ran the ball again, and again, and again, and Michigan simply could not stop them.  You have to think that Ohio State will be able to move the ball and put points on the board.

There is a lot to worry about in this game.  Teams that can score always have a shot at an upset; if Ohio State gets sloppy and puts the ball on the ground or wastes scoring opportunities, Michigan could get ahead and stay ahead.  Although Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite, this rivalry has seen lots of upsets over the years, and Michigan may be due.  The Wolverines have lost six in a row to the Buckeyes, and must be wondering whether a loss tomorrow would cost head coach Rich Rodriguez his job.  Let’s hope that this year isn’t the year the Wolverines break the streak.

 

The Big Ten Gets Underway

The Big Ten looks like it is in for a very interesting year.  After one week of conference play, there are a few surprises.  Four Big Ten teams — Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Ohio State — haven’t lost a game this season, and two other teams, Iowa and Wisconsin, are 4-1.

Denard Robinson

It seems odd to say that an undefeated Michigan team is a surprise; after all, Michigan is the winningest college football team of all time.  Denard Robinson, however, can only be said to have put up shocking numbers on offense.  His extraordinary output has allowed Michigan to overcome what appears to be a pretty weak defense and keep the wolves (or perhaps Wolverines) from the door of beleaguered coach Rich Rodriguez.  Michigan State — particularly its win over preseason Big Ten favorite Wisconsin — also has been a surprise.  We’ll find out soon enough which team can keep it up; the Wolverines and the Spartans play each other this week at The Big House in Ann Arbor.

At the other end of the league, Minnesota’s bad start may have finally made Golden Gopher supporters rue the day Glen Mason got fired.  Penn State fans have to be disappointed in their offense, which has struggled to score points and been held to a field goal apiece by Alabama and Iowa.  Indiana, which comes to the Horseshoe to play Ohio State this week, is almost Penn State’s exact opposite.  The Hoosiers have scored points in bunches behind a passing attack that currently ranks fourth in the nation, but it has given up points in bunches, too.  Denard Robinson took advantage of that propensity to pull out a last-second win last week.

College football is a lot of fun to watch, and the Big Ten this year is especially unpredictable.