Now Comes Michigan Week

Most Americans think of this as Thanksgiving week, when it’s time to give thanks, embrace our common humanity, and be generous to our fellow man.

Not so in Buckeye Nation. As soon as Ohio State eked out an overtime win over a feisty Maryland team yesterday, Ohio State fans breathed a sigh of relief, wondered what in the hell happened to the Ohio State defense this year, and then immediately thought: “It’s Michigan Week.”

Michigan Week used to be the week before Thanksgiving week, but a few years ago the Big Ten changed the schedule and moved The Game to the Saturday after Turkey Day. I wish they hadn’t, because bloodthirsty thoughts don’t fit comfortably into the expected Thanksgiving mindset. Before, Buckeye fans could hope to kick the ass of That Team Up North, watch The Game, and then after the violent clash ended shift gradually into pleasant, huggy Thanksgiving mode. Now we think about breaking Michigan hearts right up to the point the turkey gets carved, piously give thanks while we’re really pondering crushing tackles and Statue of Liberty plays, and then after the plates have been cleared abruptly return to full Michihate mode for the remaining hours leading up to the tilt with the Maize and Blue.

It’s jarring, to say the least. But hey — it’s Michigan Week!

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It’s Michigan Week!

This has been a dreadful season for the Buckeye Nation.  We’ve seen our coach, Jim Tressel, resign under fire.  We’ve dealt with an embarrassing NCAA scandal that cut out the heart of our offense.  We’ve watched the Buckeyes give up big leads, fritter away games, and play like pretenders rather than contenders.

But all of that means nothing this week, because Ohio State is playing Michigan.

To be sure, this year The Game has a different feel.  For one thing, it’s coming after Thanksgiving, rather than the weekend before.  For another, Michigan is the favorite for the first time in years.  But so what?  This is a game where the records get thrown out the window.  And if the Buckeyes can somehow beat the Wolverines, a dismal season will be salvaged.

The Wolverines are playing The Game at home, and everyone expects them to win.  They crushed Nebraska last week, their offense is clicking, and their defense is dramatically improved.  The Buckeyes, in contrast, have lost two in a row.  Yet . . . how will Michigan react to the high expectations?  They’ve lost to the Buckeyes six games in a row, and every Wolverine fan thinks this is the year for the Maize and Blue to get some serious payback.  If Ohio State can score some points and keep the game close, the pressure may work to the Buckeyes’ advantage.

We’ll find out come Saturday — and until then we’ll enjoy the excitement and taunting that make Michigan Week so special.

 

Seven In A Row, And Counting

Yesterday, on a cold and blustery day in Columbus, the Ohio State Buckeyes pulverized the Michigan Wolverines, 37-7.  The win in The Game was the seventh in a row for Ohio State over its archrivals.

Buckeye bagpipers at French Field House

At Ohio Stadium it was a festive atmosphere from start to finish.  A troupe of bagpipers walked among the tailgaters at the French Field House lot playing Carmen Ohio.  Brutus rode by, hanging out of the window of a pickup truck and pumping up the raucous crowd.  Inside the Horseshoe the 105,000 fans also had their game faces on, heckling and booing the Michigan band, cheerleaders, fans, and anyone else who dared to wear maize and blue.

When the game finally began, Ohio State started slowly.  Michigan, on the other hand, moved the ball.  Then the Ohio State defense forced a crucial turnover, Ohio State finally broke through to score 10 points, and when Michigan answered with its one touchdown Jordan Hall broke Michigan’s back with a return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.  After that it was no contest.  The Buckeyes methodically ground up the Wolverines, forcing two more turnovers and pounding Michigan on the ground.  The only thing that kept the game even remotely close was the absurd refereeing, which punished college kids for making the “O” sign and negated Boom Herron’s brilliant 99-yard touchdown run with the worst downfield holding call in college football history.

The team and band sing Carmen Ohio after the win

Although Michigan has struggled this year, this nevertheless was an impressive win for the Buckeyes.  The offense did not play its best game, yet still Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey, and their teammates scored 30 offensive points — and could easily have scored more if Coach Tressel had not called off the dogs in the fourth quarter.  The defense, on the other hand, played one of its best games.  It held the high-powered Michigan offense to its lowest point total of the season and pretty much shut down the Wolverines after they scored their lone touchdown.  The Buckeyes clearly wanted to contain Denard Robinson, and for the most part they succeeded.  When Robinson went out with an injury, every Buckeyes fan breathed a sigh of relief.  Although Tate Forcier is a decent quarterback, he is a much easier player to defend.

At the end, as we listened to the team sing Carmen Ohio and looked at the scoreboard memorializing a decisive victory over the Wolverines, it was a sweet moment.  Beating Michigan never gets old.

The Game, 2010 Edition (A Weather Update)

Weather conditions clearly can influence football games, and The Game is no different.  The most celebrated example is the 1950 Snow Bowl, when a freak blizzard hit the day of the game and Michigan won 9-3.  That loss led to the firing of Ohio State’s coach and the hiring of Woody Hayes — and the rest is history.

This morning it is cold in Columbus — and more importantly from a football standpoint, there is a sharp, frigid breeze blowing from the west.  It was tough to make headway when Penny and I turned west on our walk, and I would expect that the wind also would make it tough to pass, or punt.  According to The Weather Channel forecast, the wind is expected to be blowing at 17 mph from the west come game time.

Jim Tressel tends to get very conservative when the wind is a factor; if that tendency holds true to form I expect Ohio State will really focus on running the ball.  Michigan Coach Rich Rodriguez, on the other hand, has nothing to lose.  Windy or not, I think we will see the full Michigan playbook today.

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.

 

Welcome To Michigan Week

For Buckeye Nation, this is one of the most important weeks of the year.  It is Michigan Week — seven days of nervous anticipation and intense mental preparation for the Buckeyes’ biggest game of the year.  The week will come to an end at noon on Saturday, when Ohio State and Michigan square off in The Game, for another edition of the greatest single-game rivalry in sports.

On the OSU campus, Michigan Week is a great week for charitable activities.  Michigan and Ohio State compete to see who can donate the most blood to the American Red Cross.  Goodwill runs a clothing drive.  There will be pep rallies, and banner contests, and the traditional Mirror Lake jump on Friday.  (The Mirror Lake dip might be a bit bracing — the forecast is for snow flurries on Friday, and a crisp, clear conditions come game time.)

It’s weird to have Thanksgiving during Michigan Week; usually the game is played the preceding Saturday.  The upcoming game will give a lot of Columbus families something to debate while gobbling down their turkey.

I’ll have some thoughts about The Game later this week.  For now, I’ll just enjoy the long-awaited arrival of one of the greatest weeks of the year.

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game (Fin)

The Sox fan pointed out yesterday that, in the hoopla surrounding the Buckeyes’ first game, I failed to comment on Wednesday’s announcement of the Big Ten divisions and scheduling.  Ohio State and Michigan fans everywhere who were concerned that numbers-crunching, revenue-addled Big Ten administrators might ruin The Game can breathe a sigh of relief:  Ohio State and Michigan will play every year, in the last game of the regular season, once the Big Ten starts divisional play.

What about the fact that Ohio State and Michigan are in different divisions?  Well, what about it?  The divisions are phony constructs anyway, developed just to allow the Big Ten to play a conference championship and collect the additional TV revenue that every major college seems to crave above most everything else.  The important thing is that the The Game will still have prominence as The Game — the tradition-rich, bitter, end-of-the-season capstone of the Big Ten regular season.

As for the divisions themselves, the Big Ten clearly tried to achieve competitive balance and probably did so.  Two of the traditional football powers — Ohio State and Penn State in division X, and Michigan and Nebraska in division Y — are in each division and will play each other every year, and those teams also get a guaranteed out-of-conference game against one of the non-divisional powers, with Ohio State facing Michigan and Penn State facing Nebraska.  In addition to Ohio State and Penn State, division X will include Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue, and in addition to Michigan and Nebraska division Y will include Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State, and Northwestern.  Ohio State thus gets to continue to play Illinois every year for the Illibuck trophy.

It would be interesting to know whether the outcry about moving the Ohio State-Michigan game had any effect on the scheduling decisions made by the Big Ten, but we will probably never know the full story.

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game (Cont.)

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game