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.

It’s Michigan Week, Bitches!

This week comes but once a year

When Buckeyes see their duty clear

And college football e’er bewitches

It’s Michigan Week, all you bitches!

And before this week shall pass

We’ll kick with glee Michigan ass

On Saturday at the Horseshoe

We’ll trounce the dismal Maize and Blue

And then a stein of beer we’ll raise

And toast to good old Woody Hayes

Then spray the ‘Shoe with chlorine

To rid the scent of Wolverine.

Let’s go, Bucks!

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.

 

Finishing Strong

Ohio State won another tough Big Ten battle tonight, beating arch-rival Michigan 62-53.

The game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Buckeyes were out of sync offensively.  They turned the ball over and could not hit open shots.  They scored 23 points, had several defensive breakdowns, and went into the locker room trailing after what was surely their worst half of basketball this season.

In the second half, the Buckeyes successfully pounded the ball inside.  Jared Sullinger again was a man among boys, pulling down strong rebounds and somehow getting the ball in the bucket despite being double- and triple-teamed.  Aaron Craft bounced back from a sloppy first half to make some key inside buckets, William Buford knocked down some key shots, Jon Diebler played tough defense and ably fed the post, and David Lighty again showed his athleticism with great rebounding and defensive play.  All of the Buckeyes displayed their stamina in the second half, too, because Coach Thad Matta did not make a single substitution.  The Buckeyes scored 39 points in the half, pulled away from the overmatched Wolverines, and would have scored even more had they not been thoroughly mediocre from the free throw line.  Free throw shooting and fatigue will be a concern for Ohio State fans as the team comes down the stretch of the Big Ten season.

Ohio State now stands at 23-0.  Equally important, they have swept the season series with the Wolverines — and beating The Team Up North never gets old.

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

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

mgoblog.com is a funny, entertaining blog about Michigan sports that is an enjoyable read for any sports fan (even if it is written by a diehard Michigan fan).  I am therefore pleased to note that Brian, the redoubtable head man at mgoblog, agrees that messing with the Ohio State-Michigan traditional end-of-the-year matchup would be colossally stupid.

Ohio and Michigan are divided by a state line located just a bit north of Toledo, and Ohio State fans and Michigan fans are divided by decades of hatred, bile, venom, and bitter rivalry, but we can and do agree on one thing — The Game is special and sacred, and shouldn’t be tinkered with for reasons of revenue, or ratings, or “branding,” or anything else.  Michigan fans understand this, Ohio State fans understand this, and any real college football fan in the country understands this.  Can it really be that the Big Ten powers-that-be don’t understand something so basic, so obvious, and so powerful?

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game!

Please, Don’t Mess With The Game!

The post-expansion rumblings from Big Ten headquarters are troubling because they indicate that conference officials may decide to mess with The Game.  The latest article quotes Michigan’s Athletic Director as making comments that raise serious questions about whether Ohio State and Michigan will continue to play their end-of-season showdown game.   Michigan’s AD says he would not place Ohio State and Michigan in the same conference, because if they are in different divisions they could play, again, in the conference championship game.  If that happens, he argues that the teams logically should not play in the last game of the regular season, because then they could conceivably have to play back-to-back games.

My concern about Big Ten expansion all along has been that it will wreck Big Ten traditions like The Game.  The Ohio State-Michigan game is generally recognized as the single greatest rivalry game in all of sports.  It is hard for me to believe that Big Ten officials would be so idiotic as to tinker with their annual marquee match-up, but the comments of Michigan’s AD certainly suggest that possibility.

Big Ten officials and others need to realize that a Big Ten championship game played at a neutral site cannot possibly supplant The Game.  Sure, the winner of the Big Ten championship game will go on to the BCS, but that game will be missing what makes the Ohio State-Michigan game so special.

Much of what makes college football the greatest sport of all is the history underlying the match-ups, the storied venues like The Horsehoe and The Big House where the games have been played for decades, the home field traditions, and the collective memories of the joys and heartbreaks that true fans have experienced in the games against their arch-rivals.  Sports fans elsewhere understand the deep feelings at play in these rivalry games.  They watch the Ohio State-Michigan game because they recognize the strong emotions, they appreciate that the players on both teams are playing their guts out because they so desperately want to beat their despised (yet respected) opponents, and they identify with heavenly highs experienced by the fans of the winners and the crushing despair inflicted on the fans of the losers.  The Big Ten Championship Game will have none of that.

Rather than messing with The Game, Big Ten officials should be doing whatever they can to avoid making The Game into just another game.

The Post-Big Ten Expansion, Impending Divisional, Corporate Naming Rights Championship Game Blues

The Big Ten football meetings occurred yesterday and produced good news and bad news for football traditionalists.

The good news is that the Big Ten is going to move from an eight-game in-conference schedule to a nine-game in-conference schedule to try to preserve rivalries.  If that means that Big Ten teams will play a conference opponent rather than a cupcake, I’m all for it.  (Let’s hope, though, that the extra conference game doesn’t keep Big Ten teams from scheduling tough out-of-conference opponents, as Ohio State has done recently with Texas, USC, and Miami.)  The other good news is that further expansion is on hold, for now at least, and Notre Dame is off the table as a candidate.  The Irish apparently want to keep their independent status in football, and I say more power to them.  The reality, however, is that there are significant financial pressures favoring expansion, so our respite from more expansion talk is probably only temporary.

In my view, the bad news is more significant than the good.  The conference will split into two six-team divisions, there will be a conference championship game, and — horror of horrors! — the “naming rights” for the championship game will be sold.  So, instead of “The Game” ending the season for Ohio State and Michigan, we will have to endure a post-rivalry Blanditron Corporation Big Ten Championship Game at some non-campus location like Chicago or Detroit.  Sorry, but it just doesn’t have the same emotional clout for me.

A lot of this has yet to be worked out, of course.  The conference hasn’t decided which teams will go into which division — do you divide them east-west, north-south, or alphabetically? — or where a championship game will be played.  For now, all we know is that the Big Ten world is changing, and 2010 will be the last year for the conference in its hallowed, currently recognizable form.  Let’s enjoy it, in all its fleeting, tradition-rich glory!

Welcome Cornhuskers!

It is now official:  the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska has asked the school’s Board of Regents to authorize an application for Nebraska to join the Big Ten.  He expects the application to be accepted by the Big Ten, and I do, too.  It seems unimaginable that Nebraska and the Big Ten schools haven’t worked out, in advance, that if the application is made it will be favorably received.  It therefore seems very likely that the Big Te(leve)n will now become the Big Ten (+2).  Other schools, Texas among them, will be meeting in the near future to consider their options, so other applications to join the conference may be forthcoming.

As any reader of this blog knows, I would prefer to keep the Big Ten as it is, with no conferences, no “championship game,” and a football season that ends with Ohio State playing Michigan in the rivalry to end all rivalries.  Still, if the conference has to expand to be competitive in this modern world, Nebraska is a good choice.  It may not have huge TV markets to bring to the table, but it is an excellent school with fine research, academic, and sports programs.  Adding Nebraska stays true to the Big Ten’s Midwestern roots and Midwestern sensibilities.  Nebraska’s football program has a record of accomplishment and traditions that is second to none.  And everyone I have ever met who hailed from Nebraska — the state or the school — has been a nice person.  (I haven’t met Senator Ben Nelson, so we won’t focus on his recent shenanigans.)

So Cornhusker fans, welcome to the Big Ten!  We think you will like it in our conference, and we look forward to meeting you on the gridiron in the very near future, in a stadium filled with red and scarlet.

From The Jaws Of Defeat

Evan Turner swished a 38-foot jump shot at the buzzer to lead Ohio State over Michigan, 69-68, in today’s Big Ten Tournament game.  It was a game where Michigan seemingly couldn’t miss toward the end of the game, and finally pulled ahead by 2 with 2 seconds left — leaving just enough time for Turner’s heroics.

Normally, I wouldn’t post a sports clip, but this shot is an exception.

Tournament Time

If you are a college basketball fan, this is a wonderful time of year.  Most of the conferences, large and small, are playing their tournaments.  In conferences where the tournament champion gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, winning the tournament is their only chance to make The Big Dance, and the players play their hearts out.  Already we have seen upsets, like Marquette defeating Villanova and Georgetown upending Syracuse.

For the Big Ten, today is a bit of a “play in” day, where the top seeds have a bye and the second division teams face off for the ability to advance.  Ohio State starts its tournament play tomorrow with a noon game against Michigan, which beat Iowa today.

Tournament games often have a desperate edge, where the interests of the two teams are radically different.  For a team like the Buckeyes, which has an NCAA bid locked up, the coaches’ main interest probably is avoiding injury — although I’m sure the players want to play well and go into the NCAA tournament on a bit of a roll.  For Michigan, however, it is a one game season.  They can make it to the NCAAs only if they beat Ohio State and win out, and as a result I’m sure the Wolverines will be playing with even more fire than normal tomorrow.  The wild card in the game will be the bitter underlying rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan.  No true Buckeye wants to lose to Michigan, ever, and if Ohio State’s players can drive a final stake into  Michigan’s difficult season, I am sure they will be burning to do so.