Ohio State’s 42-41 win over Michigan was certainly worth a second full viewing.
The No. 1 takeaway? The Wolverines played pretty well, but Buckeye mistakes were mostly why it was a close game.
Credit goes to much-maligned Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges, who called a great game all the way down to the final touchdown. His uninspired two-point conversion call, however, might have cost the Wolverines the win… (read more).
As for Ohio State, Herman always strives for balance, but Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison practically dared him not to be, and that failed miserably.
I mean, yeah, the Wolverines avoided getting dinked and dunked to death by screens, and they forced Miller to pull the ball down in some passing situations, but why Mattison aside from a handful of field linebacker blitzes never put an extra hat in the box to help against a running game that gained nearly 400 yards is beyond my comprehension.
Nowhere to turn but The Doors this week as we take a look back at the end of a 12-game run of perfection for the Ohio State football team. It was quite a ride, but we can’t help but wonder what’s next.
What we learned last week: How a true 180 feels.
Could anything have been more different than the way things turned out this year for Ohio State?
From a helpless, free-falling November of 2011 to the capstone of a perfect season including a pair of close wins instead of three one-score losses.
Urban Meyer wants to make sure this team’s accomplishments are recorded because they sure don’t write books like this. I don’t think this screenplay could get produced because no one would buy it.
I think this season also turned out to teach that enjoying the ride is still possible.
Oh sure, there are regrets. Some wonder what might have been, and there was some campaigning for No. 1 votes in the AP poll.
There were threads on our BuckeyeSports.com message board decrying the play calling and the crowd noise and the missed tackles, just like always.
But there were still 100,000-plus in Ohio Stadium eight times this fall. They still cheered as lustily when the Buckeyes put together an improbable comeback in the last minute then dominated overtime against Purdue. They still reveled under the lights as the offense ran wild against Nebraska, and they still danced and sang with the band and the players after a close win at Michigan State.
They still rushed the field after a win over Michigan, too.
It still looked, sounded and felt like a regular Ohio State football season all along the way, and that was good to see.
I was beginning to wonder if the BCS – with its slightly more tangible presentation of a true race for a national championship compared to the completely poll-driven decision process that preceded it – had ruined some of that.
Had the long run of success in the Big Ten and over Michigan spoiled fans? Maybe so. Some players last year and this year admitted it might have made them complacent, too.
That’s somewhat understandable. It is human nature, after all.
So it was good to see the joy and passion back for all. A rejuvenated coach, team and fan base all soaking in the simple joy of a win just for winning’s sake.
The stakes return next season, but the memories of this one will linger forever.
What we can expect to learn next week (and beyond): That was quite a season of Ohio State football. It lasted only 12 games, but there was plenty of drama. Wonder what they’ll do for an encore…
After one of the weirdest periods in OSU football history, the Buckeyes needed a mental reset.
Turns out they might have found the master of psychology in his field. Of course, Urban Meyer had to fix himself before he could go to work on his home state’s favorite team.
So 2012 turned out to be a test period for all sorts of things. A new offense, a new workout regime, a new mental approach and a new man – in more ways than one – at the helm.
Nobody could have dreamed it would turn out so well, and the twists and turns were even more unpredictable.
Who knows the next time Ohio State will get as many things to break its way as did this season – it had been at least 10 years, right? – but then again maybe not as many will be necessary next season when the schedule is weaker and the methods are more familiar.
The 1998 Buckeyes, for instance, really only would have needed one break in one particular game to go down as one of the great teams in school history. (And the loss to Michigan State that season actually required quite a string of unfortunate events to happen anyway.)
Maybe the same could be said of 1969 or several of Woody Hayes’ great teams in the early ‘70s.
The 2002 and ’12 Buckeyes brought a lot of their problems on themselves, but they persevered through determination and perhaps even some providence.
How next season unfolds will begin to be told with winter workouts, but there’s no deadline for the 2013 Buckeyes to be great. It might be more tense with more on the line, or it might be carefree if they grow and cut back on mistakes and lapses in focus. Only time will tell.
They seem to have a coach who knows how to make magic more likely, but even Urban Meyer concedes there is only so much anyone can do other than hope for the best.
It will be a long offseason. Good thing they left on such a high note.
Stocks are high with this program now, and it will be interesting to see how they handle prosperity.
They haven’t won anything tangible yet, so that shouldn’t be too hard a sell.
They completed their payback tour with wins over everyone in the conference that beat them last season, but there is unfinished business to attend to.
It goes beyond the Big Ten, but they’ll have to get through it again first. The path they just traversed was winding and treacherous, but the next one will be even longer even if it runs the risk of being more boring at times.
Much of what makes a great coach is his psychological approach, and that will be tested in building and keeping together the 2013 team.
How will he teach it to remain hungry, to be sure cupcakes don’t spoil the appetite?
They showed plenty of flaws that need to be worked on, of course, so maybe that won’t become a concern until next season actually starts.
Maybe I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, but then again I guess that’s sort of my point.
After twelve wild wins there are going to be a full 12 more months before this team can say it accomplished more than its predecessor. Then there will still be one more step, and the hardest one of all.
Who better to rock us into Michigan week than Ohio’s Black Keys? We thought of a song of their most recent good album while looking at where the Buckeyes are and where they could be after another edition of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
What we learned last week: Maybe there is something to be said simply for going undefeated in and of itself.
I had not really believed that before, but I’m inclined to reconsider after the Buckeyes pulled out another close one at Wisconsin and the rest of the top five endured another week of upheaval.
No, that does not mean I am going to make the case for them as Associated Press national champions, at least not yet. (Certainly not before Notre Dame loses as it seems to me from here the Fighting Irish have played a tougher schedule, but there will be plenty of time to examine that in December.)
But where does gettin’ er done rank in terms of valuing a sports team?
Viewed through the prism of the past 11 years, Ohio State’s 40-34 loss at Michigan was surreal in many ways.
It took place at a re-imagined Michigan Stadium at the hands of a re-energized Michigan team with a different feel from anything I have seen since the turn of the century.
The weather was unusually pleasant for late November in the Midwest. I love crisp fall afternoons, but I don’t think I have ever gone to an Ohio State-Michigan game without need of a coat before, and there was certainly a feeling of confidence pervading the building. The home fans came for blood, and for a while it looked like they would get it despite the Buckeyes’ early salvo from Braxton Miller to Philly Brown.
A proud Ohio State defense was ripped to shreds, suffering early lapses of execution and at places a lack of athleticism. It stumbled early, righted itself briefly but could not get a permanent hold on Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and his improving cast of running backs and wide receivers.
That in itself was a major reversal from the past decade, when we have seen Ohio State generally field one of the most stellar defenses in the country as Michigan’s once-dominant stop unit fell into serious disrepair on the heels of the offense growing seriously stale. They’re trying now to go back to the defense-first mentality and don’t seem to mind being run-of-the-mill on offense in the long run, but Robinson provides a different dimension for the time being.
There was little doubt in examining this matchup that it favored Michigan’s offense. The Buckeyes have not played well on the edges or in space all year, and that is where the Wolverines thrive. And so it was done.
Yet the Ohio State offense showed up with by far its best showing of the year since a season-opening thrashing of a horrible Akron team that decided Saturday its head coach had done such a bad job in two years that he would get no more.
The much-maligned Ohio State offensive coaching staff, which everyone knew to be a lame-duck outfit at this point, reminded us it has a pretty solid general knowledge of offense if not the ability to keep its thoughts organized in a way that often produces a coherent plan of attack. The Buckeyes threw a lot at Michigan with varying success. Their 34 points were a Big Ten season high, and they left at least 10 more on the field because of Miller misfires. The sensational freshman showed why he was the right choice as a starting quarterback all along but also why they were reticent to truly cut him loose as a passer. He has a great arm but is raw from a fundamentals standpoint. He gets out of whack on his drops and footwork and timing, and that leads to passes sailing. A lot of times he looks like a golfer who just can’t quite get the tempo of his swing right. I don’t think he threw a lot of deep balls in high school, so he is still developing the touch on those. Practice reps in the future should iron out a lot of those deficiencies, but one of the questions about this season that will long endure is how much that process could have been sped along with more chances in games.
The players all said consistently they loved playing for Luke Fickell, but I’m not sure he ever showed them the faith they needed to succeed. Ohio State could have won at least four of the six games it lost, lacking a play here or there in every one of them. Sometimes that is just the way the ball bounces, but I don’t think they were put in position to make enough things happen, at least based on the composition of the groups on each side of the ball. Without a doubt, the defensive staff that has been so stellar in previous seasons seemed paralyzed by the limited options provided by its personnel. They didn’t have as many buttons to push as in the past, but those that were there were often ignored in favor of a pretty bland attack. Ditto the offense, but that came as little surprise given the track record of the people in charge.
The game at Michigan on Saturday had a much different feel to it from the field up through the old bowl of seats to the massive new additions on either side of the stadium. The huge brick buildings contain a spacious new press box and a large number of luxury boxes and suites that give the stadium an infinitely more interesting and modern look. Previously,the place was literally not much more than a hole in the ground. Those big brick structures were empty the last time Ohio State visited, and so to a large extent was the football program. There was little energy in the stadium, and the players were not only coming off the worst season in school history but seemed to know there was a good chance they were going to lose again and miss a bowl game again.
This time around the crowd was often rocking, whether it was the contrived “Beat Ohio” chant before the game or a strange mix of pop rock and Detroit rap songs mixed in with the traditional playing of “Go Big Blue”, all piped through an impressive sound system (but not my style). The Michigan team played with the same offensive relentlessness instilled by its previous coach along with a renewed sense of confidence on defense.
The Wolverines’ victory seemed inevitable, a feeling reinforced by the fact Michigan had a preloaded animation for the scoreboard displaying the number of days since the school’s last win against Ohio State dropping to zero. That popped up minutes after the game, not long after a choreographed celebration that saw the players gather at midfield and fall to the turf together after someone pretended to toss a grenade (That rubbed some of the Ohio State players the wrong way, as they later expressed on Twitter).
And yet despite all these factors working in its favor, Michigan probably should have lost the game.
A generally good Ohio State game plan was undermined by a poor trio of plays inside the 10 when they had the chance to regain the lead early in the fourth quarter but had to settle for a field goal.
Perhaps Michigan still would have had time to come back if Miller had connected with Posey on that pass deep down the Ohio State sideline on the Buckeyes’ final drive, but that is no certainty. And there were other chances Miller could have hit big plays if he were more developed as a passer.
I don’t think it’s any kind of a stretch to say Ohio State won the coaching battle. Michigan took advantage of some of Ohio State’s clear deficiencies on defense, but the Buckeyes exposed the fact there is still much work to be done in the rebuilding of the Wolverine defense, too. The latter should come as a much bigger surprise, and it leaves me still wondering about the long-term viability of the staff in place there.
Of course, the last aspect of the day’s feel came with it being the finishing touch on the Jim Tressel era, an epilogue by Luke Fickell and the rest of Tressel’s former assistant coaches along with players he helped convince to come to Columbus during the second half of his tenure at Ohio State.
The knowledge that everything would be changing soon after The Game ended had an effect on everything that happened. It enhanced the “what if?” feeling as they pushed the envelope a little more on offense, and it left everyone unsure of how to act when it was all over.
Michigan won, as it was supposed to do, but what does that mean for the future?
The Wolverines have new leadership, an enhanced playpen and the same old gigantic fan base. Are they back? No, not yet. Only time will tell how many of their 10 wins were a result of a weak schedule (a factor that should not be overlooked in some of Tressel’s success, either, but that is a conversation for another day) or if Hoke can sustain the recruiting momentum he has established in a first year that just so happens to coincide with Ohio State’s stay in NCAA purgatory.
The Buckeyes are set to bring in their own new leader, one who could trump Hoke in terms of coaching ability, recruiting acumen and understanding of the rivalry, but how far will Hoke’s head start take him?