Cus Words: The Game 2014

No matter the stakes, Ohio State-Michigan always matters. We take a look at the usual lessons from the week before and remember how many memories the Buckeyes and Wolverines tend to create.

What we learned last week: Indiana has made progress under Kevin Wilson, but talent is always a great ace to have in the hole.

With about 50 minutes of solid defensive play and opportunistic offense, Wilson's Hoosiers made more of a game out of their trip to Columbus than most expected. This Indiana team is going to have a record that looks like a lot of those that have come before it, but it didn't wilt at the sight of the Horseshoe and Ohio State's silver helmets like many have.

BTN commentator and former Buckeye Glen Mason noted Indiana quarterback Zander Diamont looked like a different guy than the one he saw against Michigan a few weeks earlier, and I wholeheartedly agree. Diamont showed some signs a week earlier against Rutgers of starting to feel more comfortable as a college quarterback, but he's still nowhere near the level the Hoosiers need for their offense to be as formidable as it was the past couple of years. Outside of Shane Wynn, his targets are not up to par, either.

The engine that makes Indiana go is stud running back Tevin Coleman, and Ohio State did a pretty good job of bottling him up -- at least most of the day. Michael Bennett insisted after the game the run defense was fine other than a couple of lapses, and that is at least to a certain extent true. However, those lapses are still cause for concern.

Ohio State hasn't been good enough defensively the past two years to get the benefit of the doubt yet. It is certainly better this season than last year, but that isn't saying much. We should also remember last year's unit didn't bottom out until about this point in the season. The run defense in particular became below average without anyone really noticing until Michigan ran for 152 yards then Michigan State tacked on 134, but there had been signs in games against Iowa and Penn State (to a lesser extent Illinois and Indiana) something could be amiss after a pretty good first half of the 2013 season stopping the run.

The past three weeks have seen Ohio State face three very good running teams, and all three of them ended up with big rushing totals. Michigan State, Minnesota and Indiana averaged 225.7 yards on the ground against the Buckeyes. No one expects them to completely shut down attacks of that quality, but there's quite a bit of room for improvement there -- especially considering two of those teams can barely throw the ball.

Indiana's defensive effort was aided by a trio of Ohio State turnovers, but the Hoosiers played well up front for most of the game. As I wrote in the preview last week, they have a few guys in the front seven who can really play. This defense is far more sound than last year's unit, but it still doesn't make enough big plays to get off the field. It would have been a solid complement to some Indiana's recent offenses, but this one can't match opponents score for score without better quarterback play.

Big plays are something Ohio State's offense has in spades. The 2014 Buckeyes are a long gain waiting to happen at every position on the field, and this time happened to be H-back Jalin Marshall who did most of the damage. He showed the fortitude to bounce back from a difficult week and the physical ability that made him a highly coveted recruit while providing one more example that, yes, talent usually wins out.

What can we expect to learn this week: As I was leaving the stadium Saturday, I was starting to wonder about the trajectory of this Ohio State team, particularly how it relates to the Buckeyes' next game.

That's still the only one that matters, after all. One way or another that always finds a way to be true. Will it decide the Big Ten title this year? No. Will it even have a major bearing on race? Not this time, but that's rare. Yet as long as one of the teams is in the national championship hunt, it necessarily matters. There's no way around it. That's true of every game at this time of year, and why moving The Game to earlier in the season should never even be an option.

As is often the case when Ohio State and Michigan play, neither team can afford to lose. For the Buckeyes, a shot at a national championship hangs in the balance. For the Wolverines, it's the right to play another game this season. And of course there is always that matter of bragging rights, something people sometimes forget about until they lose them.

The Wolverines' decline has changed the feelings about the rivalry a little bit, but social media has brought the fan bases closer together than ever. There's no getting away from each other if one wants to have a normal Internet presence, right? And recruiting seems to get more attention every year, and those programs are always going to be recruiting the same kids. This is another place fans cross paths, amping up the rivalry even more -- or at least promising its maintenance as long as both teams continue playing this great game.

It's still the last game of the regular season. It's not always the last game that matters anymore, but it still has the capacity to be whether a team is having a great season or a disappointing one.

Ohio State can dash Michigan's bowl hopes, as the Buckeyes did in 2009 and as the Wolverines did to Ohio State in 1999.

Michigan can knock Ohio State out of the national title race, as it did three times in the past 20 years. Eleven times the Wolverines have ruined a perfect conference season for the Buckeyes, although it is perhaps mentioning Ohio State has done that to Michigan three times since 1996, the last time it happened to the Buckeyes.

I was wondering if things were setting up for another memorable (or infamous?) Saturday this week when Michigan comes to town because Ohio State seems to be getting into the habit of shooting itself in the foot lately and the Wolverines had won their first two games of November. Then Michigan lost to Maryland and looked listless doing so.

How will any of that history, either recent or from long ago, play into what happens this weekend? It probably won't. The players on the field will take care of that, but that such memories are inescapable is a credit to the rivalry -- and why it's still worth looking forward to every year.

Follow on Twitter @marcushartman

Buckeye Sports Top Stories