Someone played a dirty trick on Michigan's offense Saturday.
The often ineffective and toothless Ohio State defensive unit was replaced by one that looked much more like those seen in 2002 and 2003. Instead of finding itself weak against the run and unable to lock down receivers on 3rd and long, the Buckeyes ate up almost anything the Wolverines threw at them. Instead of having enough protection to sing the national anthem (all four verses), Henne frequently had less time than it takes to say John Jacob Jinglehiemerschmidt.
What caused the change?
According to linebacker Bobby Carpenter, "I think the biggest thing was we kind of rallied together and said, ‘hey - this is the Ohio State-Michigan game right here. We're not going to let them push us around. This is our season right now. We're not playing to go to a nation championship or BCS Bowl. We're playing to beat Michigan.' I think everyone responded."
Did they ever. For the day, the Ohio State defense allowed the Wolverines only 71 total rushing yards. To give one a feel for just how much of a change of pace this performance was, coming into yesterday's game the once vaunted Scarlet and Gray defenders were giving up an average of 134 yards every week. Penn State, with its grand total of two conference wins, rushed for 177 yards against the Buckeyes.
On the other hand, for Michigan it was Déjà vu all over again as Yogi Berra might say. Much like the 2001 contest, Michigan fell behind early and found itself giving up on the run. Despite poor past results from this strategy (including the Notre Dame loss where they rushed the football for only 65 yards), the Wolverines almost inexplicably began to quickly rely on the pass to sustain their offense.
Carpenter said, "Our offense did a good job putting points up. When they put points up it puts pressure on their offense like coach Tressel says, but we wanted to come in and stop the run. You guys (media) have been giving us a hard time all year about stopping the run. I think we held them to 60 some yards and made Henne try to beat us as a freshman. I think any time you're a freshman quarterback coming into the Horseshoe it's going to be kind of intimidating…He made a few good throws but other than that we basically controlled the game."
Hart, when he did get a chance to tote the football, found himself with nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide.
"We just tried to swarm him," said Carpenter. "Their offensive line is historically pretty good. They have some great players over there, so what we would try to do is beat blocks and get on him. He does a great job at keeping his shoulders square, making cuts, and balancing the ball. He got a few of them, but after the first quarter we shut them down."
In fact, that move by Michigan's offensive staff was an early Christmas present. They played right into the hands of the Buckeye defensive plan - a recipe that has won this program 32 games over the past three seasons.
Carpenter continued, "Coming out and being stopped in the second half a few times, they gave up the run. Once they did that - that's where we try to get teams so we can zone blitz them and man pressure them. Once we did that the ball was ours."
Indeed it was. Michigan entered yesterday's game on a four game streak of rushing the football for over 200 yards. It was the first Big Ten game that Michael Hart was held to under 100 yards for the day.
"I honestly think that by shutting down Hart we really took them out of their game," said Anthony Schlegel. "They rely so much on their running game to open up their passing game and everyone saw once we shut down their run their passing game had some big plays but was rather ineffective."
Ineffective was the watchword. A porous Buckeye pass defense that all too frequently allowed the opposition to convert 3rd and long ate up Michigan wideouts and tight ends like a mulcher does lumber. The Buckeyes recorded a season-best 10 pass break-ups Saturday, and Ashton Youboty had four while virtually shutting down all world wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Aside from a few long bombs - one of which was a circus catch in the end zone ala Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series (victimizing fellow Ohio team in the Cleveland Indians), the Michigan passing game and wide receivers were toothless.
"He had some big catches," said Anthony Schlegel of Edwards. "But when it came down to it we were all over him."
A.J. Hawk recorded 11 tackles Saturday to finish with 136.
"There is no trick," Hawk commented on the overall defensive performance. "Coach Snyder said there is no special call we can make to stop a team. It's all in how you play and how you run around and pursue the ball and have fun. We tried to be physical and I think we got that done today."
Physical just doesn't seem to cut it. This defense played with heart. Dustin Fox played Saturday with a strained groin. Donte Whitner had knee surgery just over a week ago and yet recorded his first career sack. Simon Fraser has been bothered by an ankle while Schlegel has been playing on a bit of a bum knee. David Patterson looked like Quasimoto as he hobbled around, having to be helped up off of the turf after plays by teammates. Nate Salley is coming off of an injury, and even Ashton Youboty admitted he was playing a bit dinged up.
In the end, co-defensive coordinator Mark Snyder just wanted to savor the win and outstanding performance by his unit.
"I've been proud of them all year," Snyder said. "We've had some ups and down this year, there's no question. We graduated a lot of players. We've played good defense at times. More times than not we have played good defense. For whatever reasons circumstances have come up, and injuries come up, and that's part of football. But, it feels great. It feels awesome."
Here are a few pregame photos from Charles Babb:
Kyle Turano and Kyle Andrews before the game. Turano booted a 70-yard punt on the day
Simon Fraser, Mike Kudla, and others warming up before the game
Coach Bollman and the offensive line
The Buckeyes file into the stadium
Nick Mangold and Justin Zwick