You have to give this to Northwestern: They certainly knew how to take the crowd out of the game.
When was the last time you saw an Ohio State team show you 48 unanswered points? Just like the slow start with San Diego State, OSU gave up an early chippie and then shut them down. Period. High-powered offense? Slick and clever Northwestern game plan? Chuck and duck strategy? It didn't matter. The Buckeye defense was on a mission and that's all she wrote.
Reflecting back on this team, the 2005 "Year of the Buckeye" squad, they have certainly taken retribution for the two worst losses of the 2004 season. Hell, they might have been the two worst losses in memory! That would be the Iowa pasting and the Northwestern ambush. This year? Ohio State won by a combined score of 79-13. They disabled two of the three best quarterbacks in the conference (Tate and Basanez) and simply dominated two teams that were expected to be pretty good.
How do we convince the starters that they owe Michigan one, too!
Because the Michigan game could be the difference – for this Ohio State team – between 2005 being the "season to remember" or the "season to forget". Think back to all those special teams of the nineties. Their place in Buckeye lore ended up being defined by the last regular season game. I have high hopes for the current edition and look forward to Saturday already…
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The old school math…I am from that old school that says if you lose every game but beat Michigan, it's been a good season. Not only has this already been a good season, but it has been a definitive clarion call four-year ride for the Buckeye seniors. If they can win out, these guys will have won 43 games in four years (tying the record, will have been 3-1 against Michigan, will be 28-2 at home and – remarkably – be 4-0 in bowl games. Throw in that national championship and a couple of Big Ten championships and you definitely have a class to remember…
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The trend is your friend…After beating Indiana Saturday, Michigan became only the second team in the Big Ten this year to win after the off week/ bye week (Northwestern was the first when they beat Wisconsin 51-48). Does that have anything to do with OSU beating the Northern Rodents this Saturday? No, but we can only hope that it might have a bearing on the Penn State – Michigan State affair in Lansing. Penn State is the last Big Ten school to have an in-conference bye week. As one could surmise from the evidence, the week off seems to hurt the "rested" team. And going to Michigan State to play on the road? Well, unfortunately, they've lost their last three home games (to Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue) and kind of stunk up the place last Saturday in a rout by Minnesota. But John L. Smith has this reputation for pulling off the unexpected. As I said, we can only hope…
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Almost perfect…So I got to thinking, look how close the Buckeyes have come so far in 2005 to having a season like 2002. If they had converted any of those six scoring opportunities into TD's instead of field goal attempts against Texas (or if Ryan Hamby…oh, never mind!). Or if they hadn't given up the big interception and hit a big play themselves against Penn State.
It makes you realize how many things have to go right for your team to go perfect. So, inspired by a message board post of some weeks ago, I went back through the Classic Season of 2002 to reflect upon how they got perfect that year, and I remembered:
1) At least three dropped passes in the end zone against Cincinnati
2) A Will Allen interception in the end zone on fourth and one against the Bearcats to seal the deal
3) Darrion Scott knocking loose the ball from Gino Gudugli in the last five minutes.
4) Chris Gamble intercepting the ball in the end zone to beat Wisconsin
5) Chris Gamble scoring the only touchdown against Penn State off an interception
6) The "Holy Buckeye" miracle from Krenzel-to-Jenkins to beat Purdue.
7) The Dustin Fox interception in the end zone to keep them in against Illinois
8) The goal line stand against Illinois to win in overtime
9) A bunch of Navarre turnovers to help OSU beat Michigan
10) Will Allen's interception near the goal line on the final play of the Michigan game
And probably a dozen such plays in the Fiesta Bowl against Miami. The question then isn't how Ohio State had that perfect season in 2002, it's how does any team ever reach such a season…
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More of the same…So, on that same subject of becoming "pretty perfect", what happened these last two years that got them over-the-top in individual games? Let me continue on with this sordid and ponderous thesis:
1) San Diego State: Will Allen's interception return of 100+ yards is the only touchdown OSU gets in the game
2) North Carolina State: Ohio State recovers the ball on a kickoff that bounces off Richard Washington's helmet
3) Bowling Green: Will Allen (see a trend here?) cements the victory in the waning moments with an interception
4) Purdue: Mike Kudla recovers a fumble in the end zone for the only touchdown
1) Marshall: Mike Nugent nails a 55-yarder at the gun for the win
2) North Carolina State: Donte Whitner's INT for a TD wins that game
3) Penn State: Teddy Ginn punt return breaks open that game
4) Michigan State: Teddy Ginn punt returns turn the game around
The points scored in those eight games are the points I wanted to make in these two bullets. What have they done this year? What special plays? Texas can certainly look at their great plays that beat the Buckeyes; but the 50-yarder we needed was just right off the toe of Josh Huston. Penn State broke up the game at Happy Valley with an INT but OSU's special teams, well…weren't. And the games they won? They blew out Miami and San Diego State, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Northwestern. Only at Michigan State and Minnesota did Ohio State exhibit some of the old magic from seasons of yore. And maybe that's why they are 8-2
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More reasons (#2317 to #2319) to hate Notre Dame…After setting international records in the fields of arrogance and television contract negotiations, the Domers have come up with yet a new PR trick, elevating the lowly and portly Charlie Weis to sainthood in but nine games, of which he is 7-2. Hey – Willingham went 8-0 in his first season and was shown the door shortly thereafter. But does the "Weis Man" title fit or not? I say, "Not yet".
It feels like Charlie Weis has turned a moribund program on a dime and is headed toward football Valhalla. Maybe. Maybe not. His biggest win this season was a close loss to Southern Cal. That's what the poll voters seem to remember. His other big win? Against Michigan, during the course of the Wolverines splitting their first six games. Oh. And, yeah, Notre Dame also lost at home to Michigan State, a team that five other Big Ten teams have taken turns whipping. The other big games? Well, the Irish were able to topple Pitt (in one of the worst Pitt season in memory). They took care of Washington (1-9), beat last place Purdue, wumped a bad-to-mediocre BYU squad and then rallied in the fourth quarter to overcome Tennessee (who is 4-5 this season and going so bad that they are firing coaches on the go…). Not that impressive, you say? You would be right.
But how about a big ending for the Irish? Yeah, right. They end with the traditional tough scheduling of Navy (41 straight wins over the Midshipmen), Syracuse (1-8) and Stanford (5-5 in a weak Pac Ten).
So save the toasts and premature rising-from-the-dead speech. At least for now.
I would love to face these little green guys in the Fiesta Bowl, wouldn't you? First, the Buckeyes have to take care of some business next week…
If you have business to take care of with Bucknuts (or simply want to send me hate mail from South Bend), be sure to address it to Mr. Bucknuts at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com