Shameless self promotion
First, a pat on the back for me.
I predicted before the game that what would happen is there would be unsung/unexpected stars in this game. One or two great ones might rise above (see Mike Hart and Troy Smith) while others who typically were not major cogs in the offense/defense would step up to play a role. My guesses for Ohio State were Brian Hartline, Brian Robiskie, Chris Wells, and Rory Nicol on offense and a guy like Jay Richardson on defense. Four of five isn't bad. I picked OSU to win 31-17 – which is not where Ohio State finished, but it is certainly very close to where Michigan would have finished had it not been for Buckeye help and turnovers. The realistic score to this contest is 45-21 were it not for Ohio State turnovers.
I also singled out Jamario O'Neal and Antonio Smith as two defensive backs UM would try to pick on during the course of the afternoon, and they did exactly that – testing them and exposing a possible weakness in the Buckeye defense. This of course takes us to…
Mario Manningham is a stud. Not that this was in doubt prior to The Game, but it certainly isn't in doubt now. When matched up on anyone other than Malcolm Jenkins, he had his way with them. He did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, however he wanted. Antonio Smith found out very rapidly that he would struggle to contain Manningham when the Michigan wideout took a short slant and very nearly turned into a touchdown. He was eventually corralled, but still gained 25 yards. On the very next play, Henne connected with Manningham again for another 9 yards. Henne went back to him after a Mike Hart for a big gain to the Buckeye 1 yard line – again on Smith. For their part, Ohio State is fortunate Jenkins is just a sophomore and can play a game of one ups-man-ship with Manningham in 2007, but the rest of the Big Ten has to be wishing both of these stars would somehow petition the NFL for early entry.
Jamario O'Neal played decent, but he clearly has a long, long way to go. He is too easily blocked once locked on a wide receiver. Not playing the football and allowing Manningham to get behind him on 4th and 16 when Ohio State could have sealed the game is almost inexcusable. Clearly he has the talent, but he will have to work on pass coverage between now and January or the Buckeyes will find their opponent exploiting a chink in their armor. If that opponent has to be Michigan (again), then you can bet they will go at he and Smith as much as possible.
Pressuring Chad Henne
Ohio State's defense struggled all evening to get to Chad Henne. Again, in the off chance these two teams meet in the desert, the Buckeyes have to do a better job at pass rushing. With skill athletes like Michigan possesses, one simply cannot allow a quarterback the kind of time he had to throw. When he was pressured, he did his best Statue of Liberty impression (think John Navarre) and went down like a bag full of bricks. When not pressured, he picked the secondary apart. Hats off to Henne for a fantastic performance. On most days a 21 for 35, 267 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions will get you a win. He played like a champion.
Typical Whining on Officiating
On the whole, Lloyd Carr conducted himself well when dealing with officiating, but his comments about Shawn Crable's obviously illegal blow to the head of Troy Smith are puzzling. If he wants to complain about bad calls, then there are a few real (as opposed to merely perceived) injustices in this game. I wonder if perhaps he would like to review the obvious hold on Ohio State's safety on Michigan's first touchdown. Brandon Mitchell clearly sniffed out the play and was on his way into the backfield before being tackled – dragged down by his jersey – by Obi Oluigbo of the Wolverines. That would have taken Michigan back to the 11 instead of the 1. What about crashing down on the head of the center on every extra point attempt for the Buckeyes? Why was that not called when Wolverine tackles landed on the head and neck of Drew Norman when they were going to make an issue of it for Michigan – giving them a first down in a drive that resulted in a touchdown as a result? How about the personal foul facemask that should have been called on Ginn's punt return by Stevie Breaston? No flag was thrown, but it clearly should have been. How about the deliberate blows to the head by Steve Breaston on Malcolm Jenkins after a play in the early portion of the second quarter?
Crying about officials is always possible. However, for a losing coach to whine about the men in the striped shirts after this game is inexcusable. This was one of the best games of the last 25 years in all of college football with everything it had on the line, and blaming a loss (or insinuating it) on officials is a disservice to both his players, his program, and the eventual winner – Ohio State.
Troy Smith's Arm Strength
Troy Smith, for all that people discuss his wheels or decision making, has an incredible arm. It is a gift that he has worked to perfect, but take a look at the first quarter pass to Ted Ginn on Ohio State's opening drive. Troy rolled right and threw an absolute missile. To his credit, Ginn caught it and held on the ball for a nice gain. On 3rd and 16 on the same drive, his pass to Roy Hall had so much mustard on it you would think he was a condiment vendor.
My first memory of Smith is in 2003 winter practices before the return to the desert to play Kansas State. He was no quarterback in those days – scrambling probably 2/3 of the time. If a defender were to get within 10 feet of him he started to tuck the ball and run. However, on a very memorable play, he chose to run parallel to the line and buy time for his receivers to find an open space. Suddenly, forty yards or more down the field, a receiver came open in the end zone. Running to his right, Smith did a little hop step and fired a frozen rope for a score. The ball couldn't have had more than a 15 foot arc over that distance. It was an incredible play.
What has changed between now and then is he has become a quarterback…and a likely Heisman winner. Even though Michigan left Troy Smith lying on the turf more often than Lloyd Carr whines about what he perceives as poor calls after losing a game, he rarely tried to scramble but looked down the field to make plays.
Ohio State Run Blocking
Ohio State's offensive line leaked like an old tub on pass protection, but their run blocking was often a thing of beauty. Even on short runs, the linemen pulled well leading the back into the hole beside the fullback. They were able to get to the proverbial ‘next level' of the defense and disrupt the abilities of linebackers to get to the football. Stan White, Jr., and Dionte Johnson were both seen cracking helmets to open space for their backfield buddies. Johnson had one hit which knocked Harris backward and echoed in the sideline microphones when the Buckeyes were driving for their eventual winning touchdown; it resulted in a 4 yard gain.
If I were to single out a lineman for praise, it would be Doug Datish – despite his bad snaps. Watch this game on tape and take a good look at him sprinting down the field to get more blocks. On the Robiskie catch and run which nearly turned into a touchdown, he can be seen in the replay doing his best to chug down the field and help out his offense. He was too far behind the play to get there in time, or he would have easily taken care of the man Ginn missed. On the delayed handoff to Antonio Pittman just after the start of the 4th quarter (a statue of liberty play), Datish is the one who allowed it to go for more than just 7-12 yards. His block on Jamar Adams opened a lane for Pittman to exploit for 26 yards. Datish controlled Adams perfectly without needing to hold or commit a foul.
Buckeyes Coaching Staff Earns an A+
For the fifth time in six tries, the Ohio State coaching staff absolutely ran circles around that of Michigan. Were it not for unforced errors on the part of Buckeye players with turnovers dropped passes – and even a couple blown coverages – Ohio State would have won by 20 or more.
To put this in perspective how much better the schemes of the Buckeyes were over their counterparts, Michigan won the turnover battle 3 to 0 and had an average starting field position of almost the 35 yard line (34.15 to be exact). The drives starting on Ohio State's 9 and 25 yard lines certainly skew the figures a bit, but considering those resulted in 10 points they deserve to be included. Without them, Michigan probably doesn't break 30 points and this isn't a nail biter. Meanwhile, Ohio State started on their own 25 (24.6*), losing the field position battle decidedly but mounted multiple consistent drives across the span of the afternoon and into the early evening.
*The final drive for Ohio State was not included since the Buckeyes were given that field position only on a failed onsides kick.
Brian Robiskie's reception and then Kung Fu toss of Leon Hall over his shoulder was a thing of beauty from a football perspective. From C deck (where I watched the game), you could see the play developing as soon as Robo made his move. Realistically, he simply needed a decent block from Ginn to go 87 yards for the score.
Ohio State is still searching for a second linebacker to step up and star beside James Laurinaitis. Pressed into a situation where they had to stop the run, the coaches went to their most consistent (albeit not the most explosive or gifted) player – John Kerr. Kerr lacks the top end speed and quickness needed to control the edges (which resulted in more yards there), but he helped control the middle of the field.
David Harris of Michigan had a very good game overall. He played hard and played physical. His hit on Troy Smith on the quarterback keeper was one of those ‘ooooh' moments at the stadium.
Ball Security and Chris Wells
You think Chris Wells has heard about ball security? You think he hasn't learned his lesson? You think he doesn't know if he drops the ball again in the near future he could find himself riding the pine for a long, long time? I counted at least 6 seconds after Wells went into the end zone on his touchdown before he let loose of the football. When he did, he gave it to the referee. Really, it was almost comical. He wasn't even able to celebrate properly with teammates like Gonzo and Robiskie and Smith – who were trying to congratulate him. He had one arm out to them, but the other cradled the football.
Ohio players posterized by the Buckeyes:
- Brandon Harrison on Roy Hall's first touchdown
- Brandon Harrison on Chris Wells' touchdown run
- Shawn Crable who missed the tackle on Wells in the backfield.
- Mark Bihl who allowed Joel Penton's sack late in the 2nd quarter.
Kudos to ABC. Mitch Albom's tribute to Bo during halftime was touching and befitted the man. I lack Albom's eloquence, but Bo will be missed. So long as Bo was living – a piece of Woody remained. Now Bo and Woody are both gone and relegated to history. They will remain through players and former assistants, but it won't be the same.
A Standing Ovation for the Band
Ohio State's band should have been featured on ABC during halftime. They had perhaps the best show I have ever seen them perform. Using Hollywood epic themes, they first formed the famous outline of E.T. with Elliot on his bike. A young man in front of me at his very first Buckeye game excitedly yelled to his dad, "LOOK! Daddy, look! It's E.T!" He may have missed out on a few of the intricacies of the game itself, but he immediately knew what that was all about. Next they formed the Titanic (with smokestacks puffing smoke) and proceeded to break apart and sink under a blue tarp. Next they morphed into the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean, and became the Eye of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings. The greatest crowd pleasers were perhaps their Star Wars themes as they formed the head of Darth Vader and then the face of Yoda. It was done seamlessly, and while I have never previously mentioned the band – this time it is warranted.
Buckeye fans should also thank the Michigan Band. Before the contest started the crowd seemed tight and might not have been able to warm up were it not for the Maize and Blue clad folks marching up and down on Ohio Stadium's field playing Hail to the Victors. The crowd rose to its feet as if awakened from a slumber, and they lustily booed and hissed.
The Kicking Game
Ohio State's strategy to avoid kicking the ball to Steve Breaston was either poorly executed or poorly designed. It helped provide great field position to the Wolverines just when they most needed it in the second half. Michigan started their first drive on the 40 yard line and quickly scored a touchdown. The punt by Trapasso netted just 33 yards, and on the evening had just a 38 yard net average as opposed to a 44.4 average for the Wolverines. It doesn't sound like much, but it makes a difference.
The break for the half came at exactly the right moment for Michigan. They were completely discombobulated in the second quarter while Ohio State was hitting their stride. Then Ohio State appeared to come out of the locker room thinking this one was over…only it wasn't. Skipped passes, missed blocks, poorly angled punts, balls thrown away, and poor tackling followed. The lack of Buckeye execution directly led to the Wolverines being able to get back into the contest.
Fans were on their feet screaming for the team to wake up and start playing football again. The 80+ year old gentleman next to me looked ready to go down on the field himself and knock some heads together. Generally mild in his demeanor, he was clearly riled up by the poor display – and deservedly so.
Troy Smith's leadership was never needed more than when he helped pull this team back together for a stretch run.
Fighting Through the Blocks
Perhaps the most physically impressive play I saw on the afternoon was that of Vern Gholston. The situation was 2nd and 10 for Michigan at the Ohio State 33. Michigan was down 35-24 with 4:39 remaining. Gholston came off of the line of scrimmage and drove inside the intended blocker Jake Long. Long hooked him with his arm (technically a hold), but it barely slowed him. Mike Hart also attempted to protect Henne, but Gholston hit him so hard that after contact Hart went 2 yards backward before landing on his rear end. Henne was forced to throw the ball away and did so just as Gholston slammed into his legs. The pass fell incomplete.
Gholston played like a man possessed and probably created more havoc in the Michigan backfield than any of the Buckeyes. The only other one who played close to his level was Richardson.
Speaking of Richardson, his sack on Henne with just 2:55 remaining is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it was a tremendous play physically at the right moment for his team. Ohio State needed a stop on third and long, and Richardson provided it by reaching out and grabbing Michigan's quarterback. Most defensive ends would be unable to make that play because they lack the size/arm length/physicality. Second, it forced Michigan to call their final timeout. Had Henne even been able to throw an incomplete pass, Michigan saves that timeout. All else being equal and assuming Michigan would still have converted (or perhaps they would have converted on 3rd and long), they could have saved that timeout and used it to try and get the football back on Ohio State's final possession.
Statistics can be Misleading
Out of 41 passes, Smith hit 29. Aside from throwing more than a few out of bounds on purpose, he was victimized on several occasions by his own players. There were at least
- Ginn on 2nd and 5 at 8:00 left 1st quarter – eventual TD
- Ginn on 2nd and 9 at 1:01 left 1st quarter – drop stalled drive by setting up 3rd and 9 instead of 3rd and 3.
- Ginn on 2nd and 10 on the opening drive of the second half.
- Rory Nicol on 3rd and 10 with 2:50 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
- Too far for Ginn on a deep route
- A blitz forced Smith to simply throw the ball away intentionally
- A blitz forced Smith to simply throw the ball away intentionally
- A skipped pass to Roy Hall.
- A skipped pass to Ted Ginn, Jr.
- A blitz forced Smith to simply throw the ball away intentionally.
- A poor throw into coverage resulted in an interception.
- A throw to Ginn which was just a tad high under pressure from the back side.
So, grading Troy Smith, there were only 5 throws which were poor decisions or poor execution on his part.
29 of 41 is really more like 33 of 41 were it not for the drops and as far as good decisions, he was 36 of 41 on the afternoon.
A Short "By the numbers" – One for each Buckeye Win
- The number of Ohio State games remaining this season. If they win just once more they also become the singular Ohio State football team to run the AP poll wire to wire.
- The number of #2 teams the Buckeyes have defeated this season. In those two games, the Buckeyes scored 66 points and at times – dominated. This is also the number of times they may have to beat Michigan to get to the national title.
- The number of wins for Troy Smith against Michigan. He and Tippy Dye are the only Ohio State quarterbacks with the spectacular feat of going 3-0 against the Wolverines as starters. Smith's compiled numbers are: 69-101, 857 yards passing, 7 touchdowns, and only one interception. Toss in 33 rushes for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. That makes for a grand sum total of 1,072 yards with a 6.5 yard per carry average and a 69 percent completion rate against Michigan. Three is also the number of Big Ten titles Ohio State has shared or won outright under current coach Jim Tressel.
- This is the number of wins against Michigan for those who remain from the recruiting class of 2002. It is tied for the most ever in a five year span in this series for Ohio State.
- National titles already owned by Tressel. He has a ring for every finger on one hand. The question now is – will he start working on the other and what players will join him in his quest? This is also the number of wins Ohio State owns over Michigan in the Tressel era. Not even the beloved Woody Hayes started out 5-1 against the Wolverines.
- The number of (soon to be) Heisman winners at Ohio State. This is also the number of seasons Tressel has been head coach at Ohio State. In that time he is 62-13. That amounts to a winning percentage of 82.7.
- The number of (soon to be) Heisman trophies in Ohio State's trophy cases. Nobody in college football has more.
- The number of national title games Tressel has taken his teams to in only 21 years as a head coach. Think about that for a moment. This means in any given season you have a 38 percent chance your team will make it to an NCAA title game if coached by Tressel. When you subtract the ‘building' years from his resume ('86-'88 at Youngstown State and 2001 for Ohio State) the figure jumps to 47 percent.
- The number of wins for Tressel against bowl opponents and Michigan. In just six seasons he is 9-2 with one more to play. This is also the number of touchdowns for Troy Smith in three starts against Michigan.
- The (soon to be) latest jersey which will be retired from the ring of honor. At this pace, there won't be many left in another 30 years. This is also the number of times both Ohio State and Michigan had entered The Game ranked in the top 5.
- The number of wins Tressel and the Buckeyes have averaged over the last five seasons. It is also the number of yards per carry for Chris Wells yesterday who burst through the Michigan defense like a train rolling downhill for a 52 yard touchdown.
- The number of wins for Ohio State this season.
- The number of possessions for each team in this game. This is also the number of third downs Michigan had; they converted just four. Ohio State was 6 of 11 on third down.