Sunday Morning QB: Quite The Game

Some things are worth the wait. We hope you feel that way after reading this edition of Sunday Morning Quarterback, which is served up roughly six days later than normal. We recap in great detail Ohio State's landmark win over Michigan. Click here for more.

Welcome to Sunday Morning Quarterback, a column I intend to stand each week as a quick read on the news, notes and opinion on Ohio State's weekly game as well as the Big Ten and the college football nation at large.

We start with a look at OSU's 42-39 win over Michigan:

OK, I posed the Ten Pressing Questions last Friday and the game was played last Saturday. I guess you could say I am a little bit slow on the uptake. But maybe there are some interesting things we can still note.

* Before we answer the Ten Pressing Questions, I just want to talk in general terms about the events of last Saturday and the game itself.

I want to compliment the thousands of OSU fans who attended the game and who also partied responsibly (for the most part) before and afterwards.

I was heading home just after midnight on game night and a friend said, "I have been waiting all year for this."

I corrected him and said, "No, you've been waiting your whole life for a day like this."

The weather was perfect. The crowd was jacked up and the stakes have never ever been so high with No. 1 against No. 2 in a rivalry of this magnitude.

For the game to include so many highlight reel plays – on both sides, really – and to go down to the wire like it did, it is no wonder that it was declared an Instant Classic.

"This game is a classic," said OSU tackle Kirk Barton, clutching a victory cigar just like the late great Red Auerbach. "Tomorrow, when you wake up, everyone will know this game is a classic. It had everything, two great teams with a shot at a conference and national championship. I don't know how it could get better."

Quarterback Troy Smith, who enjoyed another huge game against Michigan, shared his view on whether this was the biggest game ever at 85-year-old Ohio Stadium.

"It could be with all the hoopla that happened before it," Smith said. "And the game was played the way it was played with two great teams. I'm biased because I'm the quarterback and this team is going to the national championship game, so this has to be the best.

"We're part of history now. You can't take us down. We're the outright Big Ten champions."

Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who had a touchdown catch among his four receptions, summed up the day's events.

"Coming into the game, I remember thinking to myself, ‘How many people are fortunate enough to be in a situation where they wake up and know that morning that it is going to be one of the most important days of their life?' " Gonzalez said.

"We, fortunately, and Michigan as well were in that position. You want to be on the right side when something like that happens. It felt like a Michigan game. It hurt like a Michigan game. It was painful like a Michigan game. That's what Michigan games are all about."

Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, who was robbed of an interception on an instant replay call, said, "This is the best college game I've seen. For it to be one versus two this late in the season and the rivalry with Ohio State and Michigan, the stakes could not be any higher. The national championship was on the line."

And for good measure, tailback Chris Wells, chimed in, "I came to Ohio State to play in that game. To get a chance to score, it was great."

* Without any further adieu, let's answer the Ten Pressing Questions posed last Friday on Ohio State-Michigan:

1. Can Ohio State establish the run against Michigan's staunch defense? -- In the weeks leading up to the game, everything was about the Michigan run defense that had allowed opponents just 29.9 yards per game on the ground, best in the nation. Only one team, Minnesota, eclipsed the century mark with 108 yards rushing.

Conversely, OSU had built its rushing average to a respectable 179.5 yards per game. Most rational observers believed the Buckeyes might – if they worked hard and got Smith involved – hit 100 yards on the ground.

Nobody saw Ohio State racking up an incredible 187 yards rushing on 29 carries. That included touchdown runs of 52 yards by Wells and 56 by Pittman.

"Pittman and Wells were good, those guys blocking for them did a good job," OSU coach Jim Tressel said. "I think Beanie's run, he broke a tackle right in the line of scrimmage and everything else was blocked, and he was gone, and he didn't stumble like he did last week. And then on Pitt's, he hit a crease. I don't know if anyone got a glove on him. Those guys have another gear and our guys know how to block."

Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman discussed how the Buckeyes were able to break off those two long scoring runs.

"It was what they were doing in the secondary and whether they were covering the wideouts," Bollman said. "On Pitt's long run, I don't know for sure but I think the safeties were covering the wideouts. They had to be splitting the field because there was no middle safety. He hesitated and it split and they couldn't catch him.

"It had to be a lot of the same on Beanie's run. Once he got through there, there was no safety in the middle of the field."

On Pittman's TD, left guard Steve Rehring pulled right and crushed a UM defender to help spring him.

"If we give Pitt an opportunity to not get touched at the line of scrimmage, he is going to take it a long way," Rehring said. "That hole was huge, made by Kirk and T.J. As soon as I hit the guy, I said, ‘That's going to be a touchdown.' "

Rehring added, "We were hitting on all cylinders. The whole offensive line was playing together. The tight ends were blocking well. The running backs were hitting their holes. We got it going with the running game and we just kept it going."

Pittman, who had 139 yards on 18 carries, spent all year counseling the freshman Wells on how to run at the college level. Wells ended up with 56 yards on five carries in his biggest game yet.

"I tried to help him a lot," Pittman said. "We talked about what we wanted to try and do out here today. We visualized it and got it done.

"Our offensive line took it personally. Those guys were talking about how nobody could run on them. We took it to heart and got it done. I wasn't surprised at all. I knew with the talent we had in the backfield and the talent we had up front that we could take it to the house at any time."

2. Can Troy Smith continue his string of stellar play against Michigan? -- Everybody knew Smith had enjoyed some of his best success in his two wins against UM. In 2004, he rushed for 145 yards and one TD and also threw for 241 yards and two scores in his team's 37-21 win. Last year, Smith rushed for 37 yards and a score and threw for a then-career high of 300 yards and one TD.

But this was clearly the best Michigan defense Smith had faced. What did he do in his third start against UM?

Smith completed 29 of 41 passes for 316 yards and matched his career high with four touchdowns against one interception. He became the first OSU quarterback since Tippy Dye in 1934-36 to win three straight games against Michigan.

His performance led all observers to assume that Smith had locked up the 2006 Heisman Trophy – the first for any Big Ten quarterback since OSU's Les Horvath in 1944.

"If he doesn't win it, then that award means nothing," Gonzalez said. "He should win it by a record margin. He should win it because he has affected his team positively more than anybody else in the country."

Linebacker James Laurinaitis added, "We knew he was our guy and he has cemented his legacy here. He deserves it. He's a great leader. It's not only the stuff he does on the field, which is amazing. But it's also the stuff he does off the field and the kind of person he is."

Smith, humble as always, turned the praise back toward his teammates.

"God blessed with me with these talents and put these actions in my body," Smith said. "I do everything for my team. I do everything for them. My heart beats through my team. That's the way I do things."

Smith admitted that he was "pissed" after throwing an interception and fumbling a shotgun snap. He sat on the bench and almost refused to speak until he got a chance to get back on the field.

The freshman Wells, who had his own fumble problems this year, was seen trying to console the senior captain.

"I know better than anybody on this team, you have to come back and get it on the next play," Wells said. "He said he knew. He just had to get back out there and play. He is just a tremendous leader, a great leader."

In his career against Michigan, Smith has now completed 69 of 101 passes (68.3 percent) for 857 yards with seven touchdowns against one interception. He also has rushed 34 times for 196 yards with two TDs against the Wolverines.

And, just maybe, he could get one more crack at UM in the national championship game. Hmmm. (That begs the question: Has anybody ever racked up 1,000 yards in their career against Michigan?)

3. Will OSU's receivers find a way to exploit UM's secondary? -- Michigan had been susceptible to some pass plays throughout the year, although corner Leon Hall was considered one of the nation's best at his position.

That's OK, the Buckeyes picked on Hall a time or two as well as fellow corner Morgan Trent. They also took advantage to an early injury to UM nickel back Willis Barringer. The Buckeyes knew yards on the ground would be hard to come by, so they went with three-, four- and five-receiver sets early and often. Smith carved the Wolverines up for 241 yards in the first half in building a 28-14 lead.

"We threw a lot of quick passes," Bollman said. "Troy did a great job of getting them off. They had done a great job of pressuring the passer all year long."

The spread strategy worked almost to perfection as the Buckeyes racked up 503 yards total offense and 24 first downs against the vaunted UM defense, which gave up the most points it has allowed in six years. Four different OSU receivers caught TD passes.

"I knew that we were going to spread them out," Gonzalez said. "I did not know that we were going to throw it a whole lot. The receivers meet in the coaches' meeting room and there were five or six things on the board there. One was to spread them out. Another was to make their big guys tired. I think those go hand in hand."

Much of the pregame talk was on which receiver would be open if Hall keyed on Ted Ginn Jr.

"Everybody wanted to know who was going to step up and make the big play," Gonzalez said. "Actually, it was Robo (Brian Robiskie) who said, ‘We're all going to do it. Every single one of us.' "

Roy Hall, who had three catches for 38 yards and the touchdown on OSU's first drive, added, "I'm not too surprised. We have numerous weapons. Defenses can't stop them all. If you look at USC last year, they had a couple of good receivers with Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett. We have four or five receivers that could go the distance at any time. We have a tremendous quarterback. Two great running backs. We have the weapons. You can't gang up on one person.

"It takes a team effort to stop us all – and you can't stop us all."

4. How will the OSU offensive line hold up against Michigan's stellar front four? -- This was a big question mark coming in. Michigan was third in the nation in total defense at 231.5 yards per game. How was OSU going to open up any running lanes against that stellar UM front? How would the Buckeyes keep LaMarr Woodley and others of Smith.

The answer, quite simply, was the OSU offensive line got after it. Smith only went down one time on a sack and the Buckeyes did things to the Michigan defense nobody had done all year.

"I think the guys had to do a pretty good job up front because we were playing a great football team," Bollman said. "We were fortunate to pop a couple long runs. They came clean. On the one, Beanie made a great run."

Barton was asked for a letter grade on the line's performance.

"I would give the line a B-plus," Barton said. "Considering the turnovers, probably a B-plus. The only way you can get an A is if Troy doesn't get touched, and that didn't happen. We ran for more yards and passed for more yards than anybody did on them all season. We also put 41 points on them.

"I think we had a great deal of confidence coming into this game. We heard a lot of people saying we had not played anyone, but I think we played a very good team and came away with a big victory."

5. Can the OSU defense contain UM tailback Michael Hart? -- Coming in, Hart was Michigan's biggest offensive weapon. He had rushed for over 1,300 behind a strong zone blocking scheme.

And, against Ohio State, Hart had his moments. He ended up with 142 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. But the Buckeyes did just enough to keep UM at bay down the stretch.

"They have a lot of tendencies," said OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis, who had a team-high nine tackles. "But they just say, ‘Hey, this is what's coming and you try to stop it.' They have a good O-line and a great running back and quarterback and three number one receivers. They have a lot of weapons. We knew they would get some big plays. But when we needed a stop, we came up with it for the most part."

Defensive end Jay Richardson added, "Their offensive line never gave up. They were coming off the line in the fourth quarter like they were in the first quarter. That's what you respect. In a game of this magnitude and teams with this caliber of talent and heart, especially, you know you're going to get everybody's best shot on every play."

6. Will the Buckeyes apply pressure to UM quarterback Chad Henne and force him into some mistakes? -- Henne also had his moments. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns. But the Buckeyes sacked him four times and pressured him countless other times.

This was a mixed bag, and OSU safety Brandon Mitchell said in a shootout of this magnitude just getting the win was the ultimate key.

"I think it is a testament to the two offensive coordinators," Mitchell said. "Any time you give up 39 points, you expect to lose that game. I know our defense did not execute as well as we normally do.

"If you had asked me, I would have said the most scored by either team would have been 24 points. At the end, it was about which defense could get a stop."

7. Will turnovers play a role in deciding this game? -- Obviously not. The Buckeyes turned the ball over three times, while Michigan had no turnovers. OSU was able to hold UM to 10 points off those three turnovers.

Smith had one interception, a shotgun snap went off his hands and was recovered by UM and another snap from center Doug Datish skitted along the ground until a UM defender recovered it.

"That didn't dawn on me and I didn't care because things are going to happen in the course of the football game and you have no control over them," Smith said of the 3-0 disparity in turnovers. "You have to bounce back, look your teammates in the eye and say, ‘Let's go.' When you win a game like this, it really doesn't matter."

The 10 points scored off turnovers were the first points OSU allowed off turnovers all season. The best stroke came after the interception by Alex Branch at the OSU 25. The Buckeyes gave up just 3 yards and forced a critical UM field goal.

"When our offense turns the ball over, we want to go out there and put out the fire," Mitchell said. "We did that at times here."

8. What impact will special teams be in this game? -- This was actually kind of negligible. Neither team had a long return or a major gaffe in the special teams. Perhaps the most important thing that happened was the late hit by UM's Charles Stewart on Ginn on a kick return. The 15-yard penalty gave OSU possession at its own 35 and, two plays later, the Buckeyes had a touchdown.

9. What impact will the sellout crowd of 105,000 play in this game? -- Wow! That was the loudest crowd I've ever heard at an OSU game. There are reports from some folks that they stood the entire game. Maybe the showing by the crowd was the three-point difference we talked about beforehand. They certainly did not hurt the Buckeyes' cause.

10. Will Ohio State still be in the national championship hunt? -- This is an emphatic yes. OSU wrapped up its first outright Big Ten championship in 22 years and will be No. 1 in the final BCS standings when they are released next week.

OSU would also have to be considered the favorite to win the national championship, whether the Buckeyes play Michigan, USC and Florida. Enjoy the next six weeks!

* Obviously, one of the key plays in the game was the personal foul on UM's Shawn Crable for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Smith 3 yards out of bounds. The penalty came on third-and-15 and gave the Buckeyes a first down they needed as they extended their late lead to 41-30.

"I popped right back up," Smith said of the vicious hit. "I needed to see if Robo caught the ball. The refs make the calls. I don't make the calls."

* Prior to the game, Smith was reserved for last as he came through the Tunnel of Pride in his final home game. When he got to the end of the tunnel, he gave Tressel a big hug. Then, he was joined by his mother, high school coach Ted Ginn Sr. and others in a happy moment.

"He means everything in the world to me," Smith said. "He's like a father figure to me. He needed that respect to be paid to him as much as anybody else in my immediate family. In all kind of situations, as a man, he has helped me out.

"Life is about relationships and this game was very clear about that – the relationships we have with the fans, our parents, our teammates, they speak for themselves."

Mitchell also discussed his final home appearance.

"I was extremely emotional because when I heard the roar of the crowd I knew it was my last time to play in front of the best fans in the land," he said. "It is something to tell my children about. I'll tell them how it was an honor to get the win for our team, our school and the city of Columbus."

* OSU corner Malcolm Jenkins was locked up with UM's Mario Manningham for much of the game. Those two jawed face to face on at least a couple of occasions.

"For all the stuff he was talking … he had been jawing a little bit," he said. "He had a few catches and I think he did a good job. He was talking a little bit, but you can't really talk when you don't have anything to say."

Manningham ended up with six catches for 86 yards but did not catch a touchdown pass. When asked if he was surprised Michigan did not go to Manningham more, Jenkins replied, "No, not really. He wasn't really open."

* People have asked me what I thought of the postgame scene at Ohio Stadium.

I would call it a controlled fury.

In 2002, people stormed the field and celebrated OSU's berth in the national title game. This time, it seemed almost like it was a "been there, done that" kind of moment. There was a ton of excitement, don't get me wrong.

Maybe the roller coaster nature of the game held people back from just going nuts – as they did in 2002. It was almost like people were too spent to burn stuff, which was good.

The players tried to celebrate their win, but they were quick enveloped by happy fans.

"My first thought was put my helmet on because a lot of people are coming out here," Gonzalez said. "After that, it was get off the field. You just had to keep your composure, soak it all in and enjoy that moment. I was just trying to work my way to the locker room as quickly as possible."

Laurinaitis added, "Getting beat up by your fans as you walk off, that's something you will remember for the rest of your life. You have to enjoy it. It's very exciting. You want to enjoy it with your fans. We're just happy to have them with us and have their support."

Hall said he was getting claustrophobic as fans closed in from all sides.

"The celebration was fun, but you feel like you're getting stampeded," he said. "I couldn't breathe at one point. It was fun. Everybody was beating you in the head. You have to keep your helmet on. Singing Carmen Ohio with everybody was great. I will never forget that."

When asked about the scene in the locker room, Hall said, "We just sang our fight song. Coach Tressel told us how much he cared about us. He appreciates all of our hard work and dedication we have put in over the last few months."

* We caught a quick moment with Fiesta Bowl head honcho John Junker after the game. His organizing committee will welcome OSU back to the desert for the fourth time in five seasons.

"We're going to have them keep coming back until they get it right," Junker said. "We'll have a very warm welcome."

Junker's group will also have their hands full as they host the Insight Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and national title game in a two-week period.

"When you love college football, there could not be a better place to work," Junker said. "Our volunteers are thrilled. Our community is thrilled. We have a beautiful new facility (University of Phoenix Stadium) that the Buckeyes and their fans will see. We couldn't be more excited. It's a big honor for us to be a part of it."

Because this is a week late (ha ha), we will truncate our look at college football at-large.

* Going Bowling (Big Ten version): Ohio State is in the BCS title game and Michigan awaits the final BCS standings to see if it makes the title game or is sent instead to the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin will make its second straight trip to the Capital One Bowl, Penn State was selected for the Outback Bowl, Purdue will make the Big Ten's first appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl, Iowa will travel to the Alamo Bowl and Minnesota (with a clutch win over Iowa) was chosen as the first conference squad to play in the Insight Bowl.

How about Iowa? The Hawkeyes lost their last five conference games and still get a nice bowl bid to the Alamo.

* BCS Picture: It is pretty simple. If USC beats Notre Dame tonight and goes on and beats UCLA next Saturday, the Trojans will move past Michigan for the No. 2 spot and will play Ohio State for the title.

But if USC loses a game, it will open the door for Florida. The Gators must beat Florida State today and then down Arkansas next Saturday in the SEC title game. Then, it becomes a popularity contest between Michigan and Florida. Arkansas' loss to LSU on Friday does not help Florida at all.

If USC would lose, you will have the "let the two best teams play for it" faction rooting for Michigan. You'll also have the "no rematch, they have to win their conference to play for it" faction pulling for Florida.

Hard to tell what will come out of that. Notre Dame, with its 26-point head-to-head home loss to Michigan, has no hope.

* Heisman Watch: Two words: Troy Smith (and we will be in New York City to bring you all the details on that one).

* Games To Watch: Notre Dame-USC, Florida-Florida State, South Florida-West Virginia, Boise State-Nevada, Louisville-Pittsburgh, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Wake Forest-Maryland, South Carolina-Clemson, Purdue-Hawaii.

We will wrap up each week with a look at how OSU's opponents fared and check out who they face next week.

Date (Time, TV), Opponent (Record), This Week's Result, Next Week's Game

Sept. 2, Northern Illinois (7-5), beat Eastern Michigan 27-0, Nov. 24.

Sept. 9, at Texas (9-3), lost to Texas A&M 12-7, Nov. 24.

Sept. 16, Cincinnati (6-5), beat Rutgers 30-11, Nov. 18; at Connecticut, Nov. 25.

Sept. 23, Penn State (8-4), beat Michigan State 17-13, Nov. 18.

Sept. 30, at Iowa (6-6), lost to Minnesota 34-24, Nov. 18.

Oct. 7, Bowling Green (4-8), lost to Toledo 31-21, Nov. 21.

Oct. 14, at Michigan State (4-8), lost to Penn State 17-13, Nov. 18.

Oct. 21, Indiana (5-7), lost to Purdue 28-19, Nov. 18.

Oct. 28, Minnesota (6-6), beat Iowa 34-24, Nov. 18.

Nov. 4, at Illinois (2-10), lost to Northwestern 27-16, Nov. 18.

Nov. 11, at Northwestern (4-8), beat Illinois 27-16, Nov. 18.

Nov. 18, Michigan (11-1), lost to Ohio State 42-39, Nov. 18.

Jan. 8, (8 p.m., FOX) vs. TBA at BCS National Championship Game at Glendale, Ariz.

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Ohio State (12-0, 8-0)

Michigan (11-1, 7-1)

Wisconsin (11-1, 7-1)

Penn State (8-4, 5-3)

Purdue (8-4, 5-3)

Minnesota (6-6, 3-5)

Indiana (5-7, 3-5)

Iowa (6-6, 2-6)

Northwestern (4-8, 2-6)

Michigan State (4-8, 1-7)

Illinois (2-10, 1-7)

Nov. 18 Games

Northwestern 27, Illinois 16

Purdue 28, Indiana 19

Minnesota 34, Iowa 24

Penn State 17, Michigan State 13

Wisconsin 35, Buffalo 3

Ohio State 42, Michigan 39

Nov. 25 Game

Purdue at Hawaii, 11:15 p.m. (ESPN Game Plan)

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