Thoughts on the rivalry

·        First off, what a game!  I was fortunate enough to travel to Columbus for this battle of Big Ten rivals, and it was worth every mile I drove and every penny I paid for the ticket.  I felt like I was in one of those Visa advertisements:  Two tickets to THE GAME- $400.  Gas and time to drive 600 miles – 9 hours, $50.  Loss of hours of sleep over 2 days – 13 hours.  Cost of parking, concessions, programs - $40.  Being present for the win over Michigan (in South stands no less) – PRICELESS.

·        Lots of folks are using superlatives about this game.  "Biggest" victory in 30 years.  "Best team" since '79.  "Most important" win in the UM/OSU rivalry since '79…  Normally I shy away from lauding such praise or hype, but in this instance it might just be warranted.  This victory was huge considering Jim Tressel has now won his first 2 games (the first OSU head coach since Schmidt to do so).  Lloyd Carr and Michigan are now going to be the underdogs for the first time since Woody was pacing the sidelines in the early 70's.  

·        As I said several weeks ago, the national media and others were merely waiting to see if Ohio State could beat Michigan and win out.  OSU is still going to get its share of criticism for the way this team won at times (look up hideous in the dictionary for a definition), but the positive press will cascade into Columbus.  National papers with wide circulations are running stories praising the Buckeyes for not only winning but winning with class and integrity.

·        Lloyd Carr badly needs a win against his bowl opponent and Notre Dame to avoid the beginnings of rumblings in Ann Arbor.  Aside from their national title in 1997, Carr has only had one season with less than 3 losses.  His records have been 9-3 (2002 with their bowl still to be played), 8-4 (2001), 9-3 (2000), 10-2 (1999), 10-3 (1998), 8-4 (1996), 9-4 (1995).  He is 9-5 over the last 12 months with losses to ND, OSU (twice), and a blowout in their bowl loss to Tennessee.  His graduation rates are not exactly stellar, and Mr. Personality he is not.  Is his job in jeopardy?  No.  Still, he needs to step it up against Notre Dame at least in 2004 to avoid rumors hurting his recruiting and keep the relationship with the alumni chipper.

·        I read an article from a Michigan periodical arguing the line between OSU and UM was very thin right now.  Yeah.  I would agree with that on only one respect… That thin line is called a GOAL LINE.  Ohio State knew how to cross it and Michigan did not.  Aside from that thin line, I honestly believe that OSU is heading in the right direction while Michigan is running the risk of going in the other.  It is premature to forcast the downfall of the Wolverines, but it is not premature to question the health of their program.  If Tressel can continue to keep the talent in Ohio away from Carr (see Prescott Burgess and Crable), then Michigan will be in trouble.  Ohio State already appears to possess the edge in facilities, coaching, and team spirit.  If they gain a clear upper hand in talent, it could bode poorly for the Maize and Blue.

Thoughts about THE GAME itself

·        Both teams looked a bit tight early with Michigan and Ohio State narrowly avoiding turnovers that would have given their opponent excellent field position.

·        Hamby may not seem like a likely candidate for one of the key players in the game, but without him, Ohio State would have had an uphill climb.  He came up with two critical plays.  His recovery of the Jenkins fumble prevented a first and 10 for Michigan with the ball at the Ohio State 44 (and UM was already up 3-0 at this point).  His block in the 4th quarter closed off the Michigan pursuit better than a lid with a padlock attached for Maurice Hall's touchdown run.

·        Vision.  Clarett has it.  He routinely turns a play that should be a one or two yard gain into a breakout run.  Twice Clarett was tackled by the last possible defender for Michigan.  When Michigan's Drake brought Maurice down in the beginning of the fourth quarter, the cameras do not do the play justice.  There was more green in front of Clarett than what you see on Saint Patrick's day.  He would have had at least a 40 yard gain and likely a touchdown.

·        Craig was 1 and 1 with his scrambles.  Allow me to explain.  In the first quarter, three Michigan defenders hit him and knocked him backwards.  Craig looked like he might have been a bit addled from the hit.  (Frankly, most of us would have been crying for momma).  In the second quarter, Craig scrambled again and smacked into Diggs and co.  There was an injured player after the pile was untangled, but it was not Craig.  He was fine, but Diggs left the game.  That must really hurt one's pride to be knocked out of the game by the rival's quarterback.  Ouch.  Maybe I should say that Craig was 1-0 because he stayed in the game and emerged victorious.

·        The defensive line did not get much pressure by themselves, but they played as big as Godzilla when they were backed into a corner.  In the second quarter, deep in Buckeye territory, the line batted down a ball headed toward Bellamy (who was matched up on Dustin Fox).  It won't show up in the stat sheet, but this looked to be a sure touchdown for the Maize and Blue.  When it came time to put an end to the Michigan drives in the fourth quarter, Scott forced a fumble, and the pressure on Navarre caused him to toss a pick to Will Allen.

·        The reasons the Michigan wide receivers were open all day long were three-fold.  First, Ohio State is still thin at the cornerback position.  OSU needs cornerbacks.  The Buckeyes need cornerbacks like a man crawling through the scorching desert sands needs water.  Second, Ohio State's defense scheme is designed to allow a team to drive and gain yards but stiffen at the goal line.  Yes, ideally the defense should be able to keep an offense to 3 downs and then out, but the most important aspect is for them to stop teams in the red zone.  Thus the defense ultimately succeeded.  Finally, Ohio State was only able to get consistent pressure on Navarre when they brought 6 men.  This means that the wide receivers were likely to be in a man coverage situation.  Most quarterbacks love to see their wide receivers in man coverage, especially if they are as athletic as those for Michigan.

·        Every single Ohio native that spurned Tressel to play for Michigan has to be thinking right now, "If I had gone to Ohio State, I would be 2-0 in this game instead of 0-2..."  Word to the wise – any Ohio players thinking about playing for either team might want to check out Tressel's record against his rivals across his entire career.  Tressel wins these games.  Period. 

·        Michigan wide receiver Edwards (#80) had a stellar game. 

·        Robert Reynolds started slow this season but came on incredibly strong near the end.

·        Carr gives new meaning to whiner.  He hollered at the referees until his face was as blue as the putrid Michigan uniforms.  The problem is that most of the time, he was wrong to do so.  On the FUMBLE caused by Doss (that was called an incomplete pass), Carr should have been flagged for being on the field.  There was no timeout, and yet he was at least 15 yards onto the playing surface.  The last time I checked, coaches were not allowed to do this.  Of course the Big Ten also allowed JoPa to put his hands on the referees multiple times so at least Carr has company.  Add this to the article I wrote last week about Lloyd (and others) not being concerned about fairness with referees, and I think it becomes pretty clear Lloyd just wants favoritism.

·        I think Gamble would have intercepted the ball in the end zone and put an end to the Michigan drive had the receiver not pushed him down to the turf (and yes, Carr threw a temper tantrum over the correct call).

·        Ohio State played the game with multiple players hurt.  Wilhelm and Grant both had ankles wrapped.  Clarett's pain has been well documented.  Stafford, the most athletic offensive lineman, did not play.  Scott may or may not have been at full speed.  Considering he did not play at all the week before, I am fairly certain that Darrion is still nicked up a bit.

·        The missed pass to Jenkins (Craig threw it behind him) in the third quarter was a certain touchdown.  Like the Clarett play in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the television camera angles did not do the play justice.  The drive ended after failing to convert the next play on third and long.

·        The offensive line needs serious work right now.  On multiple occasions, Michigan only rushed 4 linemen and still managed to either sack or pressure Craig.  One of these was even with Craig in the shotgun.  Whoever Ohio State faces in the Fiesta will have a solid defensive line.  Mark it down.  The Buckeyes better improve in this area, or the bowl game could be a very sorry offensive display.

·        After the jeers for the line play in general, Stepanovich deserves a real kudos for his block on the 4th and 1 quarterback sneak.  If you have a tape, pull it out and watch it.  Put the play on slow motion.  He mauled his man and opened a beautiful gap for Craig to get the one-yard the Bucks needed.

·        Michigan should have been flagged for a double personal foul called on them after two Wolverines took pot shots at Maurice Hall in the second quarter on a kickoff return.  Not only did #8 Avant spear Maurice after the whistles had already been blown, but #28 Stewart swatted Hall's head around a bit while sitting on Maurice's chest.  The last time I checked, both of those were personal fouls.  I'm not complaining about the refereeing; I am griping (admittedly) about the thuggish behavior.  Rivalry or not, that has no place on the field of play.

·        A big shout out to Maurice Clarett for playing hurt.  He said early in the year that he wanted to give the blue-collar Buckeye fans joy and their money's worth.  He did all that and more.  Thanks.

Around the Nation

·        Every week a top 10 team seems to go down.  This week the Washington State Cougars and "Mr. flaps his gums a lot" Jason Gesser bit the bullet again when Washington upset them.  Note to Jason:  10-2 is nice, but WSU is not a better team than Ohio State.  They never were.  Not only did Ohio State beat the Cougars 25-7 in a controlled blowout, the Cougars could not even win their rivalry game. 

·        OU looks to have a tough game this week.  They handled Texas Tech about like Ohio State did, but Oklahoma State should give them a challenge.  Not only are the Cowboys a rapidly improving program, but they live all year for this game while the Sooners do not view it as an important game.  If you want a comparison, think OSU-Cincinnati. 

·        The NCAA should hand out multiple suspensions for the fiasco in Hawaii.  Teams are supposed to play one another – not brawl.  Brawling lands an everyday Joe (like you or me) in jail…

·        Florida State has had a lousy year.  First there is the record.  They sit at 8-4 with a tilt against Florida upcoming.  They are in no way deserving of a BCS bowl, and it might bite them considering the likely quality of the opponent they will face.  Were I a betting man, I might be tempted to lay even money that the Seminoles might go 8-6…  Second, this is the year where Bobby Bowden was supposed to pass Joe Paterno on the all time wins list.  While Joe and Penn State sit at 9-3 with 3 very narrow losses, Bobby has actually lost ground in impressive fashion.  Finally, on Monday, word came out of Tallahassee that Adrian McPherson has been dismissed from the team.  It gets worse.  McPherson has hired a lawyer who is hinting that FSU dismissed him to avoid an NCAA investigation, and he is taking pot shots at what he sees as inconsistencies in Bobby's discipline policies.  Keep an ear tuned to this one because it could go from bad to worse for Florida State and the Seminoles.

·        Tragedy struck the Texas A&M program this week when a freshman football player passed away.  Though it would be beyond trite and inane to think that winning a football game could soothe this kind of loss, I will be pulling for them the rest of the way.  In situations like this, you cannot help but root for a group of young men who are experiencing hardship because of the loss of a friend.

·        My extremely early top 5 for next season's first poll will likely include OSU, OU, Washington, Notre Dame, and Miami.

·        Here is a nightmare situation for the Fiesta.  It has gone unnoticed and likely will unless a couple of teams lose, but here it is.  Iowa is done for the year.  They can do nothing but move up right?  If OU, Miami, and Georgia lose – they are in the championship game, right?  Wrong.  If USC defeats Notre Dame and Georgia, OU, and Miami lose – then OSU might face USC in the Fiesta.  What?  Yep, you read it right.  Iowa would get passed over for USC, and the Fiesta and BCS would be immersed in a public relations nightmare.  Why?  USC is currently sitting at #6 in both polls.  Losses to everyone ahead of them will mean they could end up ranked as high as #3.  So, they would gain 3 points.  Meanwhile, Iowa sits at #3 in one poll and #4 in another.  If everyone in front of them loses, Iowa can only gain 1.5 points in the polls (advancing to #2).  USC needs to gain only 1.06 points to pass Iowa right now.  They already lead the Hawkeyes in the computer polls and strength of schedule.  It is always dangerous to make assumptions, but it would seem that a victory over the Irish (not a certainty) would only help the Trojans in the computers and schedule.  The end result would be a USC team that jumps Iowa in the standings but not the polls…

·        Of all the opponents the Buckeyes could face, the one I would least like to see them matched up against is Oklahoma.  Yes, they may not have the talent of Miami (nobody does), but their defense is well coached and the Sooners are generally death to rushing attacks.  Only one rusher has gained over 100 yards against them in 2 seasons (Colorado's Chris Brown behind a wonderfully athletic offensive line).

Well, that is all for now.  I may check back in later this week with some more random thoughts.  Enjoy the Buckeye win fans.  You will not get a chance for seasons like this every year.  In fact, the Buckeyes gave us something that nobody has ever given their fans this year.  No team in the modern era has ever completed a regular season at 13-0.  The Buckeyes not only defeated Michigan in a thriller, they made college football history.

 

 


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