Someday THE GAME May Matter Less- But Not While Hoke and Meyer Are Part of It…

There are well informed people who believe that the future of THE GAME is bleak.

The argument goes that since the teams have been placed in opposite divisions, THE GAME, has been forever diminished. Eventually it will dawn on people that since results of the Michigan/Michigan State game has a greater impact on the division standings, and a trip to the Big Ten (+4) conference championships, it will be become the marque match-up of the season.

Perhaps someday in an alternate bizarro universe (one where fans are actually geeked about Rutgers and Maryland joining the conference), where a RichRod-like coach leads the Wolverines (rivalry? let me tell you about Pittsburgh/West Virginia!!)  and a John Cooper-like coach leads ohio (why is calling us ohio an insult?) that may be the case.

But that’s not (thankfully) where we are today.

Brady Hoke grew up steeped in lore of the rivalry. He went to college and played football in Ohio, he was an assistant at Michigan for 8 years prior to leaving to be head coach at Ball State. He grew up a Michigan fan and even though he was a head coach at schools with red as a team color, wore white or black shirts on game days so as not to be reminded of the Buckeyes.

Rivalry countdown clocks at Schembechler Hall

When he became the head coach of the Wolverines he had clocks installed at Schembechler Hall counting down the days until the “rivalry” games and put other reminders up to highlight the importance of THE GAME against “that school in ohio”, while referring to the Buckeyes simply as “ohio“.

Hoke’s reminder to the team when he took over the Wolverines. This sign hung outside the Wolverine practice locker room.

Urban Meyer comes to lead the Buckeyes after a turbulent tenure leading the Florida Gators to 2 National Championships. While leading the Gators over two dozen of his players were arrested and Urban resigned due to health problems. Like Hoke, he also was born in Ohio (in Toledo which is far closer to Ann Arbor than Columbus) and also played college football in the state. He served as an assistant coach for the Buckeyes and appreciates the importance of beating “that school up north” both for recruiting and job security.

On Saturday, after completing his first season undefeated in Columbus, Urban took time to hassle a local reporter for wearing a blue tie to his post-game press conference.

Hoke won THE GAME his first year in the Big House and Meyer won THE GAME his first year in the snake pit.

GAME ON.

The health of this rivalry is strong and the pedigree of these two coaches insures that it will remain so during their tenures.

Hoke and Meyer weren’t able to shake hands after the game.

Hoke denies any intentional snub, declaring to reporters that the lack of a handshake “…is not a big deal…not a story.”

[podcast]http://umgoblue.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2012-UMohio-hoke-nobigdeal.mp3[/podcast]

It appears that Hoke and Meyer are gearing up for the next 10 Year War.

Tune in next year at the Big House for the next chapter.

You can be sure that Hoke and the Wolverines are already planning their revenge.

Photo from Schembechler Hall

THE GAME-THE WOLVERINES TRAVELED TO COLUMBUS TO WREST AN UNBEATEN REGULAR SEASON FROM THE BUCKEYES, AND POSSIBLY A SPOT IN THE BIG TEN TITLE GAME, BUT DID NOT PREVAIL: MICHIGAN 21, OHIO 26.

The annual excessive jubilation that surrounds winning or the excessive angst that surrounds the losing of the annual Wolverines v Buckeyes football game is still very much in evidence.   While Ohio State is to be congratulated for an undefeated season, they should not be considered as good as the top teams in the country.  I think Alabama for example is far better.  Nor will they get the chance to prove their worth in a bowl this year, nor should they. 

While the sweater vest received a standing ovation from a crowd that only remembered his nine win dominance of the Blue, his very presence as a spectator, and not coach, was a reminder that he achieved much of that record by cheating.  Their new coach wants that forgotten, and this group of Buckeyes rewarded in spite of sanctions.

Past Buckeyes have time and again demonstrated their irrational fidelity to the self-proclaimed greatness of their Scarlet and Gray.  Wolverines are not always rational on the subject either, but seem more factually driven than Brutus and his fanatic followers.  This year many Wolverines fans, while hoping for the best, were perhaps expecting an outcome the equivalent of a dose Scarlet and Gray castor oil.  The hard facts were that Denard Robinson was prevented by injury from playing his position of choice, quarterback, without using his arm as a weapon. While still gimpy, he was asked to carry the rushing load at other positions as well as QB. The prime M running back, Fitz Toussaint, was recovering from recent surgery, and would be forced to just watch.  Denard produced a 67-yard TD run in the first half and was most of Michigan’s running game. He had 124-yards on 10 carries and a TD.  The team had 160-yards rushing, and 67 of them were the result of Denard’s first half jaunt.  He did not pass, and therein lies a tale.  In the second half the Bucks bunched its defense up knowing he could not throw.  The staff said he could throw, but he didn’t. No passes were called for Denard.  What?  UPDATE:  Coach Hoke said at his Monday after game press conference that while Denard could throw he could not do so with comfortable accuracy because of his injury.

Still you have to give the Buckeyes their due for winning all their games this season.  Their first year Coach, the well-known Urban Meyer, a.k.a. Urban Crier, is a media darling and star himself, but in spite of that he is a coach of proven quality.

Overall, the record does not sustain massive proclamations of superiority by the Bucks.  The Maize and Blue owns a substantive edge since the onset of the competition in 1897.  Before this game, the combatants had met 108 times with the record being 58-45-6.  They have met every year since 1918, and most games have been close.

This year the Bucks proved on the field they are a very good team under their new management, but they are not yet world-beaters.

A BRIEF REVIEW OF THE SERIES
For me, interest in the Ohio State/Michigan became something especially special in 1968, even though there were memorable contests before that, like the 1950 Sno-Bowl.  My original distaste for Ohio was courtesy of Woodrow Wilson Hayes.  Hayes purposefully expanded a winning 48-14 margin by two when he called for a two point conversion late in the game, just because, as he said, he could.  From that moment, notwithstanding the fact that he was a legendary coach, I detested him as a poor sport, a sobriquet he had often proved during his otherwise fabulous coaching career.  I was saddened when he punched an opposing player and ended his career on a sour note. He improved the game, and it was sweeter to beat him and his Bucks than anyone else.

It was 1971, and at the home of fair play, when M’s great DB Thom Darden intercepted a pass and Hayes went ballistic, targeting the yard markers.  His tantrum did not get the stripes to change the call.  His cussing the ref got the Bucks a 15-yard penalty.  He then charged onto the field to destroy the markers, throw the flag into the crowd, and pitch the first down marker.  Thrown out of the game, the Bucks got an additional 15-yard penalty, Woody got a one game suspension, and a $1,000 fine for providing such fine entertainment to the jeering Wolverine crowd.  He incensed the partisan Wolverine crowd.  I don’t remember a game that I was ever higher for (altitude reference only).   When Billy Taylor scored, it was heavenly in that Stadium, and even if you weren’t there, Bob Ufer’s coverage provided his classic, and unmatched, overstatement. The poem that Ufer recited after Bo’s unexpected 1969 win over the Bucks will rightfully never fall from favor among Michigan fans, too.

“THE GAME” HAS PROVIDED MANY OTHER UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS:
The performance of two Ohioans in the game against Ohio in their successful runs run to Heisman Trophies provided historic moments.  The famous Desmond Howard Heisman pose after his long KO return, and the Charles Woodson performance in his final Ohio game, were stunning, Tim Biakabutuka’s running game which destroyed the Bucks in 1995 with 313-yards, was totally unexpected and pushed some Ohio fans deeper into the bottle, and out of the stadium at half time. At least the four that sat in front of me.  This game has provided heroics for decades, heroics which included an early forties performance by Tom Harmon that warranted a standing ovation from the Buckeye crowd.  Additionally, there was Bo’s magnificent and justifiable rage regarding the Bucks getting chosen for a Bowl over the Wolverines after the infamous 10-10 tie.

The good thing is that there will be many more memorable moments in this game with the Wolverines still getting their fair share of memories which will become traditions.

KEYS
Offensively, the foremost issue facing the Wolverines was the ability of the Wolverines to conjure up a ground game, in the absence of the injured Fitzgerald Toussaint.  His injury left the ground game entirely dependent on Denard’s highly capable legs and his toughness in the face of a nasty physical defense and a sore throwing arm.  Could he endure, maybe actually throw a pass?  Actuality: …At times the Wolverines moved the ball on the ground effectively, but this was restricted to the first half. 

Denard had an outstanding TD gallop of 67-yards.  Seemingly trapped between defenders hitting from both sides he burst through them, and ran from them and on for 6 points.  But other than Denard, and later for Denard, the ground game was demolished by the stalwart Buck defenders. Ohio made effective adjustments at half time. Michigan, particularly the offense, did not.  Denard could not move the ball in the second half.  Denard, Rawls and Smith were stymied as runners.  Michigan wasted its opportunities on 4 or 3rd downs and short.  These second half short yardage running efforts were well anticipated by the Buckeye defense, and stopped. They cheated up, thinking DRob could not pass.  Again, a pass from DRob was never called. Hoke called a time out on the first possession of the second half, and Denard tried to gain two up the middle on 4th down, but was thrown for a 2-yard loss instead. From there the offense went downhill.  I have to give the running game no more than a D+, and that includes the offensive coaching.   They simply failed in the second half.  Miserably.  They had no ground game, no points, and no win.

Would the offensive line give Devin Gardner time to throw, play its best game of the year?  Could they avoid the penalty and turn over bugs? Actuality: … the offensive line contributed greatly to this loss appearing helpless to protect and open holes in the second half.  The Ohio rush often hit home, and M simply could not run the ball in the second half.   

Two late QB fumbles resulted from the pressure. While losses are a team effort, the OL has not really gotten significantly better over the season, and seems to have contributed more than its share to no touchdown quarters of football.  Teams that don’t run the football consistently lose consistently, ly against better talent. Defensively, there was just one major question.  Could they stop the Ohio spread offense and it chief perpetrator, the very talented Braxton Miller?  Actuality: …The D did a reasonable job on Braxton. 

GAME PHOTOS

Braxton survived some real hits, got up and went on. He ran 20 times for 108-yards, and hit 14 of 18 passes for 189-yards, and that hurt. The two second half Ohio State FGs were an example of the defense stopping drives and managing sudden change, but they also were enough to win.  One attempted FG by Ohio was fortunately missed.  Since the offensive bugaboo was lack of pass protection putting M’s QBs in jeopardy,  the defense had to deal with sudden change and short field disadvantage, and mostly dealt with it well.  They earned a B- in my book.   Jake Ryan had 9 tackles, two forced fumbles, and two TFLs.  Desmond Morgan had 11 tackles.  Frank Clark played a whale of a game.

Finally, could the team play an outstanding game away from Michigan Stadium in all three phases of the game? Actuality: … No, not well enough to win for the entire game, but well enough for one half.

“THE GAME”-2012 EDITION
Ohio took the ball, and marched 75-yards as a play action pass of 56-yards enabled a short jaunt into the end zone.  Michigan’s defense seemed clueless on the drive, but they proved not to be.  M-0, O-7.

Denard Robinson proved his worth again, with a 30-ard burst around end, but the drive fizzled in Ohio territory due to his fumble.  He was now second all-time in NCAA rushing yards for a quarter back.  Ohio produced a three and out, and Devin Gardner produced a 75-yard TD pass to Roy Roundtree.  A great ice breaker, and the Wolverines had life. M-7, O-7.

Ohio produced a long drive and held the ball for an extended period, but failed to produce anything but anxiety in M fans and a FG of 41-yards. M-7, O-10. Ohio penalties helped the cause, and it was apparent the defense was all business, despite that first easy drive.

Early in the second quarter the Buckeyes mishandled a punt and an alert Myron Robinson fell on it on the O 25.  It was Robinson for 9-yards, and Gardner ran it in.  M-14, O-10.

Frank Clark demonstrated on the next series he can hit as he sacked Braxton Miller for a 7-yard loss with a tremendous hit, the Buckeyes stalled, but soon, mounted a drive and scored. M-14, O-17.

Denard again showed his metal as on the second play of the series he broke thought the Buckeyes secondary and jetted 67-yard to a TD.  It was another stunning run for a D, but unfortunately his last in this game.  The Wolverines needed another to win, but 91-TDs is the most in M history.  M 21, O-17.  The Wolverines did not score again in the game, but the Buckeyes put a field goal to make it 21-20 at the half.

On the first possession of the second half near midfield, M’s drive came down to a 4th and 2.  Coach Hoke called a time out, and made a fateful decision to go for it.  As you know, this did not work out well, as a Denard attempt up the middle was stuffed for a two-yard loss.  Ohio knew he wouldn’t pass, and everything but the kitchen sink was in the box.  This was probably the turning point of the game.  There was little innovation in this situation, and there were options.  Like a rollout and pass.  A Devin Gardner sneak.  A Gardner run around end, with a pass option.  They could not have loaded the box against him, but I can see why they chose Denard, and the play they did.  He had done that successfully so many times before.

Ohio quickly turned this stop into the winning points by hitting a 28-yard field goal for all the pints needed to win. M-21, O-23.

Jeremy Gallon collected a 30-yard  pass from Gardner,  but Denard fumbled on the next play on a nice defensive hit on the ball by the Buckeyes.  The Buckeyes did not profit as they missed a very makeable field goal.  But the Wolverines troubles intensified, when Devin Gardner fumbled deep in his own territory. The Buckeyes could only collar an FG with a first and goal but their lead was extended to 5 with a  25-yard FG. M-21, O-26.

Devin Garner threw a late 4th quarter interception and Michigan’s hopes were terminated. The final stood at M-21, O-26.

BIG TEN EXPANSION
This game was somewhat overshadowed by the announcement of the Big Ten that first Maryland and then Rutgers will be full-fledged members of the Big Ten in 2014.  This expansionist rush by the Big Ten was no doubt designed to pre-empt others from penetrating those giant TV markets (New Jersey-New York and DC, Baltimore, Maryland and maybe a slice of Virginia) along the right coast for Big Ten TV. It is about expansion of the TV footprint into those areas and not about those two new members equaling or improving the quality of the football merchandised in the Big Ten immediately, if ever.

The last two immediately prior additions, Penn State and Nebraska, met quality of football expectations by any measuring stick you wish to employ.  Rutgers, from the Big East, and Maryland from the Atlantic Coast Conference, simply do not.  If Rutgers plays its home games at home and not in a pro stadium, the recently renovated accommodates about 50,000.  More seating is in future plans.  The current incarnation of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium holds 54,000.

Both schools meet the academic requirements of Big Ten membership, but what do they bring football wise?  The Terrapins have a lousy ACC record this year and are rumored to be on the financial ledge.  Rutgers comes from one of the least respected major football conferences in the country, and their dollar situation is also rumored to be grim.  Both stand to gain a fortune by joining.  When the Big Ten renegotiates its contract with ESPN, after the 2017 season, each Big Ten school could get $43,000,000.  That is considerably more than the Big East or ACC can provide. Obviously, that is not chump change, and it appears the commitment of these latest additions is for financial rewards, not out of any love and respect for the Big Ten, and what it represents on the athletic field.

As worthwhile as it is, Title Nine has aggravated the need for money for these non-profit institutions called college and university athletic departments. Scholarships and updated facilities are costly. TV dispenses football pelf generously, and in the long run money will rule as it always does.  There is risk in this head long expansion frenzy. Its success is not a slam dunk.  When regional rivalries disappear, rivalries built over many seasons (in some cases nearly 100 years) may be diluted, and stadiums may fail to draw fans. I would rather pay to see Central Michigan in M stadium than Rutgers, even if it is the third oldest football program in the country. Maybe the benefits to the student athletes and game will be immense, and worth the risk, and maybe not.

Time will tell.  How will you feel about a $75 ticket to a Rutgers game?  Got the air fare to travel to a Rutgers game from this neck of the woods, and Maryland and Nebraska, and a Big Ten Championship game, plus a couple of play-off games, and a bowl and more. Or will you show up to those games as an empty seat, viewing the tube at home or bar relatively more comfortably? Just asking.

What is worrisome is that it appears that the Big Ten is pursuing a policy of “Manifest Destiny”, wanting to expand its TV footprint from coast to coast for reasons of profit, spurred by visions of the Sugar Plums manufactured by a super conference dancing in their heads.  But many fans seem to have reservations.  Is all this being done for the good of the student athletes, or the good of athletic department treasuries?

Some are elated by the prospect of super conferences as the funnel into a four game playoff system.  A playoff will be good TV, but I do not believe for a minute that it will solve controversies regarding who are the best teams in the nation. 

TWO QUARTERBACK SYSTEM WORKED IN FIRST HALF, NOT IN SECOND.
There were second half instances where the QBs were substituted in the same series.  Some success from this two QB system was obvious in the first half, but obscure in the second half. Failure to convert short first downs in the second half provided the game’s turning points.  Credit the Buckeye’s defense, and M’s lack of a running game.  By the second half it was apparent to the Bucks that Denard could not pass the football.  The short yardage calls in the second half, while understandable, were not innovative.  An option seemed a questionable call. The Buckeyes had done their homework better than the Wolverines for those situations.  When an offense scores no points in a half, and contributes fumbles due to pressure, the offensive line is not living up to its own standard.   Devin Gardner played well in the first half rating a B then, but key mistakes in the second half drove his rating to a C. He did rush for a TD.  Roundtree and Gallon benefitted from his arm.  Devin threw 3 for 92-yards to Roy Roundtree, and 6 for 67-yards to Gallon.  His stock for next year is climbing, even with the results Saturday.  Part of his problem might have been lack of continuity because of the two QB system.  Where were the “deuce” plays?  It seems unfair to have your throwing QB refrigerating on the bench in such cool weather.  The good part is the next game will be in a warmer clime so that won’t be a factor again this season.

SOME MORE STATS
Most stats were in favor of the Bucks who dominated 1st downs 13 to 22.  M had 5 rush and 5 passing first downs. O had 13 rushing and 8 passing first downs.  M lost 3 fumbles and O fumbled 3 times and lost 2.

O held the ball for 36.50 to M’s 23.10.   The three lost fumbles obviously hurt. The Buckeyes lost 3. The late interception doomed the Wolverines hopes.  Ohio rose to the occasion in the second half by posting 2 FGs, and M did not score. M had 279-yards of net offense, O had 396. 

ITS NOT OVER YET
A relatively decent bowl game awaits the Wolverines.  Perhaps they will go to the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando.  Their destination will be known on Sunday December 2.   If it is the Capitol One they will meet an SEC team, and we will hear again how much faster they are over the Big Ten.  It provides a nice opportunity for the Wolverines to prove how much they have learned this year, and for the wounded to heal more.  An 8-4 (6-2) record is far from a disaster, though disappointing.  There are serious what might have beens this season.  Denard’s injury against Nebraska set the stage for a problematic season ending.  But offensive woes were apparent in the weeks before against good defenses.

I will have some comments before the Bowl game and some afterwards.  I hope you tune in.  Thank you for reading this and …

Go Blue!

 

THE GAME- Looking Back 2011

The final installment of my Michigan-Ohio State countdown takes us to 2011, the lone game I’m reviewing in the current century, and with good reason, from a Michigan perspective. The current decade has been dominated by Ohio State, with Troy Smith spinning away from Michigan linebackers and A.J. Hawk knocking running backs all the way to Massachusetts. It’s been a rough century so far, from the Maize and Blue view.

But in 2011, that changed. Led by former UM assistant coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines started the game with renewed optimism, only to see Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller find Corey Brown all alone for a 54-yard touchdown pass to give Ohio State the early lead. Michigan regained its poise, though, and quarterback Denard Robinson knotted the score when he darted around left tackle on an option play for a 41-yard touchdown run. A holding penalty in the end zone on Ohio State gave Michigan a safety, and the Wolverines took control…for a little while. Ultimately, the game went back and forth, and wasn’t decided until Courtney Avery intercepted Miller with seconds to play, giving Michigan its first win in the series since 2003.