Posts Tagged ‘Bo Schembechler’
As Thanksgiving has come and gone, we find ourselves at the game that signals season’s end, the annual showdown with Ohio State looming and yet another regular season ready to be etched into the record books. For some, like Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs, it means one final chance to perform against a bitter rival. For others such as Devin Gardner, it’s a chance to break out on the big stage and set the expectations heading into next season. Furthermore, for those such as Brady Hoke, it’s a chance to establish the upper hand over his foremost adversary. Yes, The Game is here.
Ohio Stadium - Columbus, Ohio
For so many years, the season-culminating battle has determined Big Ten titles and national championship game berths. It has featured legendary performances and provides bragging rights for the next 364 days. The game had lost some of its luster over the past few years, but Michigan finally got back in the win column a year ago. Now, Ohio State comes in unbeaten and Michigan enters with a chance to win the Big Ten Legends division and advance to the championship game. The stakes are high, just as they should be.
Although the Buckeyes aren’t able to parlay their magical season into the BCS National Championship game due to the sanctions brought on by Jim Tressel and his merry band of tattooed men, that doesn’t stop them from honoring him and his 2002 national championship team prior to the game. And it makes them that much more hungry to come together, beat Michigan, and go down in Ohio State lore as one of the greatest teams in Buckeye history.
As the old adage goes, when the two teams square off, you throw out the records. But despite the fact that Ohio State is undefeated and Michigan has three losses, these teams are pretty even. It can certainly be argued that if the teams had switched out-of-conference schedules, their records would be reversed. Ohio State’s first four opponents have a combined record of 18-27, while Michigan’s three losses were to teams with a combined record of 31-3.
Can Michigan pull off a second straight win over the Buckeyes and their first in Columbus since 2000? Or will Ohio State conclude their season undefeated and continue Michigan’s futility across the border? Let’s take a look at the matchups.
When Ohio State has the ball
Ohio State has been a high scoring team all season, averaging 38.2 points per game. The Bucks have scored over 50 four times and have been held below 20 just once, although they needed overtime to top 20 last week against Wisconsin. Perhaps the Badgers provided the blueprint for slowing down the Buckeye offense by keeping Braxton Miller from getting outside. But it’s easier said than done. Miller completes 56.8 percent of his passes for 168 yards per game and carries the ball 19 times for 110 yards per game. He’s certainly more dangerous on the ground but has enough of a throwing ability to make defenses pay if they key too much on his feet.
In the backfield, Carlos Hyde is a powerful back that averages 5.2 yards per carry. Despite not playing in two games, he’s nearing 1,000 yards and has had three games this season with at least 137 yards. He’s also a touchdown machine with 15 on the season and has scored at least one in each of the past six games.
The receivers aren’t the stars we were used to seeing, but they are capable. Sophomore Devin Smith is the big play guy with 555 yards and six touchdowns on just 28 receptions. Philly Brown is the more reliable with 48 receptions for 456 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jake Stoneburner has caught just 15 passes all season, but four of them have been touchdowns, so he’s a dangerous one to watch for in the red zone. Sophomore Evan Spencer is the only other Buckeye with double digit receptions (11), though he hasn’t caught a TD, while 10 others have caught at least one pass.
The offensive line is good, but not the typical mauling Ohio State line. They use a zone blocking scheme for the running game, but aren’t great in pass protection, having given up 26 sacks, which ranks 88th nationally. By comparison, Michigan has allowed just 11.
When Michigan has the ball
As I discussed in yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, Ohio State’s defense is built to defend the traditional Big Ten offenses such as Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State. And in those games, they did look good. But against spread offenses, they have been porous. While the rush defense is respectable, giving up just 117 yards per game, teams have been able to pass all over the Buckeyes to the tune of 250.1 yards a game.
The line is anchored by tackle Jonathan Hankins, who Brady Hoke called “as good of an interior lineman as anyone in the country.” The space eating junior ranks fourth on the team with 52 tackles, four of them have gone for loss, including one sack. On the end is John Simon who leads the Big Ten with nine sacks to go along with 14.5 tackles for loss. Strongside end Nathan Williams has 39 tackles and two sacks, while Garrett Goebel holds down the other tackle spot and does a good job.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier is the man that makes the Buckeye defense go. He leads the team with 110 tackles and 14.5 for loss. He also has four sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. He’s fast and athletic, but also still prone to some of the boneheaded plays we saw out of him as a freshman last season. Etienne Sabino returned last week from a broken leg that was suffered against Nebraska to help stabilize the Buckeye defense, while converted fullback Zach Boren holds down the middle.
The secondary is the weak point, most notably corner Travis Howard. Despite four interceptions, he’s not a great cover corner and should be the one Michigan targets. Bradley Roby is a good cover man who leads the nation with 19 passes defended. Against Nebraska he picked off Taylor Martinez and returned it for a touchdown
The other third
Kicker Drew Basil has attempted just six field goals all season, making four, though he did hit 16-of-19 last season. Punter Ben Buchanan averages 40.9 yards per punt, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten. The return game could be dangerous with Corey Brown ranking third in the conference in punt returns with an average of 13.6 yards per, but the Buckeye kick return unit ranks just 87th nationally.
Rushing Attempts: 29 – Denard will pass Butch Woolfolk for 6th in career rushing attempts.
There is so much unknown with Michigan’s offense right now which will make it hard for Ohio State to prepare. The Devin at quarterback, Denard everywhere else offense that was showcased last week has so many possibilities that it’s hard to imagine Michigan’s offense struggling against the Buckeye defense that allowed 49 points to Indiana, 38 to Nebraska, and 22 to both Purdue and Illinois. Perhaps the best matchup to watch will be Taylor Lewan opposite of Simon as both have established themselves as the best in the Big Ten at their respective positions.
Look for Michigan to find a variety of ways to get the ball to Denard in space and let him go to work with his feet against mistake-prone linebackers and a poor tackling secondary. Along with that, expect him to be used as a decoy equally as much, as Ohio State will make sure to always know where he is on the field. I also would not be surprised at all see Denard throw a pass once more, but off of a reverse or step back screen rather than from behind center. For Gardner, the open spots will be underneath the cover-4 zone, where Ohio State has given up yards all season, so Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo will have plenty of open space. It will be up to them to make guys miss after the catch.
Defensively, Michigan will try to keep the Buckeyes up the middle and force Miller to beat them through the air. Expect to see Kovacs walk up early and often in run support, leaving the secondary exposed to a big play here and there. And, as is usual in a game like this, a big special teams play could swing the game in one direction or the other.
It’s going to be a back and forth offensive shootout that could go either way, but I think Ohio State figure out a way to contain the Michigan offense without Fitz Toussaint and will pull it out at home. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Ohio State 38 – Michigan 35
On November 18, 2006, Michigan and Ohio State squared off in Columbus, both undefeated. Two titans with an unrivaled history found themselves in what was dubbed by the national media “The Game of the Century.” The Big Ten title and a spot in the BCS National Championship game were at stake. The game went back and forth like a heavyweight fight, but in the end, the scoresheet went in Ohio State’s favor.
The day before, the great patriarch of Michigan football, Bo Schembechler, had passed away, and along with him metaphorically went the program. Michigan went to Pasadena on New Years Day and got thumped by USC.
Bo’s understudy, Lloyd Carr, decided to stick around for one more year. After all, he had a senior, fourth-year starting quarterback and running back, the eventual first overall NFL Draft pick at left guard, and a talented receiving corps. Who could blame him for giving it one last go-around? But a shocking loss to Appalachian State started the season, followed by a humiliating drubbing by Oregon and the Michigan program that had spent most of the previous season looking unbeatable had now lost four straight. The program that had seemed unshakeable for over 40 years was now suddenly lost without its figurehead.
The Wolverines rebounded with eight straight wins before dropping the final two to Wisconsin and Ohio State. In Carr’s swan song, Michigan faced a heavily favored Florida squad coached by Urban Meyer who relied heavily on his star quarterback. Carr pulled out all the tricks in the bag, using an offense almost foreign to the Michigan faithful and beat Meyer’s Gators.
Carr’s retirement a year after Bo’s passing signaled the end of Michigan football as we knew it and college football’s greatest rivalry suffered along with it. Ohio State beat Michigan by a combined score of 100-24 over the three years that followed while Michigan was guided by an outsider who many felt never truly understood the importance of the rivalry.
And so it was only fitting that it would take a Bo disciple to right the ship. Brady Hoke immediately returned the program to what it was like under Bo and followed in Bo’s footsteps by beating Ohio State in his first season. It ended Ohio State’s seven game winning streak over Michigan, but the Buckeyes were going through some troubles of their own. The great tattoo scandal sent Jim Tressel packing and left the Bucks headless last season, but led the man who was on the losing end of the final game of the old Michigan era to become the new head man in Columbus.
All he has done in his rookie season is not lose a game. Despite being ineligible for the postseason, OSU is ranked fourth in the AP poll and could conceivably be crowned national champions by the writers upon season’s end. Michigan faced a much tougher non-conference schedule which eliminated any national title hopes, but still holds hopes of a Big Ten title. And that’s just the way it should be: title hopes on the line, dreams either made or dashed.
It’s the way it was so often throughout the past few decades. Something was always on the line, and more often than not, it was that way for both teams. The season-ending battle truly was the one game season.
Six times in the past 19 matchups, at least one of the two has entered The Game undefeated. Saturday marks the seventh and Michigan will be looking to do what it has done three times since 1993: hand the Buckeyes their first loss.
In 1993, OSU entered with a 9-0-1 record, it’s only non-win a 14-14 tie at Wisconsin. Michigan was just 6-4 with losses to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The Wolverines played spoiler with a resounding 28-0 win in what Ohio State head coach John Cooper called “by far the most embarrassing game I’ve been associated with in college football.” Tyrone Wheatley gashed the Buckeyes for 105 yards and Todd Collins played an efficient game. The defense picked off the Buckeyes four times and Michigan ended Ohio State’s 16-game unbeaten streak and hopes of an outright Big Ten title and handed the Bucks their first shutout since 1982.
Two years later, in 1995, Ohio State visited Ann Arbor with a 11-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. Michigan was just 8-3. A Buckeye win would give them the Big Ten title and likely a national championship pending the Rose Bowl result. But yet again, Michigan played spoiler. Prior to the game, Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn mouthed off to the media that Michigan was nobody. But when the teams took to the field, Tshimanga Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards, the most an Ohio State defense had ever given up to a single back as Michigan soared to a 31-23 victory. Once again, Cooper issued a strong statement, saying, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as disappointed in my life as I am right now.”
The following season, Michigan traveled to Columbus to face yet another unbeaten and second-ranked Ohio State squad. Michigan was 17-point underdogs and this time, Cooper kept his players from speaking to the media in order to prevent any bulletin board material. But Michigan didn’t need it. Ohio State jumped out to a 9-0 halftime lead, but wouldn’t score again. Michigan had to turn to Brian Griese due to an injury to starter Scott Dreisbach and he threw a 68-yard touchdown to Tai Streets. Kicker Remy Hamilton added a pair of field goals to give Michigan the 13-9 win. Following the game, it was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson who did the talking, saying, “It was a great victory, to be able to look those people in the eye and say, ‘this is why I didn’t go to Ohio State’. I wanted to win at Michigan.”
In 1997, it was Michigan that carried the undefeated season into The Game. At 10-0 and ranked first in the nation, Michigan hosted the 9-1, fourth-ranked Buckeyes. The Big Ten title was on the line – either Michigan won it outright or the two shared it – and for Michigan, the national title was at stake. Michigan prevailed 20-14 on the heels of a great all-around performance by Woodson and advanced to the Rose Bowl where the Wolverines beat Washington State and captured the national title.
In 2002, Ohio State once again brought an unblemished record into the matchup. At 12-0, and ranked second, Ohio State needed a win to capture the Big Ten and advance to the BCS National Championship game. Michigan was 9-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Iowa. The Buckeyes held on, intercepting a John Navarre pass near the end zone to win 14-9 and eventually won the national title.
This Saturday, the rivalry has the ferver it did back then. Michigan needs a win and a Nebraska loss to advance to the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State needs a win to complete an undefeated season. The only thing holding the game back from receiving all of the national spotlight is the sanctions Ohio State is currently facing, keeping the Buckeyes from being able to win the Big Ten and play for the national title. But on the field, the two teams will battle it out just like the good old days and Michigan will hope to ruin Ohio State’s dream season for the fourth time in the last 20 years.
The man who has resurrected Michigan’s program with the Bo-like approach now faces off with the man who has transformed the Buckeye program. It has all the makings of a new “ten-year war” like the one Bo and Woody Hayes once fought with both programs at the top of their games. Most importantly, the game matters again. It’s back to the way it was.
Michigan has played a total of seven games against Nebraska, the first of which was in 1905. For history’s sake we’ll just pass by last year’s first meeting in the Big Ten, and so as not to stir up bad blood, I’m also banishing into the corner that 2005 Alamo Bowl. Here’s a look at the game scores of the Wolverines’ other five encounters with the Cornhuskers.
1905- Michigan 31 Nebraska 0
1911- Michigan 6 Nebraska 6
1917- Michigan 20 Nebraska 0
1962- Michigan 13 Nebraska 25
1985- Michigan 27 Nebraska 23 (Fiesta Bowl)
Michigan leads the all-time series 4-2-1.
The 1905 Huskers were undefeated in their first four games prior to heading into Ann Arbor. The Wolverines, however, had a different idea of how the day would end and wished to be rid of the controversy that arose three years earlier when Michigan was crowned Western Champion despite Nebraska posting an unblemished schedule, all of which were shutouts. Not to mention the fact that the point-a-minute head coach for Michigan, Fielding H. Yost, had been calling the plays in Lincoln only a short time before. It was not to be for the away team as the Wolverines scored 31 points in the second half, and a most disappointed Cornhuskers went back to Antelope Field to crush poor Creighton the next week 102-0.
For the 1911 tie, MVictors.com provided a synopsis from the original Michigan Daily. “Michigan’s captain Conklin ‘saved the day’ for the Wolverines, scoring U-M’s only touchdown by converting a blocked punt in the third quarter. After an exchange of punts, Nebraska tied the score and the game ended in a 6-6 deadlock. The Daily added its maize-and-blue spin on the event reporting, ‘Outweighed, outlucked, and often outplayed, the Wolverines gave an exhibition of gameness and hard fighting that has never been seen in the west and won even the plaudits of the most loyal Cornhusker.’” It’s a shame that a rivalry didn’t bloom between the two schools as they would only play once more until the 1960s. The 1917 matchup in the Big House turned into a soup bowl as unbeaten Nebraska faced the Wolverines in the driving rain and struggled in a shutout loss.
And what a shame it was considering the fine journalistic prose after the first Nebraska win over Michigan in 1962. Lyall Smith from the Detroit Free Press gave the summation: “An itinerant band of Cornhuskers paid their first visit to Michigan in 45 years Saturday, looking for work. They found a fertile field ready for shuckin’. And, man, how they shucked it.” As a side note I have to admit, though the word would be often used against the Wolverines, that the term ‘shucked’ being used to describe any part of a gridiron matchup is well worth the back and forth trips to Lincoln. Now back to ’62 for a quick recap. The score was 19-13 in the fourth quarter, but the Cornhuskers went for it on fourth down and converted. They punched it in for a touchdown the very next play and took home the victory. A fun stat: the teams lost a combined five fumbles that day, three coming from Michigan.
Thankfully, for the Maize and Blue faithful the next meeting resulted in a victory. Though truth be told it was hand-wrapped and delivered by Nebraska in a series of third quarter mistakes that resulted in 24 Michigan points. A fumble on their own 21 turned into a quick touchdown for the Wolverines, but that was just the start. On the kickoff the Nebraska returner fumbled the ball and Michigan recovered on the 38. Jim Harbaugh took it in for the score. But the downward spiral continued as the Huskers’ next punt was blocked and retrieved by the Wolverines at the 6-yard line. Michigan kicked a field goal, and would seal the game in the later stages of the quarter with two pass interference calls that helped them score their final touchdown of the game. Nebraska would fail to convert a fourth down half way through the fourth quarter, but stormed back to put up seven before claiming a safety off of a play in which Michigan’s punter came out of the endzone. However, the Cornhuskers couldn’t come back with the clock starting at a little over one minute and no time outs remaining. So the Wolverines pulled it out in what seemed to be a second Christmas, and a coveted bowl win for Michigan’s most beloved coach.
This year, both teams head into the game locked at 5-2, with Michigan 3-0 and Nebraska 2-1 in Big Ten play. It is the first Legends division night game for either team, and the first time Michigan will play in Lincoln since the 1911 6-6 tie. As both teams have their eye on a place in this year’s Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis, a victory here is key.
It wasn’t exactly how Brady Hoke planned it, but Michigan’s 23-20 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech was a fitting end to Team 132′s season. The squad that endured three of the worst years in Michigan history fought to the end on Tuesday night and came away with an ugly victory, fulfilling Bo Schembechler’s legendary statement that “those who stay will be champions.”
The seniors who endured more than perhaps any other senior class in the 132-year history of Michigan football came up big in New Orleans. Rimington Award winning center David Molk injured his foot in pregame warmups and missed the first series, but fought through the pain the rest of the game. Junior Hemingway came up with two outstanding touchdown catches to bail out quarterback Denard Robinson. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen held their own in the middle of the defense, tightening up when needed.
On a day when Robinson and Michigan’s electric offense was never able to get going, everything that has been Michigan’s downfall the past few seasons won the game. The defense that couldn’t stop anybody the last three years held Virginia Tech to its fifth-lowest total yardage of the season. It was truly a bend but don’t break defense that never did break, allowing Tech to convert third-and-longs with ease, but clamping down when it truly mattered. Kicker Brendan Gibbons, who lost the kicking duties last season after starting 1-for-5, continued the clutch kicking he has displayed all season by booting three field goals including a 39-yarder to put Michigan ahead with four minutes remaining and the 37-yard game-winner in overtime.
Michigan certainly got its share of breaks when the Hokies were penalized for roughing the punter late in the second quarter, an interception was overturned, Frank Beamer inexplicably called a fake punt from midfield late in the game, a touchdown in overtime was overturned, and Tech kicker Justin Myer missed a 37-yard field goal in overtime. Both calls could have gone either way, but seemed to be correct overturns. Regardless, it’s uncommon to see two close calls overturned in a game and even more uncommon for Michigan to get all the breaks.
It didn’t look promising for Michigan from the start when two poor snaps forced the offense out of rhythm and Michigan went three-and-out. Virginia Tech put together a solid drive, but Michigan forced a 37-yard field goal. On the next drive, Robinson was picked off by Kyle Fuller, giving VT a chance to widen its lead. But Michigan forced another field goal, this time from 43 yards out.
After a Michigan punt, Virginia Tech put together another promising drive, but Michigan’s defense stuffed quarterback Logan Thomas on 4th-and-1 from the Michigan 4-yard line.
Michigan was forced to punt once again, but punter Matt Wile drew a roughing the kicker penalty, keeping the drive alive. On 3rd-and-17 from the VT 45-yard line, Robinson fired a back footer towards a double-covered Hemingway. It looked as if it would be picked off by the safety over the top, but Hemingway held on and cruised into the end zone putting Michigan ahead 7-6.
On the ensuing kickoff, J.B. Fitzgerald forced a fumble and Michigan recovered at the VT 26. On 4th-and-3 from the VT 19, field goal holder Drew Dileo ran to the right and threw a prayer towards the middle of the field. It bounced off a pair of Hokies before falling into the arms of lineman Jareth Glanda for a first down at the eight. A pass to the 1-yard line left Michigan with just two seconds left before halftime and Hoke elected to kick the field goal and take a 10-6 lead into the half.
The third quarter started out with a pair of punts and on the first play of Tech’s second possession, freshman Frank Clark picked off a Thomas pass, giving Michigan the ball at the Hokie 35. Four plays later, Robinson found Hemingway in the back of the end zone, again out-leaping the Tech safety and this getting a foot down in bounds. Just like that, with virtually no offense, Michigan had a 17-6 lead.
Tech wasn’t done, however, scoring 11 straight and keeping Michigan’s offense from widening the gap. With nine minutes remaining and the game knotted at 17, Tech faced 4th-and-1 from the Michigan 48. Instead of punting and pinning Michigan’s stagnant offense deep, Beamer chose to run a fake, which Michigan sniffed out and stopped, getting the ball back at the Virginia Tech 45. Robinson moved Michigan into field goal position and Gibbons gave the Wolverines a 20-17 lead with four minutes left.
But Tech put together another long drive, getting all the way down to the Michigan 8-yard line before facing a third down. A false start pushed it back to 3rd-and-7 and the Michigan defense stopped the Hokies two yards short. Myer nailed a 25-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime.
In the first extra period, after two straight runs for five net yards, Thomas connected with receiver Danny Coale in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. But after review, it was ruled incomplete and Tech was forced to settle for its fifth field goal of the game. This time, however, Myer pushed it right, giving Michigan the ball needing just a field goal to win.
Three runs by Fitzgerald Toussaint set up Gibbons in the middle of the field for a game-winning 37-yard field goal that was right down the middle, giving Michigan its first BCS bowl victory since a 2000 Orange Bowl win over Alabama.
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Team 132 became just the fifth Michigan team ever to win 11 games in a season, and it did so with defense. Tech’s offense came in averaging 415.8 yards and 28.5 points per game. Michigan held the Hokies to 377 yards and 20 points. Michigan also held running back David Wilson to his second-lowest rushing total of the season, 82 yards. He came in averaging 125 and had surpassed 123 yards in 10 of 13 games.
And so, what began with an embarrassing loss to Appalachian State, continued with two losing seasons without bowls, the worst three-year stretch in Michigan history, and NCAA sanctions, ended with wins over Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, and a Sugar Bowl victory. The plight of the senior class of Team 132 was summed up in Sugar Bowl MVP Hemingway’s postgame interview on the trophy podium, with tears streaming down his face: “It shows our hard work. It shows everything we put in from Day One, all the long days, long nights. Man, I’m telling you, it feels good man. Too good.”
Hemingway himself serves as a microcosm of the entire senior class. He entered as a heralded receiver out of Conway, South Carolina and showed promise of breaking out as a sophomore when he caught a 33-yard touchdown in Michigan’s 2008 season opener against Utah. But he developed mono, forcing him to miss the rest of the season, receiving a medical redshirt. Over the next couple years, he fought injuries before becoming Robinson’s go-to guy this season. And when all was said and done he was the one who stepped up with two tremendous touchdown catches and earned the Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player award.
He’s just one of many seniors who will be missed next season, but their legacy will live on. Just like the Navy SEALS that Team 132 patterned its season after, Michigan found a way to get it done through adversity with grit and a determination that 10 wins was just not enough.
Michigan will head into the offseason with a likely Top 10 national ranking, 15 starters returning, and what should be a top 10 recruiting class. And when Team 133 takes the field in Dallas on Sept. 1 it may very well be the start of a national championship run against the defending national champions.
In the aftermath of the Jim Tressel saga back in March, I wrote that what happened to Ohio State wasn’t good for the rivalry. Obviously, a blatant disregard for the rules had to be punished and the dismissal of Tressel was the right thing to do, and further NCAA sanctions should be handed down. But the fact that our bitter rivals went on so long with such a culture of corruption, althewhile dominating the rivalry, tarnishes what happened on the field during that period.
The rivalry is at its best when it is as it’s always been: the best two teams in the Big Ten slugging it out at season’s end for the conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Or even if both teams aren’t dominant, one having a realistic shot at ruining the other’s season with an upset.
As has been the case throughout the years, the teams are at their best when coached by a man who not only gets the rivalry, but has the personality to fuel it. For Ohio State, Tressel was that man. From the time he stepped foot on campus, he made it known that beating Michigan was the chief priority. That he was brash enough to exclaim it at halftime of a Buckeye basketball game endeared him to Buckeye faithful from the start.
When Tressel was forced out amid scandal in March, co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was thrust into the interim head coaching position. He may have been an up-and-comer, but he wasn’t ready for the job. His questionable coaching decisions (saving all three timeouts at the end of a still-winnable game against Miami) and general lack of polish (never seemed to give much focus on Michigan) painted the perception that he was in over his head and it did nothing to help the rivalry. In his defense, he was just a stop-gap to keep the seat warm until Tressel’s successor could be found. If he could pull off a good season, great; if not, he’s not the long term answer anyway.
Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith knew he had to make a big splash for Tressel’s replacement, not only to appease the salivating fanbase, but to perhaps save his own job. On Monday, that big splash, which was rumored over a week ago, hit like a tidal wave with the announcement of former Florida head coach Urban Meyer as the next head coach at Ohio State.
In many ways, the Tressel saga may have worked out to OSU’s benefit in the long run. While Tressel dominated the Big Ten, he routinely struggled in bowl games against SEC competition. Meyer should be able to recruit well enough nationally to fit with his spread offense and compete on a national scale. That is, if he can handle the return to the rigors of coaching – the reason he retired from Florida little more than a year ago.
As a Michigan fan, I hope he does. His prestige and previous success are a welcome addition to the rivalry and could be the final piece to another legendary string of Michigan-Ohio State battles.
Like Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke, who got his first head coaching job at Ball State, Meyer started his career at Bowling Green (after serving as a tight ends and wide receivers coach at Ohio State from 1986-87). One may remember the last pair of UM-OSU head coaches who started off in the Mid-American Conference: Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes.
While the rivalry has always been strong, those two are widely credited with building it into what it is today. Their “Ten Year War” from 1969-78 was a brutal slugfest year-in and year-out, made personal by the fact that Bo had coached under Woody at Miami of Ohio. Because of that, Bo cemented beating Ohio as Michigan’s main goal each season, and Woody did likewise. That was handed down to Moeller and Carr, Cooper and Tressel before falling a little bit out of style under Rodriguez and Fickell.
Hoke took the Michigan job last January without even discussing a salary. As he said in his introductory press conference, “I promise you we would have walked to the University of Michigan.” He reaffirmed OSU’s position in Michigan’s minds from day one, referring to the Buckeyes simply as “Ohio,” and talking about them “a thousand times more” than Rodriguez did, according to center David Molk. The team ended every team meeting with “Beat Ohio.” It remains to be seen whether Meyer will follow suit, but he does have the Ohio State background, having served as an assistant coach there in the late 1980s.
Michigan has had success against Meyer, and having him in the scarlet and grey should be an interesting dynamic for as long as he resides in Columbus. In the 2008 Capital One Bowl, a 8-3 Michigan squad upended Meyer’s 9-2 Florida Gators, even with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow at the helm. It was, ironically, a glorious sendoff for the retiring Lloyd Carr. In that game, Michigan piled up 524 yards of offense.
Another connection Michigan has with Meyer is defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was Meyer’s DC in 2005-07 before leaving for the same position with the Baltimore Ravens. Mattison helped Florida attain the nation’s 9th-best defense in 2005, 6th in 2006, and 41st in 2007. His defense also captured the 2006 National Championship. The argument can be a two-way street, as to who has the advantage; Mattison for knowing Meyer’s offensive gameplan or Meyer for knowing Mattison’s defensive schemes. But regardless, an advantage Michigan does have in that respect is Mattison’s recruiting prowess. It was Meyer who said of Mattison, “He’s not only one of the best defensive coordinators in America, but also the best recruiter in college football.”
Meyer’s name will certainly help Ohio State land top recruits, especially in the talent-rich state of Florida, but it shouldn’t take much of a chunk out of Michigan’s recruiting pie. The combination of Hoke’s major focus on the state of Ohio and Mattison’s ability to sell recruits especially on the defensive side of the ball, contrasted with Meyer’s national prestige should help get both Michigan and Ohio State back to their rightful spot at the top of the Big Ten.
So as Michigan fans, let’s welcome Meyer to Ohio State and prepare for another exciting period of college football’s greatest rivalry. And in doing so, we will carry momentum into Columbus next November and welcome him to the Big Ten in style.
College football’s greatest rivalry has built itself throughout the years on playing for all the marbles. More often than not over its 107-year history, The Game has been played at season’s end to decide the Big Ten champion, the conference’s representative in the Rose Bowl, and year-long bragging rights for alumni and fans of the schools to the north and south of Toledo.
While Michigan holds a 57-44-6 edge in the series, there have been plenty of streaks by either side. Michigan won 13 of the first 15 contests played from 1897-1918 with the two others being ties. From 1922-27, Michigan had a six game winning streak and then went 10-2-2 from 1938-51. Ohio State then turned the tide throughout the ’50s and ’60s, taking 16 of 24 from 1952-75. The pendulum swung back in Michigan’s favor through the Schembechler, Moeller, and early Carr years, when Michigan won 18 of 27 from 1976-2003, including a 12-3-1 run from 1988-2000.
But since winning the game’s ceremonial 100th meeting in 2003, the rivalry has been decidedly one-sided. Seven-year old kids have never seen Michigan beat the Buckeyes and the last three years have been uncharacteristically boring for traditionalists. Even Ohio fans long for the days of the hard-fought, hyped-up battles they were used to when it didn’t matter who was favored and the underdog always played above its head.
When Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia for Ann Arbor in 2008, one of his fatal flaws, at least perceptibly, was that he didn’t completely understand the rivalry. However, as John U. Bacon’s book Three and Out detailed, he understood it as much as anyone who had never stepped foot in Ann Arbor before could, having learned many of Schembechler’s coaching principles from Bo disciple and West Virginia legend Don Nehlen. Still, his Michigan teams weren’t able to put up much of a fight against the Buckeyes, getting outscored 100-24 in three meetings.
Enter Brady Hoke. Unlike when Jim Tressel took over at Ohio State in 2001 and immediately announced to the world that he was there to beat Michigan, Hoke took his message only to his team, installing ‘Beat Ohio’ countdown clocks in the locker room. He didn’t need to declare anything publicly, but everyone in Ann Arbor understood how he felt. He refers to the Buckeyes simply as ‘Ohio,’ he claims to have never worn red, and he has declared Ohio as one of his main recruiting battlegrounds. In his first 10 months on the job, he has put Michigan in position to make a BCS bowl, secured what is so far one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, and reinvigorated the rivalry.
At this time last year, Michigan was on the eve of yet another beatdown in Columbus while Ohio State was soaring high with an experienced bunch. Now, a year later, the scrip has been flipped. The Jim Tressel saga that led to his dismissal, the loss of Terrell Pryor, and the suspension of five players for the first part of the season has brought down the mighty Buckeyes to the point that Ohio supporters are already making preemptive excuses for a loss on Saturday. They’re already giddy with excitement over the rumored Urban Meyer hiring, which has taken hold of the headlines this week surrounding the game.
But the reality is that while there’s no Big Ten title on the line, this is still a huge game for each team. Michigan has a chance at a BCS at-large bid, which would do wonders for Michigan’s return to national prominence. Ohio will likely get a middling bowl regardless of the outcome, but an eighth straight win over Michigan with a lame duck interim head coach and a freshman quarterback would be just the kind of dagger to the hearts of Michigan fans that would send Columbus into a tither.
While those in Columbus try to downplay the importance, claiming that Michigan is expected to win this one because of the current state of influx in their program, they conveniently forget that they benefited from that very thing the past three years. Now, Michigan has a chance to not only end the losing streak, but to seize control of the rivalry before St. Urban enters the fold.
The players on Ohio State’s roster come into the game expecting to win because that’s all they’ve known, while Michigan’s seniors have never beaten the Buckeyes. OSU quarterback Braxton Miller was in middle school the last time Michigan won, and until the Wolverines can win and put those doubts back in the minds of Buckeye players, Ohio will continue to have the upper hand in the rivalry.
So does Michigan have the upper hand tomorrow? Let’s look at the matchups:
Head Coach Luke Fickell gave up on the Joe Bauserman experiment after just a couple of games, opting to throw freshman Braxton Miller into the fire. Miller has delighted with his legs but underwhelmed with his arm. He leads the team in rushing with 595 yards and six touchdowns on 128 carries (4.6 yards per carry), having rushed for 100 yards in two of his last three games. But through the air, he has completed just 48.6 percent of his passes for just 76.2 yards per game.
The Bucks rarely throw the ball, and when they do, they don’t complete very many. The most attempts Miller has had all season is 18 against Purdue two weeks ago. He also had 17 last week. Both of those were games in which OSU fell behind 10-0 and was playing catch-up. The most completions he has had in a game is eight against Purdue. He’s most dangerous when he eludes the pass rush and scrambles around waiting for his receivers to work open. He does a good job of keeping his eyes upfield makes defenses pay for overpursuing or failing to bring him down.
Still, while he has shown signs of promise, he’s a true freshman playing in his first Michigan game and it’s in the Big House.
Dan “Boom” Herron, Jordan Hall, and Carlos Hyde are the go-to backs for the Buckeyes. All three are talented and all three get the ball a lot. Herron was part of the “tat-gate” group that was suspended for the first five games of the season, but he returned with a bang, rushing for 114 yards against Illinois, 160 against Wisconsin, and 141 against Indiana. His production and workload have fallen off in the last two games, but he’s still averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
Hyde, a sophomore, is the team’s second-leading running back with 549 yards and six touchdowns. He’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry and recorded 100-yard games against Nebraska and Indiana. In the last two games, however, he has just eight carries for 36 yards.
Hall split carries with Hyde in the first half of the season, but has just 16 carries for 60 yards in his last three games combined. However, against Purdue, he caught three passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns. At 5’9″ he’s capable of playing the Vincent Smith role of catching screens and picking up chunks of yards.
The Buckeyes are a running football team. Only a handful of teams nationally have more rushing attempts this season, but while they rank 27th in rushing yards per game, they are much lower in yards per attempt at just under 4.5. By comparison, Michigan averages 5.3.
Receivers and Tight Ends:
This is a unit that got a huge facelift last week when DeVier Posey returned from suspension, who instantly gives Miller a true receiving threat. He caught four passes for 66 yards last week against Penn State, one of which was a great one-handed catch on the sideline. In each of the last two seasons, he caught at least 50 passes for over 800 yards, and against Michigan last season he caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Aside from Posey, the Bucks lack true playmakers. Freshman Devin Smith is the team’s leading receiver with 11 receptions for 241 yards and four touchdowns, the majority of which came in the first half of the season. The biggest play he will be remembered for is slipping behind the Wisconsin secondary and catching the hail marry to win the game. Including that one, he has three catches since Week 4. Tight end Jake Stoneburner is probably the most dangerous touchdown threat tomorrow. The junior has 13 receptions, seven of which were touchdowns. If the Buckeyes get into the red zone, look for Stoneburner to be the target.
Ohio State does have an experienced offensive line with center Mike Brewster and tackle Mike Adams helping to pave the way for the nation’s 27th-best rush offense. The Buckeyes rank 118th in pass offense, but that has less to do with the line as it does with the signal callers. OSU has allowed a lot of sacks – 36 of them to be exact. Some of that has to do with Miller’s scrambling and some has to do with Bauserman’s ineptness early in the season. Michigan State recorded nine sacks against Ohio, but also sacked Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner seven times. Ohio uses mostly a zone blocking scheme, which doesn’t really fit the size of the linemen, but that’s what you get as a result of what has gone on in Columbus in the last 11 months.
Ohio State’s defense lost seven starters from last year’s team and lost another when defensive end Nathan Williams went down with a knee injury. Junior end John Simon is the leader of the young and inexperienced Buckeye defensive line and he’s a good one. He leads the team in sacks with six and tackles for loss with 13.5. Sophomore tackle Johnathan Hankins and freshman Michael Bennett each have three sacks, while Hankins is second on the team with 10 tackles for loss.
The Buckeyes average two sacks per game, which ranks 49th nationally, and allow 130 rushing yards per game, good for 42nd. In other words, it’s an above-average unit.
Senior Andrew Sweat and Storm Klein are your typical Ohio State linebackers: tough, smart, and always seem to be in the right position to make plays. Sweat leads the team in tackles with 68 and also has an interception, a forced fumble, and three pass breakups. However, he has been recovering from a concussion and may not play tomorrow. Klein has 41 tackles, a sack, and an interception. But the one that fans are most excited about is freshman Ryan Shazier. He filled in for Sweat last week against Penn State and recorded 15 tackles, and OSU Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock said Shazier has the size and speed to make plays in space and may spy on Denard.
Ohio State has a pretty good secondary statistically. The Buckeyes rank 16th nationally in pass defense, allowing 188 yards per game through the air. Corners Travis Howard and Christian Bryant are okay, while safety C.J. Barnett is a playmaker. Howard got picked on by Penn State last week and the Buckeyes gave up 253 passing yards to Wisconsin, 292 to Toledo, and 234 to Purdue. In other words, I think the statistical success of the OSU pass defense is inflated by opposing teams’ ability to run on them.
Ohio State does have a good kicker in sophomore Drew Basil who has converted 16-of-19 field goals and 30-of-31 extra points. The lone missed extra point was the one that was blocked at the end of the game against Purdue, sending the game into overtime where OSU eventually lost. His longest field goal is 47 yards and he hasn’t missed from inside 40 all season. Punter Ben Buchanan averages 40 yards per punt and Ohio holds a 37.6-yard net punt average, which is above average. Return-wise, OSU is pretty good, ranking 32nd nationally in punt returns and seventh in kick returns.
Luke Fickell is probably the unluckiest current head coach in the country. As a promising assistant and co-defensive coordinator, he was likely headed for his shot eventually, but when Jim Tressel was forced out amid the “tat-gate” scandal, Fickell was thrust into the position before he was ultimately ready. That has shown this season from seemingly giving up at the end of a game early in the season to the uncreative offensive scheme, Fickell has just seemed as if he was in over his head. He very well may be a great head coach some day, but he isn’t right now and with the Buckeyes on the verge of hiring Urban Meyer, he’s got to be pretty uncomfortable right about now.
Contrast that with Michigan’s current position: a “Michigan man” head coach brought in to replace the one the loyalists ran out of Ann Arbor, who brings a true understanding of the the rivalry, the Michigan way, and boasts a 9-2 record. If Michigan wins tomorrow and likely earns a BCS berth, Hoke will be the most popular man in Ann Arbor for a long time to come
On one hand, you have a team playing at home, hungry to avenge seven straight defeats at the hands of the other. A Michigan win would likely send the Wolverines to the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl, the first BCS bowl since the 2006 season. On the other hand, you have a team with nothing to lose, playing under a lame duck interim head coach, already salivating over his likely replacement, and carrying all the momentum of the rivalry, having won the last seven meetings. It could go either way, right?
If Rich Rodriguez was still the head coach, that would probably be true. But the mentality that Hoke has instilled in his team is one that is tired of hearing about the number of days since it last beat Ohio. It’s hungry to change the tide of the rivalry. And it’s one that is playing its best football of the season right here and now. Michigan won’t play tight like it did the last three years. It will play confident because of the man at the helm.
Years ago it was always near impossible to predict the outcome of the Michigan-Ohio State game. Whether one team was ranked higher or one team was having a down season didn’t matter. You could always throw out the records when the two squared off in late November. In the past few years, however, we Michigan fans have tried to rationalize ways in which we thought Michigan could pull off the upset against the decidedly better team. But the reality was Ohio had the upper hand in the rivalry because it had the better team. Michigan had gotten away from Michigan football and what made the rivalry great.
What a difference a year makes. At this time last season, prospects looked bleak. Michigan was about to fire Rich Rodriguez and Ohio State was cruising into yet another BCS bowl with a hotshot quarterback promising to return for his senior year, and plenty of talent around him returning as well. Now, the mastermind that figured out the secrets of success is in Indianapolis watching replays, the hotshot is riding the pine in Oakland, his replacement is an up-and-coming star but still a freshman, and everyone in Columbus is begging Urban Meyer to become their savior.
Frankly, Michigan is the better team right now and is in a much better spot with its program. The Wolverines are riding high off of decisive wins over Illinois and Nebraska, while Ohio is reeling after losses to Purdue and Penn State. The once formidable Buckeye defense is giving up early leads and the offense couldn’t get a waterwheel spinning in a monsoon.
In the last two weeks, Michigan has scored early. Against Illinois, Michigan marched the opening drive down the field for a touchdown. Against Nebraska, the first drive yielded a punt, but after forcing a Nebraska punt, Michigan marched down for a touchdown. Ohio State is already down and out having lost its last two, and having dug itself a 10-0 hole in each of the last three, so Michigan should take the ball first if it wins the toss. Driving right down the field for a score to open the game would send a message early.
From there, Michigan needs to stop Braxton Miller. The Wolverine defense did a phenomenal job against Nathan Scheelhaase and Taylor Martinez the last two weeks, so there’s no reason it can’t handle Miller. He’s probably more elusive than both of them, but the Michigan front seven needs to make sure to contain him. As mentioned above, he’s at his best not on designed runs, but when he breaks containment and scrambles around. At that point, he keeps his eyes upfield for an open receiver or he picks up a big gain on the ground. Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh need to keep him from getting out on the edge, and I think Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison will dial up some aggressive blitz schemes from the linebackers to keep him off balance and force him to make quick decisions. He’s always a run-first checkdown if he’s forced into a quick decision, Michigan’s safeties can come up and make the tackle.
Offensively, expect a lot more of what we saw last week. Michigan has to force Ohio State to prove it can stop Fitz Toussaint. The Buckeyes had trouble with Penn State’s duo of Stephfon Green and Silas Redd last week. Toussaint has the ability to pull off a couple of big runs in this one. Also look for a couple of new looks we haven’t seen before. I’m not talking about some of the gimmicks that were tried in the middle of the season, but some special packages that were saved specifically for Ohio State.
I think it’s important to get off to a fast start. Ohio State has the momentum in the rivalry, but not the current momentum. A couple of scores early on would demoralize the Buckeyes, but letting them hang around would only build their confidence.
Michigan will come in prepared, hungry, and ready for business and will send the Buckeyes home with a .500 record. Toussaint will rush for 120 yards and Denard will break a big run.
Michigan 35 – Ohio 17
Good to Know:
|With 10 pass completions, Denard Robinson will pass Steve Smith (1980-83) for 8th in career completions.|
Last week was supposed to be a big test for Michigan. Just like Western Michigan in 2009 and Connecticut last year, Brady Hoke’s former team, San Diego State, was supposed to give Michigan a scare. But just like those two previous occasions, Michigan rose up to the challenge and proved the “experts” wrong.
The 28-7 win over San Diego State closed out the non-conference portion of the schedule undefeated for the third consecutive year. Tomorrow, the Wolverines begin the hunt for the Big Ten title, although they might as well be playing another directional school.
Minnesota enters the game battered, bruised, and bewildered. Head Coach Jerry Kill was hospitalized last week for the second time this season for a seizure condition he struggles with. He spent a few days at the Mayo Clinic this week, but was back at practice on Wednesday. He will reportedly continue coaching, and even though he’ll be on the opposing sideline, our hearts and prayers will be with him.
The Gophers are 1-3. The season started promising by nearly upsetting USC, but falling 19-17. Then the Gophers went back to being the same old Gophers. Losses to New Mexico State and North Dakota State (!) with a 29-23 win over Miami of Ohio sandwiched in between give Minnesota fans no reason for hope this weekend. Compound that with a foot injury to quarterback MarQueis Gray, the Gophers’ Denard Robinson, and the Little Brown Jug might as well just stay on its perch in Schembechler Hall.
Does Minnesota have any chance at all? Let’s see.
If you think Denard Robinson is Michigan’s whole offense, you’ll be familiar with Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray. He only accounts for 62 percent of the Gophers’ offense, but he’s talented. Unfortunately for Minnesota, he’s likely out on Saturday due to a toe injury.
So who will guide the Gopher offense in the Big House? Freshman Max Shortell has seen action in three of the four Minnesota games thus far and will start if Gray can’t go. He has completed 13-of-28 passes for 196 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was a three-star recruit by Rivals and Scout and two-stars by ESPN coming out of high school. Getting the first start of your career as a true freshman on the road in the Big House is probably not a recipe for success.
Everybody knows his counterpart, Denard Robinson. He accounts for 72 percent of Michigan’s offense and is on pace for nearly exact same numbers as last season. His passing game has struggled so far this season, but he leads the nation in rushing, averaging 138 yards per game (his numbers from the rain-shortened Week 1 game don’t count towards NCAA statistics, so he technically ranks fifth…but who’s counting?).
Some Minnesota players this week quipped that Denard isn’t anything special because they go up against Gray every day in practice. Tomorrow, they’ll find out how wrong they are.
With Gray out, Minnesota’s leading rusher is fifth-year senior Duane Bennett. He has carried the ball 44 times for 164 yards and a touchdown this season (just 3.7 yards per carry). Freshman Donnell Kirkwood leads the team in touchdowns with three and is the only other Gopher with more than 100 yards.
For Michigan, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith are the go-to backs. Toussaint is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and leads all running backs with three touchdowns. Smith is averaging 8.5 yards per carry and is dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield as well. Interestingly enough, Michigan has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards in the first four games. Expect that total to increase significantly tomorrow.
Receivers and Tight Ends:
Senior Da’Jon McKnight is a big and talented receiver, leading the Gophers with 19 receptions for 260 yards and a touchdown. He’s been just mediocre in three of the four games, but had a big game against New Mexico State, hauling in nine passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. With Shortell at quarterback, more of a passer than Gray, look for McKnight to get plenty of targets trying to exploit the Michigan secondary. The rest of the receiving corps isn’t anything special with smallish Malcolm Moulton and Marcus Jones and tight end Eric Lair.
Michigan’s receivers have been underused so far, but they really haven’t been needed except for the Notre Dame game. With Robinson struggling hitting his targets, Michigan doesn’t have a single receiver with double-digit receptions yet. However, the Wolverines do have plenty of talent on the outside, and if Robinson does find his accuracy, watch out.
Minnesota is giving up nearly three sacks per game and is just above average in rush offense. That doesn’t bode well against a Michigan front seven that is steadily improving.
Michigan’s line has given up just one sack all season and paved the way for the nation’s 12th-best rush offense. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has yet to record a penalty and this experience unit keeps getting better. Guard Ricky Barnum is likely to miss the game due to injury, but it shouldn’t matter this week.
Just like the Gophers haven’t been able to block for its quarterback, they haven’t been able to get to the opposing team’s quarterback either. The Gophers rank nearly last in the nation in sacks, recording just one through four games. The rush defense isn’t terrible – it ranks 33rd nationally – but the pass defense is bad enough that the line hasn’t really had to stop the run. It will get its toughest test of the season tomorrow.
Michigan’s line keeps getting better. Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Criag Roh were unstoppable last week against San Diego State’s explosive offense. This week should be more of the same.
This is probably the strongest position group for the Gophers, if you can call it strong. Senior Gary Tinsley is the leader of the unit, having led the Gophers in tackles in 2010.
Michigan’s linebackers have been surprisingly solid so far this season. Kenny Demens is the leader, while Jake Ryan has been up and down, but he’s just a true freshman. He makes plays getting to the quarterback, but struggles with contain on the edge.
Minnesota’s leading tacklers are both defensive backs. Senior Kim Royston leads the team with 42 tackles, while sophomore Brock Vereen is second with 27 tackles. Vereen also has an interception. However, this secondary ranks 108th nationally in pass defense. Three of the four opponents have thrown for more than 275 yards against the Gophers. This game could be as good as any to fine-tune Denard’s passing before heading into the tough portion of the schedule.
Michigan’s secondary has been much better than the past couple of seasons. Most importantly, it has depth and stability. Troy Woolfolk continues to be hampered with injuries, but J.T. Floyd has been consistent and freshman Blake Countess played well in Woolfok’s stead last week. The coaches said he should continue to get more playing time as the season progresses. The safeties, Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon have been steady, especially last week against an offense that was supposed to be high-powered.
If there’s one edge Minnesota does have, maybe it’s in special teams. Kicker Chris Hawthorne is 5-of-8 on field goals, with two of those misses coming from 40-plus against USC. Punter Dan Orseske ranks eighth in the nation in net punting with a 42.5 average. Return-wise, Minnesota boasts the nation’s second-best punt return team, averaging 30 yards per return.
For Michigan, kicker Brendan Gibbons is 1-of-2, having made a 21-yarder and missed his only attempt last week. Punter Matt Wile has been okay, considering he’s a true freshman, averaging 36.6 yards per punt. Michigan gets punter Will Hagerup back from suspension this week, which should help in that aspect.
Gopher head coach Jerry Kill was brought in from Northern Illinois to try to turn the program around. He was the best man in TCU head coach Gary Patterson’s wedding and suffers from seizures, which has happened a couple times this season. By all accounts, he’s a good, hard-working head coach, but he has his work cut out for him if he wants to succeed at Minnesota.
Brady Hoke is quickly rising to legend status in Ann Arbor. Virtually everything he’s done since he took over back in January has been positive. If he continues to win, he’ll be the most popular coach since Bo Schembechler to grace the sidelines in the Big House. He has shown adeptness at game management (going for it on fourth and short instead of punting) and his sideline demeanor puts Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly (and Rich Rodriguez, for that matter) to shame.
It’s going to be a chilly day tomorrow in Ann Arbor with temperatures in the low 50s but feeling like the mid 40s. That should suit the Gophers, but like I mentioned above, a true freshman making the first start of his career on the road in the Big House is not a recipe for success. Michigan is calling it a “Maize out” so it should have a good gameday atmosphere even though it is Minnesota.
And last but not least, who can forget about the Little Brown Jug? It’s the oldest trophy in college football, dating back to 1899. Michigan has dominated the Gophers over the past century, especially as of late. Minnesota has had the jug just three times since 1967, the last being in 2005. Don’t expect to see it leaving Ann Arbor anytime soon.
Yes, this is a Big Ten game, but this might be the easiest game Michigan plays all season. The defensive front will harass Shortell all day, forcing turnovers and mistakes, and Denard will get some work on his passing game. It should be over early and Michigan will keep the jug for the 41st time in the last 44 years.
Prediction: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 17
Good to Know:
Brady Hoke has done something even Bo didn’t do: win his first four games as head coach. He’s the fifth Michigan head coach to do so, joining the ranks of Fielding Yost (1901), Tad Wieman (1927), Bennie Oosterbaan (1948), and Lloyd Carr (1995).
With one more rushing touchdown, Denard will move into a tie for 14th in total touchdowns with Huckleby and Jamie Morris (1984-87). With two, he will tie Rob Lytle (1973-76), Ed Shuttlesworth (1971-73), and Ron Johnson (1966-68). With four, he will tie Gordon Bell (1973-75).
Six days after Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon announced he was firing embattled head coach Rich Rodriguez, the speculation, flight-tracking, and rumor-mongering was put to rest with the announcement of the hiring of Brady Hoke as the 19th head coach in Michigan football history. But while the waiting ended, questions abound as to whether this was the right move.
After proclaiming in last Wednesday’s press conference that he would seek out a “Michigan Man,” Brandon met with Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, both former Wolverine players under legendary coach Bo Schembechler. Harbaugh was considered the top choice for most Wolverine faithful, and when he accepted the head job with the San Francisco 49ers, Brandon seemingly turned to Miles. While Miles’ ethics were called into question by many Michigan fans, most accepted him as a logical choice to replace Rodriguez given his success at LSU.
We went to bed Monday night expecting Miles to become Michigan’s new head man on Tuesday. However, early Tuesday afternoon, Miles was taken out of consideration when LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva stated, “Les has led this program to many great successes on the field and his players represent LSU well off the field. We look forward to many great years of LSU football under his leadership.”
It didn’t take long before Hoke was named head coach and Michigan fans are left with more questions than answers. Brandon insists Hoke was the guy from the beginning and that Harbaugh and Miles were never even offered the job, but if that’s the case, then Brandon has a lot at stake in the coming years.
Don’t get me wrong; beginning with Hoke’s introductory press conference on Wednesday, I’ll fully back the new coach and root for him to become Michigan’s next Bo. If he can turn the program around, he will certainly become a legend in Ann Arbor. But that doesn’t mean I think it was the right move for the short term or the long term.
For starters, I think Brandon jumped the gun and caved into the pressure in his first year as Michigan’s AD. Of course he will mask it by saying that leaders have to be willing to make tough decisions even when unpopular, but in reality, the pressure from the media and boosters was too much, forcing Brandon’s hand at least a year early.
Rodriguez had improved each season, from 3-9 to 5-7 to 7-6 and a New Years Day bowl game. Granted, the bowl wound up being the worst bowl loss in Michigan history and the three-year stretch is the worst percentage-wise in in Michigan history, but that’s as much a reflection on the original decision to hire him as it is about his ability to coach. Fans, boosters, and alumni were screaming for change when Lloyd Carr retired and then-AD Bill Martin hired just what they wanted. However, it was going to take time, which apparently was never agreed to by those requesting the change. The year-over-year improvement at least warranted a fourth year, given the number of returning starters and the vast amount of youth on the defensive side of the ball. At the very worst, if Rodriguez failed to improve in year four, Hoke would still be available and Brandon could make the decision much earlier in the process than Jan. 11 so as to not hurt the incoming recruiting class.
This is nothing against Hoke as a man or as a coach. He represents everything a Michigan football coach should: a passion for Michigan football, previous coaching experience at Michigan, a history of success, hard-nosed recruiting, and unquestioned ethics. I grew up with his niece and nephew, proud that I had a connection to a Michigan coach during the glory years of the late 90s. I like the guy and think he will succeed at Michigan…eventually.
Unfortunately, I think this decision means another two or three years before we can expect to challenge for Big Ten titles. The past three years have been spent recruiting for the spread offense. Recruiting Denard Robinsons instead of Tom Bradys, Martavious Odoms instead of Braylon Edwards, Vincent Smiths instead of Tyrone Wheatleys, and Patrick Omamehs instead of Jake Longs. In short, Hoke will have to fit Rodriguez’s guys into a completely different system than what they were recruited for and have practiced in the past three years, which is exactly the issue that landed Rodriguez on the unemployment line after just three seasons.
Brandon said one of the pieces of criteria for the new coach is the ability to adapt his system. The biggest question Hoke will face early on is whether he can adapt his traditional pro-style offense to fit the skills of Robinson, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. If Robinson chooses to remain in Ann Arbor, this move could ultimately help his NFL potential by making him a more complete quarterback. Perhaps Hoke will bring back former UM quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler who developed John Navarre and Chad Henne, and in his most recent gig, Tim Tebow at Florida.
Regardless, it’s hard to imagine hiring Hoke as being an upgrade from keeping Rodriguez for a fourth year. Will 2011 yield better results with Hoke? It’s doubtful.
Next season’s Wolverines are going to be a good team no matter who is coaching, with 10 starters returning on each side of the ball and the addition of senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk who missed the entire year with an injury. The schedule sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State all at home and Penn State and Wisconsin off the schedule. A fourth year in Rodriguez’s system and a second-year starter in Robinson would have surely improved on its 33 points per game. And the defense would have been better with the return of Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, who missed the final five games, and simply because as the nation’s 110th-ranked total defense, there’s virtually nowhere to go but up.
A serious run at the Big Ten title was not out of the question for next season under Rodriguez, and with several top recruits including Demetrius Hart, who had committed to Rodriguez (and has since committed to Alabama) in the fold, the program was destined for success. It just didn’t happen quickly enough for an impatient and arrogant fan base.
Now, here we are with the irony of all ironies, with the same fans and boosters who were clamoring for change because nine wins a season wasn’t good enough now calling for a mulligan. The school was embarrassed the past week with a national coaching search which, at least on the outside, looked like a joke, because of a decision that leaves Brandon in a tough spot if the transition this time around turns out similar three-year results as the one he just ended. I don’t think we’ve become Notre Dame yet, but if that happens, we’re well on our way.
All that said, I hope Hoke proves to be the best possible option for Michigan football and goes out and wins the Big Ten championship in 2011 and restores a sense of pride and the air of ‘the Victors’ to Ann Arbor. He certainly knows Michigan traditions, the importance of beating Michigan State and Ohio State, and how to win in the Big Ten. While I can’t fault Rodriguez for lacking those attributes, it’s one area in which Hoke is an improvement. And who knows, maybe it means more than we think. Welcome back, Coach.