Posts Tagged ‘Bo Schembechler’

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Twelve times in the history of college football’s greatest rivalry have the Ohio State Buckeyes entered the annual season-ending showdown unbeaten. In nine of those they came away with defeat. Tomorrow will be lucky number 13 for the scarlet and gray, and with a school record 23-game winning streak Urban Meyer’s squad has its sights set on a national championship.

On paper it’s easy to see why the Bucks have had such success. They rank third nationally in points scored, eighth in points against, sixth in rushing yards, seventh in total offense, seventh in third down conversions, fourth in red zone percentage, sixth in rush defense, 12th in total defense, and second in sacks. Statistically, they’re about as complete a team as there is in the country. But there’s a reason they find themselves ranked third in the BCS standings entering the final week of the regular season: their strength of schedule.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12pm EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 127-23 (23-0 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell (9th season)
Last Season: 12-0 (8-0, 1st Leaders)
Last Meeting: OSU 26 – Michigan 21 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-45-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 31-20-4
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 23-18-3
Current Michigan Streak: Lost 1
Last Michigan Win: 2011

Michigan isn’t likely to help in that regard given that the Wolverines come in just 7-4, 3-4 in Big Ten play, having dropped three of their last for and four of their last six. Yet according to the Sagarin Ratings, Michigan (46th) is the third best team Ohio State has faced this season, behind only Wisconsin (4th) and Iowa (35th). Three Buckeye opponents are just downright terrible. California (117th) ranks near the bottom of the FBS; Purdue (157th) is behind several FCS schools; and Florida A&M (224th) is near the bottom of the FCS.

While Ohio State boasts an average winning margin of just over 30 points, the Bucks aren’t quite so invincible as it appears. Against teams ranked in the top 70 that winning margin is cut in third, to just over 20 points. Against teams ranked in the top 50, it drops to just 8.5, and both of those opponents were either tied or within one score in the fourth quarter.

Michigan falls within the top 50 and despite four losses has had a chance to win all but the Michigan State game down the stretch. The 15-point Vegas line may be too high.

Much has been made this week about the comparisons to 1969 when a 6-2 Michigan team upset a heavily favored unbeaten Ohio State squad. Comparatively, that Michigan team was better than this one, but the fact that the Wolverines pulled it off and did so again in 1993, ’95, and ’96 shows that anything can happen. Brady Hoke knows that which is why he played up the ’69 game this week, to instill confidence in a team that has lacked it the last few weeks.

Can Michigan pull off what would be an even greater upset than it was in ’69? Will Ohio State dominate as most are predicting? Or will the result lie somewhere in between – a great game that goes down to the final minutes? Honestly, all three are possible, but let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

The offense is what makes the Buckeyes go, averaging nearly 50 points per game. It all starts with quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. Miller’s improvement since Michigan’s win in 2011 has allowed the entire offense to keep expanding. He’s completing 67.7 percent of his passes, taking care of the football (only four interceptions), and averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Hyde missed the first three games of the season due to suspension but last week became the first 1,000-yard rusher of Urban Meyer’s career. He has 1,064 yards in eight games, averaging a whopping 7.7 yards per carry. He has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last six games.

Philly Brown and Devin Smith are talented receiving targets for Miller. Brown leads the Buckeyes with 49 receptions for 596 yards and nine touchdowns, while Smith has 40 for 591 and seven. Tight end Jeff Heuerman is the third leading receiver with 22 catches for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Freshman Dontre Wilson is the jack of all trades that Meyer loves. He has 28 carries for 226 yards and a touchdown as well as 21 receptions for 215 yards and two scores. He also averages 25.8 yards per kick return. Meyer likes to get the ball in his hands in space to use his athleticism.

The offensive line is a veteran group that has done a great job of paving the way for the running game and has also protected Miller, allowing just 13 sacks. It is led by senior left tackle and captain Jack Mewhort who has started 36 straight games.

The Buckeye offense is versatile enough to run spread or power and also utilizes a lot of tempo. Michigan’s defense has struggled against tempo this season – most notably against Indiana – and hasn’t seen an offense this talented. You can bet Greg Mattison will be prepared to at least slow the Buckeyes down. But if the Michigan offense isn’t able to string together drives and give the defense some rest it could be in for a long day.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks highly statistically in all areas except pass defense, but has been prone to giving up yards and points. Buffalo scored 20, Cal scored 34 – the most they scored all season against FBS opponents -, Northwestern scored 30, and Illinois scored 35.

The defense is led by linebacker Ryan Shazier who leads the team with 108 tackles, 47 more than the next best. He has 19.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

The line doesn’t have a single senior but is a very talented group that has a chance to help break the school’s single season sack record. The Bucks have 36 sacks so far and the school record is 47. End Noah Spence is the leader with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, Joey Bosa, has 5.5. The tackles, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett, have 7.5 combined.

The secondary has been the one unit that has been picked on this season. Cornerback Bradley Roby is the one that gets all the attention. He could have gone pro last season but came back and has had an up and down season. The safeties, Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett, are also veterans, but Bryant was lost for the season with a broken ankle against Wisconsin. That has certainly caused some of the problems in the secondary.

Michigan can move the ball on the Buckeyes if and only if Al Borges utilizes a quick passing game with short and intermediate routes from the start. Long drops will put Devin Gardner in the same position he has found himself in the past few weeks: in the face of pressure, resulting in either sacks or poor decisions.

The other third: Special Teams

Kicker Drew Basil has three years of experience as the starting kicker. He has made 8-of-9 field goals this season with a long of 45. Punter Cameron Johnson averages 43.5 yards per punt with 21 of 34 ending up inside the 20.

Prediction

There’s no doubt about it, Michigan needs to play a perfect game in order to win. Even then, it will need some Ohio State mistakes and a bit of luck as well. Gardner has to be smart with the ball, not throw it away as he has been prone to, and not lose unnecessary yards when faced with pressure. The offensive line has to call the right protections and give Gardner time. Derrick Green has to hit the holes hard and run with a purpose. Jeremy Gallon, Devin Funchess, and Drew Dileo have to catch everything thrown their way. The defense has to prevent the big play but also take the pounding from Hyde without breaking.

The chance of all of these things happening is extremely low. I do expect Michigan to play inspired football, hoping to recapture the magic of 1969, but that will only carry them so far. It will come down to execution and playcalling. Will Borges feature a short passing game early on to keep the linebackers back? If not, Gardner will be running for his life like he has the past few weeks. Can Mattison have his defense ready at the time of snap when OSU goes into its tempo offense, but at the same time defend both the edge and the thumping it will receive from Hyde?

How the first quarter goes will determine the outcome of this one. If Michigan can have some offensive success and get a stop or two early on the Wolverines will gain confidence that they can compete. If they turn the ball over, get a couple of three-and-outs, and fall behind early, the floodgates will open. I think Michigan hangs around just enough into the second half to give some hope but is simply overmatched when all is said and done.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

Inside the Numbers: Screw the numbers, Beat Ohio (State)

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013


(Bentley.umich.edu)

Michigan versus Ohio State. Maize and Blue versus Scarlet and Gray. The greatest rivalry in all of sports. No fancy nickname or trophy is needed to enhance the rivalry’s prestige. It is known simply as “The Game,” a term that implies that no athletic competition is better, more important, or more anticipated than the one played on the gridiron between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes each year in late November.

And, yet, this year, Michigan fans are dreading the 110th edition of “The Game.” Even worse, U-M fans are apathetic about it. Yes, they still have an interest in the game’s result. But the passion and fanatical excitement that usually accompanies that interest? Gone. Or diminished, at best.

Michigan fans finally have bailed on this season. They held onto hope for as long as they could that the Wolverines could right the ship, even after the Wolverines needed incredible plays just to eke out victories against Akron, Connecticut, and Northwestern—teams with a combined 9-23 record. But after U-M blew a 14-point halftime lead against Iowa to lose its third game in four weeks, fans let go of that hope.

To see the quantitative effect, go to Stubhub.com. Ticket prices for “The Game” have plummeted this month. In the summer, the cheapest ticket one could find for this Saturday was for $232, and the average ticket cost $380.38. Those prices made Michigan-Ohio State one of the ten hottest tickets of the college football season. However, this week, prices have dropped to as low as $60 because Michigan fans are selling their tickets en masse. They would rather allow Ohio State fans infiltrate Michigan Stadium than witness firsthand the beatdown that the Buckeyes likely will impose on the Wolverines.

While Michigan fans should support the team through thick and thin, their apathy is not misguided. No matter how one tries to analyze the numbers, whether this year’s statistics, the recent history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, or how teams perform as an underdog generally, all signs point to a game that most Wolverine fans will want to forget.

The duo of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde will be tough to stop, but the same could be said about Rex Kern and Jim Otis in 1969 (Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Ohio State enters this Saturday as the third-ranked team in the nation. The Buckeyes have won a school-record 23 straight games and have yet to experience defeat at the helm of Urban Meyer. In contrast, the Wolverines have been trending downwards. After an 11-2 record in Brady Hoke’s inaugural season in Ann Arbor, U-M is just 15-9 the past two years and has lost four of its last six contests.

On the field, Michigan’s defense has performed well most of the season, but Ohio State’s offense will be the most explosive and dynamic it will face. OSU has scored the third-most points and gained the seventh-most yards in the nation. Further, the Buckeyes have topped 30 points in all 11 games and scored at least 40 in all but two. To make matters worse for U-M, OSU runs an up-tempo offense. The last time Michigan’s defense faced an offense that lines up at such a rapid pace, it allowed the most points it has this season—47 to Indiana.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, many consider Ohio State’s defense to be a weak link, but that description is only proper if relative to the strength of OSU’s offense. The Buckeyes are ranked #8 in scoring defense and #12 in total defense. Ohio State’s defense will seem like a sideline-to-sideline roadblock to a Michigan offense that has averaged only 10.5 points and 200.75 total yards in regulation of its last four games. To compound the Wolverines’ problems, OSU employs one of the best pass rushes in college football, registering the second-most sacks in the country. This is likely that last thing that Michigan’s offensive line—ranked 110th in sacks allowed and dead last in tackles-for-loss allowed—wants to hear.

The statistics suggest undoubtedly that Ohio State is the better team. By far. Las Vegas sports books agree with that sentiment, too, setting the Buckeyes as a 15-point road favorite against Michigan. This is not unfamiliar territory for the Maize and Blue. This is the fourth time in the past six years that Ohio State has been a double-digit favorite against the Wolverines.

The good news for Michigan is that Vegas’ betting lines do not determine the outcome of games. Rather, they indicate the quality of two teams relative to one another and help determine which games a team should win and which games a team should lose. The bad news, though, is that Michigan has not won a game against Ohio State that it was supposed to lose in a long time—since 2000 to be exact. Also, Michigan is only 2-10 against the spread versus OSU since then and has not covered the spread against its rivals from Columbus since 2006. Given this trend, the odds that Michigan will not only cover the 15-point spread, but also win outright against the Buckeyes are bleak.

Additionally, under Hoke, Michigan has lacked the ability to upset opponents when given the rare opportunity to do so. In the 11 games in which his team was the underdog, Michigan has won only three times for a paltry winning percentage of 27.3. The Wolverines earned those upset victories against Notre Dame and Illinois in 2011 and Northwestern this season—although, Michigan was no more than a 4.5-point underdog in each.

To be fair, Michigan is not the only team with a poor winning percentage as an underdog. Most teams struggle to win these games. Otherwise, the people employed by Vegas sports books most likely would be pursuing another profession. As the following table indicates, since 2011, all but two Big Ten teams have lost a majority of the games in which Vegas deemed them an underdog:

B1G Schools’ Records as a Favorite and an Underdog Since 2011 – By School
School Overall Record Record as a Favorite Record as an Underdog
MICHIGAN 26-11 (70.3%) 23-3 (88.5%) 3-8 (27.3%)
Illinois 13-23 (36.1%) 12-7 (63.2%) 1-16 (5.9%)
Indiana 9-26 (25.7%) 7-5 (58.3%) 2-21 (8.7%)
Iowa 18-18 (50.0%) 16-8 (66.7%) 2-10 (16.7%)
Michigan State 28-10 (73.7%) 22-5 (81.5%) 6-5 (54.5%)
Minnesota 17-19 (47.2%) 10-2 (83.3%) 7-17 (29.2%)
Nebraska 27-11 (71.1%) 24-5 (82.8%) 3-6 (33.3%)
Northwestern 20-17 (54.1%) 14-3 (82.4%) 6-14 (30.0%)
Ohio State 29-7 (80.6%) 25-3 (89.3%) 4-4 (50.0%)
Penn State 23-13 (63.9%) 19-4 (82.6%) 4-9 (30.8%)
Purdue 14-23 (37.8%) 11-2 (84.6%) 3-21 (12.5%)
Wisconsin 28-11 (71.8%) 27-5 (84.4%) 1-6 (14.3%)

However, not all underdogs are the same. Small underdogs have a significantly better chance to win than an underdog projected to lose by double digits. This should not be groundbreaking to most. The following table provides, since 2011, how often Big Ten underdogs have won based on the value of the spread:

B1G Schools’ Records as an Underdog Since 2011 – By Spread Value
0.0 to +3.0 +3.5 to +7.0 +7.5 to +10.0 +10.5 to +14.0 +14.5 or More
22-21 (51.2%) 9-34 (20.9%) 8-25 (24.2%) 1-17 (5.6%) 2-40 (4.8%)

There have been three different types of Big Ten underdogs recently. First, teams that were an underdog by a field goal or less actually have won more often than they lost. Second, teams that were an underdog by more than field goal but no more than 10 points won just more than one-fifth of their games. Michigan has been no exception under Hoke. U-M is 2-2 in games in which it was a three-point underdog or less, 1-5 in games in which it was a 3.5-point to 10-point underdog.

The third type, which unfortunately applies to Michigan this Saturday, consists of teams that were projected to lose by more than 10 points. These teams win outright only once in a blue moon. Since 2011, these underdogs have won only three times in 60 chances. Here are those three monumental upsets:

B1G Underdogs (10.5 Points or More) that Won Outright Since 2011
Date Underdog Opponent Spread Score
Oct. 29, 2011 Minnesota Iowa +14.5 22-21
Nov. 5, 2011 Northwestern Nebraska +17.5 28-25
Oct. 19, 2013 Minnesota Northwestern +12.5 20-17

This is only the sixth time since at least the mid-1990s—and likely much earlier than then—that Michigan has been this type of underdog. In that span, the Wolverines have pulled off the shocking upset only once, but it was not under the direction of Hoke. Instead, it occurred in Lloyd Carr’s final game as Michigan’s head coach, when the Wolverines beat Urban Meyer- and Tim Tebow-led Florida, 41-35, in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, despite being a 10.5-point underdog.

Nevertheless, this was not the only time that Maize and Blue pulled off such a big upset. The 2008 Capital One Bowl may be fresher in the minds of Michigan fans, but the other one was slightly more notable. On November 22, 1969, the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes arrived in Ann Arbor with a then-school-record 22-game winning streak to play Michigan. Prior to that year, OSU had beaten U-M in 11 of the past 15 games of the rivalry, including a 50-14 rout in 1968. Very few outside the U-M locker room, if any, expected Michigan, a 17-point underdog, to beat a team considered by some at the time to be the best college football team in the history of the sport.

It will take a monumental effort to pull off what the 1969 team did (Bentley)

The rest is history. Michigan manhandled Ohio State for all 60 minutes, relying on seven OSU turnovers en route to a 24-12 victory, which was coined by ABC play-by-play announcer Bill Flemming as “the upset of the century.” The historic upset sent Michigan to the Rose Bowl, prevented Ohio State from clinching its second straight national championship, and sparked the legendary Ten Year War between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. It is regarded by many as the most important win in Michigan football history.

So what does this mean entirely for the 2013 Michigan football team with “The Game” only three days away? It means that the Michigan fan base does not believe the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes. It means that the statistics do not believe that the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes. It means that Vegas sports books do not believe that the Wolverines can upset the Buckeyes.

Guess what? They are all probably right. The odds that the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes are slim to none.

So despite the fact the author of this column has preached for weeks that the truth lies within the numbers, the Michigan players need to walk out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel at noon this Saturday and yell collectively, “Screw them! Screw the numbers!” They need to remember 1969. They need to remember that, although they may not be as talented as that 1969 Michigan team, the Wolverines have stunned the Buckeyes before as a double-digit underdog. They need to remember that history has a tendency to repeat itself.

And, most importantly, they need to #BeatOhio.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Ohio State

  1. This Saturday will be the third straight game that Michigan will be an underdog. Two weeks ago, U-M was a 2.5-point underdog against Northwestern, and, last week, it was a six-point underdog to Iowa. This is the first time since the final three games of the 2010 season against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Mississippi State that the Wolverines have been an underdog in three consecutive contests.
  1. Both Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor added interceptions to their season totals. Countess became the 14th Wolverine to pick five passes in a season—the most by a U-M player since Todd Howard intercepted six passes in 2000. Taylor’s fourth interception meant that Michigan has two players with at least four picks in the same season for the first time since 1998.
  1. As this section has mentioned almost weekly, Jeremy Gallon has been climbing up Michigan’s receiving lists. Gallon has 1,109 receiving yards this season, needing only 66 yards on Saturday to have the second-most, single-season total in school history. In addition, Gallon and Devin Funchess have 1,795 combined receiving yards in 2013. If they add 262 more to that total by season’s end, they will be the most prolific single-season receiver duo in U-M history.

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett

We played like we should have all season – with emotion

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013


There isn’t much hope for Saturday’s game against Ohio State, unless of course it’s hoping for a miracle. Michigan is near the bottom of the Big Ten Legends Division, having only the poor Wildcats of Northwestern beneath them. Going into Saturday the Maize and Blue are looking pretty downtrodden and the gridiron cry for this week seems to be ‘Let the opposition be merciful and our potential be miraculously fulfilled.’

Will it happen? Well, it’s not impossible.

Two decades ago, Michigan played the Bucks and came away with an improbable win. Going in they were 6-4 – not exactly an impressive or fear-inducing number for the fifth-ranked Buckeyes. But when the game clock expired on that cold November day the score read 28-0 and team with the goose egg was Ohio State. The Wolverines had pulled off a stunner.

Can the 2013 team pull off such a victory? They’re 7-4 and the Buckeyes are third in the nation. So at the first glance the circumstances are similar to those in ’93.

Tyrone Wheatley rushed for 105 yards in the first half of the 1993 game (AP photo)

The coach of our rival all those years ago? John Cooper, the man who is remembered not for his worthy credentials on the field, but for his inability to beat ‘That Team Up North’.

Urban Meyer isn’t likely to suffer such infamy, though time will tell. For all we know, this could be the beginning of the reverse of fortune for Michigan in this time-honored rivalry. But if it is, going by the results of the early ’90s game, the Wolverines are going to have to put forth an excellent defensive game.

Four interceptions helped to lift the home team over their highly touted opponent that day, as well as an impressive 100-yard game by Tyrone Wheatley in only two quarters. It also helped that Ohio State used two different quarterbacks, and the one that Cooper stuck with saw his passes in the hands of Michigan defenders about as often as his teammates’.

Will Braxton Miller, who has thrown for 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions, make the same poor decisions and give up the football? It could happen. But what’s more likely is that the problems Michigan has faced all year will not be washed away by the fervent and inspired play of their defense.

Devin Gardner’s touchdown to interception ratio is 17:11. The Wolverines are 100th in the nation in rushing. The ’93 Buckeyes? Their rushing game was nearly as ineffective and led to situations where they were forced to pass. Being transparent and passing poorly, Ohio State suffered.

This year however, the Buckeyes are third in the nation in rushing yards, and it’s unlikely that they will make a mistake like accidentally downing the ball on a punt near their own red zone. But stranger things have happened in football than an underdog victory.

I think then-head coach Gary Moeller said it best at the time: “It was probably our lack of success during the season that helped in our victory. We played like we should have all season – with emotion.”

If Michigan can do that, maybe, just maybe they’ll be play an outstanding game and redeem the season.

Michigan-Indiana game preview

Friday, October 18th, 2013


The Michigan-Indiana series has been one-sided since it began back in 1900 with Michigan holding a 52-9 all-time record and wins in the last 17 matchups dating back to 1987. But that doesn’t mean it has been void of big moments. In fact, if not for perhaps the most famous play in Michigan history, Indiana’s win total would be in double digits.

“I have never seen anything like this in all my 40 years of covering Michigan football! Anthony Carter, the human torpedo caught the pass…Bo Schembechler is looking up, he’s looking up at Fielding H. Yost in football’s valhalla and Bo Schembechler says, ‘thank you Fielding Yost, thank you Fielding Yost for that one!’ Look at the crowd! You cannot believe it! Michigan throws a 45-yard touchdown pass, Johnny Wangler to Anthony Carter will be heard until another hundred years of Michigan football is played!”

That was the goosebump-inducing call by Bob Ufer following the final play of the 1979 Michigan-Indiana game. Thirty-four years later John Wangler’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Carter to win the game remains at or near the top of the list when it comes to greatest plays in Michigan history. But with this year’s Michigan team struggling, the last thing anyone wants is a down-to-the-wire game against a 3-3 Indiana squad.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30pm EST – Big Ten Network
Indiana Head Coach: Kevin Wilson (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 8-22 (all at Penn State)
Offensive Coordinator: Seth Littrell (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Ekeler/Doug Mallory (3rd season)
Returning Starters: 18 (10 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 4-8 (2-6, 5th Leaders)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Indiana 35 (2010)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 52-9
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 29-5
Current Michigan Streak: Won 17
Last Indiana Win: 1987
Last Indiana Win at UM: 1967

The Hoosiers are a curious case with a high-powered offense and no defense. They opened the season with a 73-35 win over FCS Indiana State. While the 73 points scored are impressive, the 35 points allowed are the second most ISU has scored against Division 1 opponents this season (they put up 70 against Division II Quincy University).

In Week 2, Indiana dropped a 41-35 contest to Navy, allowing 444 rushing yards in the process. The Hoosiers responded the following week with a 42-10 thumping of Bowling Green – which beat Akron 31-14 – and then got pounded by Missouri, 45-28. The Tigers racked up 623 yards of offense in the game.

Indiana followed that up with a big 44-24 win over Penn State, the Hoosiers’ first ever win over the Nittany Lions in 17 tries. It was much closer than the score indicates, however, as IU held just a 21-17 lead through three quarters. They scored 21 straight in a span of four minutes to open the fourth and pull away. Last week, Indiana’s high-powered attack was held in check by Michigan State’s juggernaut of a defense, resulting in a 42-28 loss.

If the trend continues IU should be in line for a win this week, having gone win, loss, win, loss, win, loss so far this season. Does Indiana have what it takes to win for the first time in Ann Arbor in 46 years? Or will Michigan bounce back from a disappointing quadruple overtime loss to Penn State? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Indiana offense: When Indiana has the ball

As mentioned above, Indiana has an explosive offense, led by a passing game that ranks 13th nationally. True freshman quarterback Nate Sudfeld ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 267.3 passing yards per game. He trails only Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, who averages 278.7. Sudfeld has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and just six interceptions and has eclipsed 300 passing yards in three of the six games.

Michigan State held him to a freshman-like performance, applying constant pressure to keep him out of rhythm and holding him to just 137 yards on 14-of-30 completions and no touchdowns. He averages 32 pass attempts per game and since the season opener when he split time his average has been 35. Hackenberg is the only quarterback in the Big Ten who has thrown or completed more, but Sudfeld has a better completion percentage and two more touchdowns.

Like Allen Robinson last week, Cody Latimer is one of the top receivers in the Big Ten (IUHoosiers.com)

Sudfeld isn’t the only quarterback who plays, however. Sophomore Tre Roberson played most of the second half of 2011 and started last season as the starter before breaking his leg in the second game and missing the rest of the season. Now, Sudfeld has taken over the starting role, but Roberson still sees the field. As a more versatile quarterback, he provides a good change of pace from Sudfeld and had better numbers against MSU last week, completing 11-of-17 passes for 122 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He’s also the team’s third leading rusher with 97 yards, but has the second most rushing touchdowns with four.

The leading rusher is sophomore Tevin Coleman who has rushed for 557 yards on 91 carries – 6.1 yards per carry – and eight touchdowns. He has two 100-yard games, both in wins, and has scored at least one touchdown in all six games. Last week, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry against Michigan State, but that was aided by a 64-yard run. Remove that and he gained just 15 yards on his other 14 carries. His backfield mate is senior Stephen Houston who led the team in rushing each of the last two years. But he lost the job to Coleman and has gained just 230 yards through six games so far this season, 155 of those coming against Bowling Green.

With a passing game as explosive as this, one would expect some talented receivers and that’s what Indiana has. Junior Cody Latimer ranks second in the Big Ten in receptions per game (5.8) and third in yards per game (90.7). He has caught 35 passes – by comparison, Jeremy Gallon has caught 31 – for 544 yards and three touchdowns so far. He had three straight games with at least 136 yards before Michigan State held him to 58 yards on seven receptions. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season.

Junior Shane Wynn and senior Kofi Hughes each have over 300 receiving yards as well, 342 and 316, respectively. Both have four touchdowns but Wynn is more of a big-play guy, leading the team with a 19-yard average per reception. Senior tight end Ted Bosler leads the Hoosiers with five touchdown receptions.

The offensive line is a bit banged up. Coming into the season, four starters were back, but right tackle Peyton Eckert, right guard Dan Feeney, and Feeney’s replacement David Kaminski are all out with season ending injuries. To make matters worse, Eckert’s replacement, Ralston Evans, and another right guard, Jake Reed, both suffered injuries last week. Both are expected to play this week, however.

Michigan offense vs Indiana defense: When Michigan has the ball

Indiana defensive coordinator Doug Mallory returns to his alma mater, having played for Michigan under Bo Schembechler  from 1984-87. He’s also the brother of Michigan secondary coach Curt Mallory. While the offense puts up a lot of points and yards, Mallory’s defense allows a lot of points and yards. The Hoosiers allow 32.8 points per game, which is better than only Purdue in the conference. In terms of yards, no one has allowed more than the 456 Indiana give sup per game. Four of the six opponents have scored at least 35 points and three have scored over 40. Not coincidentally, those three resulted in losses for the Hoosiers.

The rush defense is particularly bad, giving up 216.5 yards per game, which is last in the Big Ten and 109th nationally. Yes, some of that is a result of facing Navy’s unique rushing attack which gained 444 yards, but Missouri and Michigan State both had big games on the ground as well.

Defensive end John Laihinen leads the Hoosiers in sacks (IUHoosiers.com)

Junior strong side linebacker David Cooper, who started all 12 games last season, leads the team with 45 tackles. He has one for loss and half a sack. Freshman middle linebacker  TJ Simmons has 41 tackles and 1.5 for loss, while freshman weakside linebacker Forisse Hardin has 39 tackles, 1.5 for loss.

The line is led by sophomore defensive end Nick Mangieri who leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss and ranks second with 2.5 sacks to go along with an interception and a forced fumble. On the other side, redshirt junior defensive end John Laihinen leads the Hoosiers with 3.5 sacks. In the middle, Bobby Richardson and Raphael Green have combined for 38 tackles and 3.5 for loss.

The secondary does have some talent but it hasn’t translated to much. Junior safety Tim Bennett is tied with Cooper for the team lead in tackles (45) and he also leads the nation with 14 pass breakups and 15 passes defended. Of his 45 tackles, 35 are solo, which leads the Big Ten. Fellow safeties, junior Mark Murphy and redshirt senior Greg Heban are both tied for 12th in the Big Ten in tackles per game (7.2). Sophomore cornerback Michael Hunter has 25 tackles, 2.5 for loss, six passes defended and an interception.

Although it sounds like the Hoosier defenders have a lot of nice stats, it’s because they’re on the field a lot and not very good. The Indiana defense has been on the field for 501 plays, 21 more than the next closest defense in the Big Ten, Northwestern, and 85 more than Michigan’s. That’s essentially a game more than Michigan despite the Wolverines having played an extra four overtimes.

The other third: Special teams

Redshirt senior kicker Mitch Ewald has made all three field goal attempts this season with a long of just 27. In short, the Hoosiers practically consider a field goal a turnover this season. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten each of the past three seasons combining to make 44-of-55 with two blocked. Sophomore punter Erich Toth averages 41.3 yards per punt, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten.

In the return game, Coleman and Houston handle most of the kicks and average 18.5 yards per return, while Wynn handles the punt returns and has returned one for a touchdown.

Prediction

Coming off a road loss, Michigan returns to the friendly confines of the Big House where they have yet to lose under Brady Hoke. With a bye week following this one and a brutal five-game stretch after that, a win is imperative this week, and a team with no defense is just what Michigan’s struggling offense needs.

Missouri quarterback James Franklin gave Michigan the blueprint to beating Indiana as a similar quarterback to Devin Gardner. Franklin threw for 343 yards and rushed for 61 more and the Hoosiers couldn’t contain him. Al Borges would be wise to call Gardner’s number a bit more often in this one than he has in the past few games simply because IU can’t stop it. Then let Gardner pick apart the IU secondary with Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess.

In addition, if there was ever a game for Fitzgerald Toussaint to go off it’s this one. The Indiana linebackers don’t do a very good job of sealing off cutback lanes and Toussaint likes to cut everything back. Michigan State ran the ball down their throat with one 100-yard rusher and another just eight yards shy of 100.

Defensively, Michigan will give up some yards but with Jake Ryan back look for Greg Mattison to dial up the pressure and try to keep Sudfeld off balance like MSU did last week.

It will be a close game through the first half with Indiana challenging into the third quarter, but Michigan will pull away in the fourth for its 20th straight home win and 18th straight victory over the Hoosiers.

Michigan 45 – Indiana 28

Thirty games in, where does Hoke stand?

Friday, September 27th, 2013


Last Saturday marked the 30th game of Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, and while it wasn’t pretty it resulted in a win. As we conclude the first of two bye weeks for Hoke’s squad this season it’s the perfect time to examine his first 30 games and how they stack up against the other coaches in Michigan history. First, let’s take a look at wins.

Hoke has won 77 percent of his games so far and 75 percent of his Big Ten contests. His 23 wins are the fourth most during that time span, behind Fielding Yost’s 29, Bo Schembechler’s 26, and Gary Moeller and Fritz Crisler’s 24. It is one ahead of Lloyd Carr’s 22 and ten better than his predecessor Rich Rodriguez.

Digging even further, we find that Hoke’s four wins over the three main rivals – Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame – are third only to Fritz Crisler’s seven and Gary Moeller’s five. Lloyd Carr and Bennie Oosterbaan each also won four games over the three main rivals in their first 30 games.

Yost obviously coached in a far different era, his first season being 110 years before Hoke took over. Schembechler and Crisler can be the most comparable to Hoke’s situation, having both taken over teams that had two losing seasons in the previous four. In Bo’s case, it was a program that had really been struggling for the previous decade. That he was able to have such immediate success, going to two Rose Bowls in his first three seasons, is a major reason why Bo is so revered. Moeller took over from Bo and had been on his staff for the majority of Bo’s tenure, so his first three seasons were mostly just an extension of his predecessor.

While Hoke has one more victory in his first 30 games than Carr, it is important to note that Carr won his next seven and the national championship, so unless Hoke does the same, he will fall behind Carr in the near future. Another item worth noting is that Hoke is the only coach other than Yost to not lose a single home game in his first 30 games. Schembechler lost just one – a 40-17 loss to 13th-ranked Missouri. Hoke is currently 17-0 in Michigan Stadium.

Now that we have established that Hoke ranks up there with the greats in Michigan history in victories through his first 30 games, let’s take a look at one of the areas Michigan has been struggling with this season: turnovers.


Turnover records don’t go far enough to compare turnovers from the Schembechler era backwards, but we can compare Hoke to the previous three regimes. As you can see above, Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over 61 times – just over two per game – which is second most behind the 66 given up during Rich Rodriguez’s first 30 games. Carr’s teams were better at taking care of the football, but Hoke still won one more game, while Moeller’s gave it up 16 percent fewer times.

One hypothesis as to why Hoke’s teams have turned it over more than Moeller’s and Carr’s is that he has many of the same players that Rodriguez’s staff recruited and coached. But Hoke’s first season wasn’t bad with 22 giveaways (16 interceptions and six fumbles). By comparison, Carr’s first two seasons had 23 turnovers each. Last season the number ballooned to 27 and this season Michigan is on pace for 36. The pace isn’t likely to continue, but unless they improve drastically the rest of the season it will be another large season total.

I think, rather than blaming it on Rodriguez’s recruits/players, the type of quarterback Michigan has had the past few years is the main culprit. Hoke has talked several times about Devin Gardner’s athleticism being both a strength and a weakness because it can create big plays out of nothing but also lead to mistakes that shouldn’t be made simply because other quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to make them. The same can be said for Denard Robinson.

Hoke's first 30 games are right on par but if Gardner's turnover woes don't improve he could fall behind (David Butler II, USA Today)

Of Michigan’s 12 turnovers this season nine have been interceptions. Of the 61 turnovers under Hoke, 44 have been interceptions and just 17 have been fumbles. Conversely, of the 55 under Carr, 28 were interceptions and 27 were fumbles, while of the 51 under Moeller, 27 were interceptions and 24 were fumbles. In other words, the quarterbacks – Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Brian Griese, and Scott Dreisbach – were more traditional quarterbacks who took better care of the ball.

In addition, the disparity can’t be chalked up to more passing and less running. Moeller’s teams averaged 290 passes and 565 runs in his first three seasons, while Carr’s averaged 343 passes and 557 runs and Hoke’s have averaged 308 passes and 521 runs.

Fumbles are an odd thing in football. Just because a player fumbles it doesn’t mean it results in a turnover. Carr’s teams fumbled 59 times but only 27 of those (46 percent) were turnovers. Moeller’s fumbled 41 times and 24 (58 percent) were recovered by the opponent. Hoke’s teams so far have fumbled 44 times and 17 (39 percent) have been turnovers. So the ball has bounced Michigan’s way under Hoke, but the quarterbacks have been more careless with the ball.

It’s also important to go back and look at Hoke’s turnover record at his previous head coaching stops, Ball State (2003-08) and San Diego State (2009-10). Over the course of those eight seasons Hoke’s teams averaged just 18.25 turnovers per season, which is right on par with Moeller’s years at Michigan.

So what can we make of all of this? Although Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over more than Carr’s, he has one more win to show for it at this point. But nobody is going to argue that this team is as talented as Carr’s 1997 squad. Fumbles are largely a random event, and in this case, the luck has been mostly on Hoke’s side, but the quarterbacks Hoke has had are different types of quarterbacks than those that Carr and Moeller had. And Hoke’s history is one of fundamentals and taking care of the football, so it’s not likely that the current turnover woes will continue much longer.

Last Saturday was Gardner’s ninth career start, which means he’s still essentially a first year signal caller. As he continues to mature and get more experience under his belt his decision making will improve and he’ll learn that sometimes simply throwing the ball away is better than trying to be Superman. He has two-thirds of a season remaining in 2013 and a full year in 2014, and any bit of improvement in ball security will significantly improve Hoke’s chances of winning more games before the Wolverines return to the same type of quarterback Moeller and Carr had: less risk, less reward, but more consistent.

Gardner is a very smart kid and despite his recent struggles he will bounce back and provide far more thrilling moments than bad ones, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Michigan is in good hands under Hoke and he’ll help guide Gardner through his woes.

It was that a coach didn’t have confidence in his defense

Thursday, December 27th, 2012


Michigan and South Carolina don’t share a field very often, though both programs have been around since the late nineteenth century. Likely it was distance, along with different conference play, and the Big Ten’s love of playing Pac-10 schools that makes this only the third meeting between the Gamecocks and the Wolverines.

The only other two meetings were played in the eighties, when Bo was still the head coach at Michigan and Jim Carlen (1980) and Joe Morrison (’85) were calling the shots at S.C. The second matchup was more or less a blowout by the Wolverines, but the inaugural meeting was one to remember, though it’s likely that the Maize and Blue offer their remembrances with a rather imposing garnish of sour grapes.

1980: South Carolina 17 – Michigan 14

Anthony Carter caught two touchdowns against South Carolina in 1980

Michigan went into the third game of the 1980 season a solid favorite against its newly acquainted southern opponent. And as expected, the Wolverines got off to a good start putting up a pair of touchdowns thanks to the sure-handed Anthony Carter. Michigan held the Gamecocks to a field goal before both teams headed for the tunnel to prepare for the second half, which was went the tides turned.

On its first possession, Michigan marched down the field to just inside the ten. Then came the blunder, a Stan Edwards fumble into the endzone recovered by South Carolina. The Gamecocks countered with a swing of their own, only they landed the blow with the help of soon to be Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers – the first in Gamecock history. Michigan 14 – South Carolina 10.

On Michigan’s next drive, Schembechler made a decision to attempt the fourth down conversion on his own 29-yard line. They were stopped short. Carolina ball. Touchdown. Game over.

Bo took the blame for the loss, saying “It was that a coach didn’t have confidence in his defense…we should have punted.”

The Wolverines would go on to win the Big Ten Championship, garner a Rose Bowl victory against Washington, and end up No. 4 in the final rankings with a 10-2 record. While Bo took the blame for not trusting his defense, the defense did not allow a single touchdown the final 22 quarters of the season. But that filed fourth down attempt that led to the Gamecocks’ winnings score and one of Michigan’s seven losses in 28 games against SEC opponents likely still has Bo turning in his grave.

1985: Michigan 34 – South Carolina 3

The second faceoff between the two teams washed some of the bitterness from the mouths of Michigan fans. Jamie Morris was the 15th-ranked Wolverines’ prolific rusher, and continued his dominance against South Carolina during his sophomore year. Quarterback Jim Harbaugh had a tremendous day also, helping the Wolverines put up 34 points. However, it was also the defense which caused two fumbles, and intercepted twice (once on the final play) to solidify the win for Michigan in Columbia.

This year will mark the first time the teams have meet in nearly thirty years, and the only time they have faced in a bowl game. Since the series is tied there is motivation on the part of both teams to take a one win advantage, but it’s more likely that both schools want show that since two of their losses came against opponents ranked No. 1 and 2 (granted the two teams the Wolverines played are now to face off in the national championship, but S.C.’s losses to LSU and Florida aren’t exactly embarrassing) the quality of their team is not to be underestimated. This should be one to mirror the 1980 struggle, not the lopsided victory five years later.

Michigan vs Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 23rd, 2012


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
12pm EST  -  ABC
______________

Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (1st season)
Coaching Record: 11-0 (115-23 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell
Returning Starters: 19 (9 offense, 10 defense)
Last Season: 6-7 (3-5)
Last Meeting: Michigan 40 – Ohio State 34 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 58-44-6
In Columbus: Michigan leads 27-24-2
In Ohio Stadium: Ohio State leads 23-21-1
Current Streak: Michigan 1

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.

Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer face off for the first time

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.
Rushing Yards: 121 – Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in career rushing yards. With 200, he will pass Anthony Thomas for 2nd. With 16, he will pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 47 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Receiving Yards: 63 – Roy Roundtree will pass Jason Avant for 8th in career receiving yards. With 85 he will pass Marquise Walker for 7th. With 100 he will pass Tai Streets for 6th. With 126 he will pass Mario Manningham for 5th. With 133 he will pass David Terrell for 4th.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will pass Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 2 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Prediction

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

They were passionate enemies to be sure

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012


Woody was the titan from the Buckeye state, and Bo a protégé working his way up the ranks, but now the two are synonymous with one of the most touted rivalries in all of football, and one that is as zealous as it is old. It started in the 1800s in a bitter dispute over the state boundary then known as the Toledo Strip. Both states claimed the territory for themselves, each sending troops to defend it. And while no blood was shed over the matter the clash remained a sore point in the history of the states that neither particularly cared to dissolve into goodwill. Ohio was conceded the portion of land, and Michigan was compensated with a much larger, but also much more remote piece of property now known as the Upper Peninsula.

Despite being bitter rivals, Bo and Woody held a tremendous amount of respect for one another

But it would be sixty years before the two states would herald the two teams that would draw such accented hatred for one another. In 1897, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes faced off for the first time, and after World War I would continue to play each and every year until the saga was built on more than a half century of fervent clashes. No one could have guessed, however, that the matchup would achieve the status of an ongoing war, and that it would have its very own Benedict Arnold.

Bo Schembechler had worked under Woody Hayes for several years at Ohio State when his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, asked him to be the head coach of its football program. Woody, not wanting to see him go, told him that he would assume the role under the helm after he had retired, a date which he thought would roll around in a handful of years. But Bo didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and packed his bags and headed south to what would become a stepping stone to his greatest achievement, and a role that would cement his status in football lore.

In 1969 an Ohio man was crowned the sovereign head of Michigan football to the sound of a thousand freshly stacked papers headlined, “Bo Who?”.  A rather lackluster start for what would embed itself into Wolverine and Buckeye history alike in a few short months.

Coming into the 1969 game Michigan was still licking its wounds from the year before, as it is naturally hard to console any embarrassment caused to the ego without being given a shot to redeem the thing that precipitated it. In the case of Bo’s first team it was the memory of the outrageously unsympathetic two point conversion attempt made by Hayes when his Buckeyes were up 50-14 very late in the fourth quarter. It didn’t matter that the extra points weren’t converted, and it surely didn’t help that in the aftermath Woody is said to have replied upon being asked about his decision that he went for two “because I couldn’t go for three.” The attempt was one aimed at humiliation, and it served its purpose. Thus it was with the smell of fall lingering in the air, and a season of reminders of what had been a spit in the face to a down and out opponent, that the Wolverines had come to face their shot at revenge. The enemy however, had only gotten stronger.

Bo bested his mentor in their first meeting in 1969, setting off the Ten Year War

Arriving at the gates of the Big House, the Buckeyes were an impressive force having won 22 straight games and averaging more than 500 yards of offense. If Michigan was to beat the Scarlet and Gray they were going to have to play as they had in the four games leading up to the meeting in which they scored an average of 45 points. Needless to say they were underdogs. Yet they were also the best kind, those with immense potential and an outlet to prove it.

There were over a hundred thousand fans packed into the stadium that day to see student face off against teacher, and they were treated to a show. Ohio State ran the kickoff back close to the mid-field line and continued to march down to just outside the ten before coming upon a fourth and two. They went for it, the refs marked it, and it was short. Michigan’s ball, but they did nothing.

The Buckeyes put up the first points of the game but missed the point after. Michigan matched the score and put the ball through the uprights. Not to be outdone, Ohio State scored again, and again cannot convert the two-point conversion. The Wolverines were not to be discouraged and put up a touchdown of their own, retaking the lead. On their next possession they ran the punt back to Ohio State’s doorstep and scored two plays later. Then, on their last possession before halftime, they attempted a field goal. It was good. 24-12 Michigan at the half.

And so it stays, the crowd counting down to the victory of the century and the dawning of what would become one of the greatest decades in football for the two programs. It was the era of the Big 2, and the Little 8. The series went back and forth until 1974 when Ohio State won twice in a row before losing in three straight matchups to the Wolverines. The pupil/mentor rivalry couldn’t last forever though and Woody’s angry foul at the 1978 season ending bowl game against Clemson, when he hit an opposing player on the chin after an interception looked to seal the win for the Tigers, also sealed his fate. He resigned as head coach shortly after, but Bo continued to lead the Wolverines for another eleven years until he retired.

They were passionate enemies to be sure, but they also held a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Not feeling well, Hayes insisted on delivering an introduction speech for Schembechler at a banquet in Dayton. He did, and passed away the next day. Bo, not to be outdone in regards to the man he so revered and the rivalry he loved so much, passed away the day before the first-ranked Buckeyes hosted the second-ranked Wolverines in 2006.

While Ohio State triumphed that night it was evident by the signs hoisted in the air by sworn enemies that both sides grieved the loss of a coach who had cared so deeply, and had been so instrumental in making the rivalry what it was. Because the truth of the matter is that as much as Michigan hates Ohio State, and as much as the feeling is reciprocated, both teams want to face the other at its best. They want the game not to mean something. They want it to mean everything.

What stands now is the opportunity for the rivalry to be reinstated after two decades of lopsided streaks, the Cooper era, and then the late Carr-Rodriguez debacle. Can Hoke and Meyer bring The Game to the height of its glory, and perhaps a few back-to-back installments to make things doubly interesting? Surly, this can’t be asking too much. Not for the fans who cheer year in and year out, who scold those who don’t believe that ten seconds is enough time to make a come back, and who hate the sound of the silence after a loss just as much as the ecstatic cries from the other side after a win. A true rivalry is about history, and all of those who tune in each game day to see whether today is the day for it.

Back to the way it was: Ohio State-Michigan feels like it used to

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


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 passing shook the rivalry and the Michigan program

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.

Tim Biakabutuka's record performance ruined OSU's perfect season in 1995 (Larry E. Wright)

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.”

Charles Woodson helped keep Michigan's perfect season intact against OSU in 1997

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.

They found a fertile field ready for shuckin’

Thursday, October 25th, 2012


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.

Michigan beat Nebraska in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl

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.

Michigan was treated like royalty after its 6-6 tie in Lincoln in 1911

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.

The 1962 game was the first of Nebraska's two wins over 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.