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He Is Who We Thought He Was

Thursday, March 10th, 2011


It’s never a good thing when your rival goes down in flames. We may root for them to lose every now and then (okay, or more times than not). We may be glad when they lose out on a top recruit. But when their coach is outed for NCAA violations, we shouldn’t rejoice, right? Yet, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s bombshell dropped by Yahoo that Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel was made aware of NCAA violations regarding some current players and did nothing with it, I’m met with mixed emotions.

On one hand, it’s bad for the rivalry and bad for the Big Ten Conference as a whole, but on the other hand, it’s been a long time coming.

For the past decade, college football fans that don’t see the world through scarlet and grey lenses have known something just wasn’t right with the guy. The writing was on the wall, if only with laundry detergent* instead of Sharpie. He’s been deified by those in Buckeye Nation as a supreme bastion of integrity, but there’s a reason others dubbed him “Teflon Tressel.” Even though the number of violations involving high-profile players that have occurred under his watch could rival those of any other coach in the country, he always maintained a pristine reputation. Until Tuesday.

Yahoo’s piece by Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel finally revealed enough to perhaps permanently tarnish that reputation. And he didn’t make it any better with the spin job he put on during last night’s televised press conference.

Most expected him to admit wrongdoing, apologize for it, and take his medicine. Instead, he admitted wrongdoing, said he has a tendency to talk in circles, and then talked in circles.

If you haven’t read the emails that form the backbone of this revelation, his explanations probably seemed at least somewhat understandable. He received a startling email from an attorney hinting at involvement of some of his players with the subject of a federal drug trafficking investigation, was so scared and concerned that he didn’t know what to do, decided he didn’t want to break confidentiality and interfere with a federal investigation, so he did nothing. Except that wasn’t actually his reaction.

“Thanks [name redacted]…I will get on it ASAP…Happy Easter to you as well !! Go Bucks !! jt” read his reply to the initial email on April 2.

I’m no expert on email lingo of middle-aged football coaches, but common sense tells me that when you’re truly “scared” and “concerned” about the contents of an email, your reply wouldn’t include multiple exclamation points, and “Go Bucks.”

His reply suggests a “buddy-buddy” relationship with the attorney, a “thanks for giving me the heads up before anybody else found out” reaction.

(AP Photo)

Nowhere in the initial conversation did the word confidential appear, nor was it hinted at. In fact, the attorney said “Just passing this on to you,” which indicates it wasn’t intended to be confidential.

Two weeks passed before the attorney emailed Tressel back with more detailed information and stated that the information was confidential. Tressel had two weeks before confidentiality was requested to report it to somebody (I mean, he did say “I will get on it ASAP”), but as he said in last night’s press conference, “In my mind, I couldn’t think of who that best to be.”

Huh?

You received information which at that point wasn’t confidential, that some of your current players were engaging in what you knew were NCAA violations and you couldn’t think of who to report it to? Seriously? This coming from the coach of a program that has self-reported more minor violations than any other school in the nation the past 10 years ?

His next response was even more puzzling.

“I hear you !! It is unbelievable !! Thanks for your help…keep me posted as to what I need to do if anything. I will keep pounding these kids hoping they grow up…jt”

When thinking of who he could possibly report this to, his boss, school compliance officials, or even the university’s attorney apparently didn’t come to mind, but he asked the attorney who sent these emails to keep him posted as to what he needed to do if anything. Since when does Jim Tressel, head football coach at The Ohio State University, report to this attorney, and why is his take-away action-item that he’s going to “keep pounding these kids until they grow up”?

If he was concerned about the confidentiality of a federal investigation and not compromising the well-being of his involved players, it seems like an appropriate response would be something along the lines of “Look Mr. Attorney, I realize this is confidential, but I’m bound by contract to report any possible NCAA violations to my superiors and ultimately to the NCAA. Would my doing so jeopardize your investigation?” Perhaps then the attorney would have said yes and Tressel would have been faced with a moral dilemma, but at least he would have a paper trail backing up his innocence.

Of course, we have now come to learn the identity of said attorney and it doesn’t help Tressel’s defense from last night. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the attorney who sent the emails to Tressel is Chris Cicero, a former Buckeye player who was on the team while Tressel was an assistant under former head coach Earle Bruce. This means that Tressel likely had some sort of relationship with Cicero, which explains the “buddy-buddy” tone of the emails and furthers the notion that Cicero sent the emails to Tressel as a heads up so he could cover it up before anyone else found out. This certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Cicero, who according to the Dispatch, has been in trouble multiple times previously, including having his law license suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court for a year in 1997.

Chris Cicero, the attorney who sent the "heads up" emails to Tressel (photo from Columbus Dispatch)

This does not bode well for Tressel or Ohio State. Not only did Tressel cover it up initially, but he lied about (or intentionally omitted disclosure of) the incident when NCAA investigators came asking in September and twice in December. When asked in December whether he had any prior knowledge of the tattoo parlor, Tressel said that he had received a tip, but it wasn’t specific. Yet, as the emails show, they were specific and certainly worthy of being brought to the attention of school compliance officials.

The school’s self-imposed two-game suspension and $250,000 fine will undoubtedly be raised by the NCAA and only goes to show the arrogance of Tressel, Athletic Director Gene Smith, and school president Gordon Gee. That they’re willing to concoct a story in front of a national television audience that they think will appease the NCAA and convince everyone that Tressel was really just a martyr shows that they believe they’re above reproach.

And why should they think any differently? Tressel and Ohio State have toed the line between right and wrong the past decade and gotten away with it with a couple of very minor slaps on the wrist.

In just his second season, Tressel ran into trouble with freshman Maurice Clarett, a key member of the 2002 National Championship team, who got in trouble for both academic and legal issues and was dismissed from the team. He claimed that had he told the truth to investigators, “half the team would have been suspended” so he just “took it,” and that he received preferential treatment, phantom jobs, money and favors. At the time, he was written off as a rogue player operating on his own and trying to get back at his former coach who “blackmailed” him.

Then, star quarterback Troy Smith was suspended a couple games for accepting $500 in return for nothing from Robert Q. Baker, a health care product provider, who also said that former OSU receiver Chris Gamble had “worked” for him as well. Interestingly enough, Baker played at Baldwin-Wallace while Tressel’s father was head coach there, so there was a prior relationship. Sound familiar? Neither the program or Tressel received any penalties.

A year later, star linebacker A.J. Hawk and lineman Nick Mangold’s apartment was robbed of $3,000 in cash, $1,425 in movies, a $500 Gucci watch, and more. You know, all the stuff that a normal college student has laying around. Nothing came of it after his dad said he had repeatedly warned Hawk not to keep his money in his apartment. Just like Cam Newton’s dad warned him to act as if he didn’t know he was shopped around.

This past fall, former NFL agent Josh Luchs described meeting with OSU receiver Santonio Holmes in 2005, but Holmes told him that he had already been receiving money from an agent the past couple years and his family had been taken care of.

Finally, since it’s still fresh in our minds, we remember “Tatgate” in December when Terrelle Pryor and several others were found to have sold championship rings, gold pants, and other gear to a tattoo parlor in exchange for tattoos. In addition, Pryor was pulled over driving loaner cars not once, not twice, but three times. Of course, all three were on the up-and-up while his car was getting worked on by this dealership that features autographed Ohio State memorabilia all over its walls.

Of all its transgressions the past decade, Ohio State got dinged the worst for the tattoo incident, with those players being forced to sit out the first five games of next season. AD Gene Smith tried to play it down as “an incident isolated to these young men and this particular instance,” but former Buckeye running back Antonio Pittman said players have been getting hookups on tattoos since 2001 (when Tressel took over).

Co-conspirators Smith and Gee say Tressel won't be fired (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

Each of these incidents when taken individually aren’t particularly damning. But when viewed together, with the addition of Tressel’s cover-up, they certainly suggest  a pattern, especially considering that OSU has self-reported a nation-leading 375 minor violations. It seems to suggest that their strategy is to self-report the small things so the NCAA will overlook the bigger things. Yet, even the small things when compiled together, should point to a larger problem.

A married man may be able to receive forgiveness from his wife once or twice for telling her that he mistakenly kissed another woman.** But when it keeps happening, sooner or later, she’s going to realize that he either keeps putting himself in those situations or is having an outright affair and is trying to cover it up by telling half-truths.

Likewise, a coach may occasionally realize he sent one too many texts to a recruit and need to self-report, but when it’s happening 35-plus times a year, you’re either covering up larger issues as an organization or you have incredibly poor compliance educators.

So what should we Michigan fans hope for? Is this a good thing for us?

I say it’s not a good thing, because while we may take some satisfaction about our smug rival’s downfall (finally), he has basically owned us since he took over from John Cooper. We have our own new regime with Brady Hoke committed to restoring Michigan football to its glory days and this provides us a perfect opportunity to recapture the rivalry. We want Tressel at the helm when that happens. We’ll probably never achieve a winning record against him since he’s already so far ahead and won’t stay coaching that long, but at least we could put a dent in it.

Secondly, we just went through an NCAA investigation of our own and are currently on probation for Rich Rodriguez’s violations. Yes, we all caught a lot of flak from our Buckeye brethren during that time, but we don’t have much room to talk.

Finally, even though they’re our arch rival, we want the Big Ten to remain strong and above the cheating reputation that the SEC has earned. It may be too late for that now, but if the NCAA drops the hammer on Ohio State, it could affect their program (and by default, the Big Ten) for years.

That being said, I think we can all agree to paraphrase Dennis Green and say that he is who we thought he was and we never have to listen to a self-righteous Ohio State fan wax poetic about their sweater-vested hero anymore.

It will be interesting to see the fallout from this in the coming months, but this is the last I’m saying about Tressel or Ohio State for the foreseeable future on this site. I now turn my attention back to Michigan !! Go Blue !!

__________________________________________________________________________________

*If you take a brush, dip it in laundry detergent, and write on a wall, it won’t show up in daylight, but if you turn off the lights and shine a blacklight on it, it will glow. Years ago, in college, we painted the NCAA Tournament bracket on the ceiling of our dorm room with detergent and updated it each night throughout the tournament. The RAs had no idea, but it created one of the coolest rooms on campus, and unless they’ve re-painted the ceilings, it’s probably still there. Just like the baggage Tressel left behind at Youngstown State when he took over at OSU.

**I’m not at all saying this is okay or condoning this. Just using it as an example.

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The Top Individual Performances In the Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry

Thursday, November 19th, 2009


Michigan and Ohio State square off on Saturday for the 106th time in college football’s greatest rivalry.

*Charles Woodson's punt return against Ohio State helped Michigan secure the Big Ten title and trip to the Rose bowl, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

*Charles Woodson's punt return against Ohio State helped Michigan secure the Big Ten title and trip to the Rose bowl, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Ohio State has already wrapped up at least a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.

Michigan leads the all-time series 57-42-6, but enters this week’s matchup needing a win to extend its season through the holidays and take some heat off head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Will someone step up with a historic performance to lead Michigan past the 10th-ranked Buckeyes?

Or will a Buckeye deliver an all-time great showing to capture a sixth consecutive victory over Michigan and send Michigan to its second straight losing season?

There have certainly been some performances for the ages in the past 105 meetings, so we’ll take a look at the top individual performances in its storied history.

Bear in mind that this is the top performances in the Michigan-Ohio State game, not necessarily the best players on each team or the best performances for each team against another team.

This list will go position by position and take into account game implications and past history in addition to pure stats.

Make sure to read all the way through to see who is most likely have a breakout performance this Saturday.

Michigan Quarterback – Jim Harbaugh
*Jim Harbaugh

*Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh completed 16-of-19 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan’s 27-17 win over Ohio State in 1985.

Ohio State had won three of the last four meetings and five of the last seven.

Michigan entered the game 8-1-1 and had just drubbed Minnesota 48-7.

Ohio State came in 8-2 and ranked 12th in the nation.

After sitting out the previous season’s matchup with an injury, Harbaugh would lead Michigan to two straight victories over the Buckeyes, earning first-team All-American honors.

Ohio State Quarterback – Troy Smith
*Troy Smith, photo taken from foxnews.com

*Troy Smith, photo taken from foxnews.com

While there have been many great quarterbacks at Ohio State, perhaps none have turned in a better performance against Michigan than Troy Smith.

In the game dubbed, “The Game of the Century,” Ohio State and Michigan ranked first and second in the nation entering the Horseshoe.

Smith proved unstoppable, completing 29-of-41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns in leading Ohio State to the 42-39 victory.

The win sent Ohio State to the BCS National Championship game against Florida, while Michigan was relegated to the Rose Bowl against USC.

Additionally, the performance wrapped up the Heisman Trophy for Smith.

Michigan Running Back – Tshimanga Biakabutuka
*Tim Biakabutuka, photo taken from thewolverineblog.com

*Tim Biakabutuka, photo taken from thewolverineblog.com

Tshimanga Biakabutuka, nicknamed “Touchdown Tim,” recorded one of the best all-time performances in the rivalry in 1995.

Ohio State entered the meeting undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Michigan came in 18th with a record of 8-3, hoping to knock off the Buckeyes.

Biakabutuka gashed the Ohio State defense for 313 yards on 37 attempts, out-doing eventual Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and leading Michigan to the 31-23 upset.

His 313 yards are the second most in a single game in Michigan history (behind Ron Johnson’s 347 yards against Wisconsin in 1968) and helped Biakabutuka secure the school’s single season rushing record.

He went on to become the eighth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and spent six seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

Ohio State Running Back – Bob Ferguson
*Bob Ferguson

*Bob Ferguson

In 1961, Ferguson rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns to lead Ohio State to a 50-20 win over Michigan, and helping Ohio State win the national championship.

The win was Ohio State’s 400th victory all-time and the second of four straight over Michigan.

Ferguson finished second in the Heisman Trophy race that season, behind Syracuse running back Ernie Davis.

Michigan Halfback – Tom Harmon
*Tom Harmon

*Tom Harmon

Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Tom Harmon, produced an all-around performance for the ages against Ohio State in 1940.

“Old 98,” as he is known, rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns, completed 11-of-12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, kicked four extra points, intercepted three passes (and ran one back for a touchdown), and booted three punts for an average of 50 yards per punt.

The performance led Michigan to a 40-0 drubbing of Ohio State.

After his playing career, he became a pilot in the Army Air Corps, where he earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.

Ohio State Fullback – Jim Otis
*Jim Otis

*Jim Otis

Jim Otis is widely regarded as one of the top 50 Ohio State players of all time.

In 1968, for what some regard as the greatest team of all time, Otis led Ohio State to a 50-14 win over Michigan. He rushed 34 times for 143 yards and four touchdowns in the game, the final of which set up a two-point attempt. After the game, when asked why, Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes replied, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”

Otis’ four touchdowns gave him the school’s single-season rushing touchdowns record of 16, which has since been eclipsed.

Michigan Wide Receiver – Marquise Walker
*Marquise Walker

*Marquise Walker

In 2001, Marquise Walker had the best receiving day for a Michigan receiver against Ohio State.

Although Ohio State won the game 26-20 in Jim Tressell’s first season as head coach, Walker was unstoppable, catching 15 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

His 15 receptions were enough to pass Anthony Carter on the career receptions list, although that record would be broken by Braylon Edwards in 2004.

The performance helped Walker earn first-team All-America honors in his senior season and was John Gruden’s first draft pick at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.

Ohio State Wide Receiver -David Boston
*David Boston

*David Boston

David Boston is one of the most prolific receivers in Ohio State history, but turned in a fantastic performance in 1998.

A year after being humbled by Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, Boston got revenge with 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

Boston responded after the game saying, “There were some things said last year after the game, that one of their players was chastising me or something. I didn’t really understand the message there. But today, I just went out and proved that I’m human.”

His performance led Ohio State to a 31-16 win over the defending National Champions.

Boston was drafted eighth overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1999 NFL Draft and spent eight seasons in the NFL.

Michigan Tight End – Eric Kattus
*Eric Kattus

*Eric Kattus

While Michigan has never really had a great performance by a tight end against Ohio State, Eric Kattus claims the spot.

In 1985, he helped Jim Harbaugh beat Ohio State 27-17 after dropping three of the past four and five of the past seven to the Buckeyes.

Kattus, a Cincinnati, Ohio native, caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in the game, one of the best performances of his career.

Ohio State Tight End -Bruce Janowski
*Bruce Jankowski, photo by Sports Illustrated

*Bruce Jankowski, photo by Sports Illustrated

A year after Michigan upset undefeated Ohio State in Bo Schembechler’s first season at Michigan, Ohio State was looking for revenge.

Both teams entered the match-up undefeated, but Ohio State tight end Bruce Jankowski helped that cause. His 26-yard touchdown pass gave Ohio State the lead, and it never trailed, beating Michigan 20-9.

Michigan Defensive Lineman – Glen Steele
*Glen Steele

*Glen Steele

Defensive end Glen Steele was the leader of Michigan’s front seven, helping the Wolverines win the National Championship in 1997.

Against Ohio State that year, Steele recorded five tackles (three for loss), two sacks, and a fumble recovery.

The constant pressure on Ohio State quarterbacks Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine helped Michigan win the game 20-14, and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl against Washington State.

Steele earned first-team All-America honors that season and played six seasons in the NFL for the Cincinnati Benglas. His 24 career sacks rank third on Michigan’s career list.

Ohio State Defensive Lineman -Vernon Gholston
*Vernon Gholston

*Vernon Gholston

Vernon Gholston terrorized Michigan quarterback Chad Henne in 2007, racking up five tackles (four for loss) and three sacks.

Michigan’s offensive line, including the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Jake Long, couldn’t stop Gholston as he was always in the backfield.

His four tackles for loss are an Ohio State single game record.

Ohio State won the game 14-3, earning another trip to the BCS National Championship game.

Gholston now plays for the New York Jets.

Michigan Linebacker – Ron Simpkins
*Ron Simpkins

*Ron Simpkins

Ron Simpkins recorded 20 total tackles (15 solo) in Michigan’s 14-6 win over No. 4 Ohio State in 1977 to help the Wolverines capture the Big Ten title.

Just a sophomore at the time, Simpkins recorded the third-most tackles in a single game in Michigan history at the time.

Simpkins would finish his career as Michigan’s all-time leading tackler, with 516, and played seven seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ohio State Linebacker -Chris Spielman
*Chris Spielman

*Chris Spielman

One of the greatest linebackers ever to play for Ohio State, Chris Spielman was a one man wrecking crew in 1986.

Although Michigan won the game 26-24, it was at the fault of Spielman, who recorded a school record 29 tackles.

Ohio State entered the contest 7-0 and ranked seventh in the nation. Michigan came in 6-1, needing a win to share the Big Ten title.

Ohio State missed a field goal with 1:08 to play to spoil Spielman’s career day.

Spielman went on to enjoy 12 seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, and Cleveland Browns.

Michigan Defensive Back – Charles Woodson
*Charles Woodson

*Charles Woodson, photo by Damian Strohmeyer/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Charles Woodson became the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1997, and his performance in the Ohio State game that year helped cement the trophy over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.

Woodson intercepted a pass, caught a 37-yard pass to set up Michigan’s only offensive touchdown of the game, and returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown.

He also held Ohio State receiver David Boston in check, allowing just three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Woodson also picked off two passes against No. 2 Ohio State in his freshman season in 1995.

He became the fourth overall pick of the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and has 41 career interceptions (seven returned for touchdowns).

Ohio State Defensive Back – Mike Doss
*Mike Doss, photo taken from ncaafootball.com

*Mike Doss, photo taken from ncaafootball.com

Mike Doss proved pivotal in Ohio State’s 26-20 win over Michigan in 2001 during Jim Tressel’s first season as head coach.

Doss picked off a pass and ran it 36 yards to the Michigan four to set up Ohio State’s first touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, Doss intercepted another John Navarre pass to set up a field goal.

The interceptions were critical in helping Ohio State win its first game in Ann Arbor in 14 years.

Michigan Defensive Back – Barry Pierson
*Barry Pierson

*Barry Pierson

Michigan defensive back Barry Pearson helped Michigan capture one of the biggest upsets of all time in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

In Bo Schembechler’s first season as Michigan head coach, the Wolverines entered the 1969 meeting ranked 12th in the nation.

Ohio State came in undefeated and ranked first in the nation.

Pierson picked off three passes in the game and also returned a punt 60 yards to the Ohio State three-yard line to set up a Michigan touchdown.

His performance helped Michigan upset what many believe to be the greatest college football team of all time.

Ohio State Defensive Back – Chic Harley
*Chic Harley

*Chic Harley

In 1919 Chic Harley returned from World War I, where he served as an Army pilot, to pick off four passes in Ohio State’s 13-3 win over Michigan.

It was Ohio State’s first ever win over the Wolverines, and Harley’s four picks (still a school single game record) helped lead the way.

He earned first-team All-America honors that season and also played halfback, punter, and kicker.

His number 47 was retired by Ohio State five years ago.

Michigan Punter – Chuck Ortmann
*Chuck Ortmann

*Chuck Ortmann

Chuck Ortmann may not have been the best punter to ever wear the maize and blue, but he holds Michigan’s career single game punting records thanks to Mother Nature.

The 1950 “Snow Bowl” between Michigan and Ohio State was played in the worst blizzard in 37 years to hit Columbus.

Ortmann punted 24 times for 723 yards, helping Michigan win the game 9-3.

Ohio State Punter – Vic Janowicz
*Vic Janowicz

*Vic Janowicz

Ohio State punter Vic Janowicz also gets credit for Ohio State’s career single-game punting records thanks to the blizzard of 1950.

In the “Snow Bowl,” Janowicz booted 21 punts for 685 yards and scored Ohio State’s only three points of the game on a field goal.

After the game, Janowicz said, “It was like a nightmare. My hands were numb and blue. I had no feeling in them and I don’t know how I hung onto the ball. It was terrible. You knew what you wanted to do, but you couldn’t do it.”

In addition to punter, Janowicz served as Ohio State’s halfback, kicker, and safety, and won the Heisman Trophy that season.

Michigan Kicker – J.D. Carlson
*J.D. Carlson

*J.D. Carlson

There have been many great Michigan-Ohio State games, but only one has ended as a result of a Michigan field goal.

In 1990, 15th-ranked Michigan needed a win over 19th-ranked Ohio State to secure a share of the Big Ten championship.

Late in the game, tied 13-13, Michigan kicker J.D. Carlson missed a short field goal attempt that would have put Michigan ahead.

But after getting the ball back, Carlson got a chance for redemption, and nailed it with no time remaining to give Michigan a 16-13 win.

Bouncing back from the miss to win the game changed Carlson’s life.

“I will forever be prepared for the rest of my life because I have experienced some of the biggest swings in emotion in a short period of time,” Carlson said of the game. “Not much fazes me now.”

Carlson holds Michigan’s single game field goal record, as well as the highest career PAT percentage record.

Ohio State Kicker – Tom Klaban
*No pictures of Tom Klaban were available

*No pictures of Tom Klaban were available

In 1974, Michigan and Ohio State entered the annual showdown ranked third and fourth in the nation, respectively.

The game proved to be all about the kickers as Michigan kicker Mike Lantry missed a field goal that would have won the game as time expired, but it was Ohio State kicker Tom Klaban who stole the show.

Klaban booted four field goals to account for all of Ohio State’s points in the 12-10 victory, the only time Ohio State has beaten Michigan without scoring a touchdown. The win sent Ohio State to a Rose Bowl battle with USC.

Most Likely Michigan Breakout Performer
*Brandon Graham, photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

*Brandon Graham, photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

For Michigan to win the game on Saturday, it will need a great performance from its defense. The defense has been much of the reason for Michigan’s second half collapse this season.

One player who has stood out all season is defensive end Brandon Graham. The senior had perhaps the best game of his career last week against Wisconsin, recording 11 tackles (five for loss), two sacks, and a forced fumble.

Last season, Graham had three tackles (two for loss) and a sack against Ohio State.

If Michigan wins on Saturday, expect a big day from Graham in the Ohio State backfield.

Other possible breakout performers: Michigan running backs Brandon Minor or Carlos Brown, Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree

Most Likely Ohio State Breakout Performer
*Terrelle Pryor, photo taken from uweekly.com

*Terrelle Pryor, photo taken from uweekly.com

Every great quarterback has a career defining game that cements his spot in team lore. For Ohio State sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor, this Saturday could be that game.

Pryor received much criticism from Buckeye fans early in the season after losses to USC and Purdue, but has played much better in the second half.

A great showing against Michigan, who hasn’t shown it can stop a mobile quarterback, or anybody for that matter, could sell even the most incredulous of Buckeye fans on his abilities.

If Pryor makes the same mistakes he did against Purdue, Michigan has a shot, but if Pryor uses his legs effectively and makes the throws he needs to, he has a great shot at being 2-0 against Michigan.

Other possible breakout performers: Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey, defensive back Kurt Coleman

Following Loss to Illinois, Questions Abound for Rodriguez, Michigan

Sunday, November 1st, 2009


Michigan traveled to Champaign, Ill. on Halloween looking to become bowl eligible, but instead came away with its second straight 25-point loss.

After building a 13-7 halftime lead, Michigan took the opening drive of the second half down to the Illinois 1-yard line. But four straight runs were unable to crack the end zone and Illinois took captured the momentum, and the game, scoring 31 unanswered points en route to a 38-13 victory.

*Defensive back J.T. Floyd sums up Michigan's day against Illinois, photo by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

*Defensive back J.T. Floyd sums up Michigan's day against Illinois, photo by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

Michigan looked like a kid that was trick-or-treating house-to-house, filling his bag of candy but then got beat up by the kid down the street and his bag of candy stolen.

For the second week in a row, Michigan looked uninspired and somewhat lost – far more so than a team should nine games into the season.

In the wake of the loss, and looking ahead to the final three games of the season, there are some questions that need to be answered.

Please note that I am still confident in Rich Rodriguez, and I’m not at all calling for his head after less than two seasons. I think he needs to be given time to build his team. I do have some questions, however.

1. Why can’t the defense stop the spread option?

This was a huge problem under Lloyd Carr. His defenses could defend the standard pro-style offense with the pocket-passing quarterback just fine, but when facing mobile quarterbacks, they looked lost.

Troy Smith, Vince Young, Dennis Dixon, and Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards are still giving Michigan fans nightmares.

Much of the reason Michigan athletic director Bill Martin went out and got Rich Rodriguez two years ago was to change the stagnant culture of Michigan football.

The four and five loss seasons were getting old. The slow defense that broke down every time it faced a faster offense needed a change.

So why are we still having trouble defending it?

Make no mistake about it; this defense is dangerously thin. Only 58 percent of the defensive commitments from the past five years are still on the team. Fifty-eight percent!

That’s certainly not a recipe for success.

Twenty defensive commitments are no longer on the team due to numerous factors: graduation (four), leaving early for the NFL (one), leaving the team (13), and not qualifying (two).

Until Rodriguez is able to bring in a couple more classes, this defense should continue to struggle, simply because of lack of depth.

But depth aside, why did the defense struggle so much to defend Darryl Clark last week and Juice Williams this week when it goes up against a similar offense in practice every week?

Rodriguez is the father of the spread-option offense, so he should know how to defend it.
Today, it wasn’t just a mistake here and there; the defense looked completely lost out there. Every time Williams ran a zone read, the same play that is the staple of the Michigan offense, everybody crashed down on the same guy, which usually tended to be the one without the ball.

*Juice Williams dominated Michigan for the third straight year, photo by Seth Perlman / AP

*Juice Williams dominated Michigan for the third straight year, photo by Seth Perlman / AP

Illinois had seven rushes of 20 yards or more, three of them going for touchdowns.

I have to believe that this will improve over time when Rodriguez gets more defensive recruits and more speed into the system, but it’s frustrating that it hasn’t improved at all.
2. Why wasn’t Brandon Minor on the field for the goal line set at the beginning of the third quarter?

Minor is the bigger power back, while Carlos Brown is a bit quicker. Yet it was Brown who got the carries on first, second, and third down from inside the one-yard line.

Minor came in and got the carry on fourth down, and was stopped just short of the goal line.

I realize he still has a nagging ankle injury, but if he was healthy enough to come in on fourth down, why wasn’t he in there for the first three plays?

3. Why didn’t Rodriguez use a time out just before the half?

Michigan had just kicked a field goal to take a 13-7 lead, and then forced an Illinois three-and-out. Williams was sacked at the Illinois 24-yard line with about a minute left, but instead of using his second timeout, Rodriguez let the clock run before Illinois called timeout with 27 seconds left.

A good punt and no return left Michigan with the ball at its own 11, and it subsequently took a knee, seemingly happy to go into the locker room with a six point lead.

But why not take a time out with a minute left and give your offense another chance to score before the half?

I would have expected Carr to take the conservative route and take it into the half, but not Rodriguez, especially with two timeouts left.

The only reason I can think of is that he wasn’t comfortable with punt return-man Junior Hemingway’s ability to catch the ball.

Turning it over in that situation would have given Illinois a great chance to take the lead and the momentum into the locker room.

But that’s a chance he should have taken, in my opinion.

4. Why has the team quit the past two weeks?

In Michigan’s first two losses, against Michigan State and Iowa, the team fought for the whole 60 minutes. It came back to force overtime against Michigan State and came within two of undefeated Iowa.

But last week against Penn State and this week against Illinois, it seemed to just give up once things started going bad.

The only defensive player that played every down 100 percent was senior defensive end Brandon Graham, and that’s going to make him a great NFL player. He finished with four tackles (one-and-a-half for loss), a sack, and a blocked punt.

The rest of the defense didn’t play inspired at all.

*Rodriguez screams at Martavious Odoms against Iowa, photo by the Detroit News

*Rodriguez screams at Martavious Odoms against Iowa, photo by the Detroit News

Maybe it’s the fact that the offense puts it in bad situations with turnovers, but when you’re playing college football, it’s your job to give it your all every time. And that effort was not there in the second half.

5. Is Rodriguez too hard on the players and coaches?

One of the common scenes on the sidelines this season and last has been Rodriguez chewing out his players and coaches after a mistake.

Now, I know many people will say that they should grow up and take it, but I seriously have to wonder if his demeanor has an impact on how the team plays.

I don’t have any data on it, but it seems that whenever Rodriguez goes off on a player, it has a negative effect on his play.

I’m all for coaches yelling; it’s what they do. But for a young team like this, that is still trying to grow and learn the system, maybe yelling in their face isn’t the right way to get your point across.

It’s something to think about, but I’m pretty sure Rodriguez isn’t going to change his coaching style, so the players are going to need to adjust.

So where does Michigan go from here?

It needs one more win to be bowl eligible, and two to be assured of a bowl game.

Next week, Michigan hosts Purdue, which is probably the last winnable game left on the schedule if the team continues to play like this.

The following week, Michigan travels to Wisconsin to play a team that just throttled Purdue 37-0.  That game will be as tough as any game Michigan has played all season.

Finally, Michigan hosts Ohio State in a game that very well could salvage the season. However, Ohio State’s quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, is the same type of mobile quarterback that Michigan can’t defend.

The team needs to get its confidence back so it can finish the season strong and get back to a bowl game. Otherwise, it’s going to be another long off-season filled with second-guessing and more anti-Rodriguez sentiment.