Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ohio State-Michigan Firsthand Report

Thanks to my dad having season tickets, I was able to attend the Ohio State-Michigan game yesterday. As promised, my thoughts on the game.

First of all, I can tell you that I have never seen an atmosphere like the one at the Horseshoe yesterday. I have been at a number of big games in my life, from Game Four of the 1997 American League Division Series (the game won by the Sandy Alomar home run off of Mariano Rivera – the only blown save Rivera would have until Game Seven of the World Series four years later) to the 1995 Ohio State-Notre Dame game to the Browns’ win in the final regular season game in 1988 to capture a playoff spot. From the moment a half hour before kickoff that I emerged from underneath the stands to walk up to my seat, I was floored by the intensity of the crowd. My heart was beating much like it was a week ago when I made the ill-advised decision to slam a can of Red Bull before a dodgeball tournament. The tone was certainly set well before kickoff.

And how necessary was that tone? Well, I believe that with the resiliency Michigan showed yesterday that the emotion of Bo’s passing would have carried them to victory, maybe easily, in their own building. But the hostile road atmosphere they faced, which was embodied by every frantic and futile attempt that Chad Henne made to communicate with his teammates over the wall of noise, allowed what was the better team to win the game.

For all the talk of how evenly matched the two teams were based on the 42-39 final score, I say that an examination of the circumstances is necessary. On a few occasions, Ohio State seemed on the verge of putting Michigan away, only to commit heinous unforced errors. Troy Smith’s interception was a mildly ill-advised pass, but was transformed into a disaster by a deflection. Doug Datish, while a strong part of the Buckeye offensive line that produced far more protection from the excellent Wolverine front seven than anyone had a right to expect, was absolutely horrific in his snapping out of the shotgun. Well before Smith lost his sky-high and worm-burner snaps for fumbles, my dad and I noticed that Smith had to field some very difficult snaps. The game was close because the Buckeyes made stupid mistakes and the Wolverines, due probably to the Bo motivation, were more resilient than they have been against Ohio State in the Jim Tressel era. Ohio State was clearly the better team, because their best efforts to give the game away were not successful, merely enough to keep Michigan as the greyhound chasing the rabbit for 60 minutes. A shallow reading of the final score should not be used as justification for rendering this game a mulligan by mandating a rematch in the BCS Title Game.

Now, I am somebody who really loves the X’s and O’s of football and breaking down the strategy and formations used in a game. As such, I was fortunate that my dad’s seats were almost dead-on in the end zone, just inside the left hashmarks. I had a straight-on, or nearly straight-on view of most of the action. Several aspects of the game seem quite clear to me from my point of observation:

The pundits seem befuddled by how two excellent defenses could yield 81 points in this game. I’m surprised that the answer doesn’t seem so obvious to more people. Both teams are very balanced offensively, and have the opportunity to establish the run and the pass equally. At various points during the game, each team was able to get the defense to play back on its heels by simultaneously establishing the threat of run and pass. No defense on its heels can adequately shut down the array of playmakers present on the chewed-up turf in Columbus yesterday.

Michigan was able to establish the run and pass with equal ruthless efficiency on the opening drive. I can tell you that a harsh realization came over the crowd as they contemplated the potential for the “Win One for Bo” factor. It’s not possible to convey just how effortless that drive seemed for the Maize and Blue. Ohio State’s response on the next drive was absolutely crucial, just as it was in the Fiesta Bowl when Notre Dame struck early. Smith made a number of precise throws on the drive, including three to Roy Hall. Had Ohio State not been able to respond immediately, the entire game might have turned out differently with Michigan’s insane early momentum. Remember just how critical the home atmosphere was to the Buckeyes; to have the crowd support negated in any way would have been very damaging.

Nobody in the country has enough cornerbacks to shut down the Buckeye offense when they go empty-backfield. Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Robiskie, Roy Hall and Brian Hartline possess a dizzying array of skills. Any variation of the Ohio State spread is very difficult to defend. Having been to the Scarlet and Grey Game this year for the first time ever and also the Penn State game in addition to watching the others on television, I have had more of an opportunity to see this team up close than ever before. I have said all along that if Jim Tressel could sufficiently abandon his close-to-the-sweater-vest tendencies and allow an offensive scheme that would dictate aggressively to the defense that they would be unstoppable. I believe I’ve been proven correct. The only wrinkle that I haven’t seen that I have been advocating is for Chris Wells to appear in the backfield with Antonio Pittman in the slot.

Speaking of Wells, there’s no way that a big man like him should be able to turn on the jets to that degree. He is the prototype, and how fitting that his first signature moment in an Ohio State jersey comes in the biggest game since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. With his prototype big-man-with-speed skills being so similar to those of Maurice Clarett, maybe Buckeye Fan will be able to let go of his longstanding grudge. Eh, maybe not.

The speculation about Troy Smith’s Heisman chances should have reached its end yesterday in Columbus. He will win, by one of the biggest margins ever, not only because of his (nearly) flawless season but by the absolute dearth of serious candidates still standing.

And this Buckeye team? It is one win away from a short list of the greatest single-season teams of all time. How ironic that the 2004 USC Trojans are also on that short list, and the Bucks may well face some of the remaining players from that team in the title game. For Jim Tressel and Pete Carroll, the best big-game coaches in college football today, to meet for the first time on the game’s biggest stage and in a rekindling of the old Rose Bowl rivalry would be almost beyond belief. But then again, after watching an Ohio State-Michigan game that actually exceeded the insane hype just like the 2006 Rose Bowl did, I don’t think anything is beyond belief anymore.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home