Needless to say, a lot can change in ten years.
Ohio State's 21-10 victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor was routine in a way long-time Buckeye fans could have never dreamed of in the bad old days of the ‘90s. The Bucks didn't do anything spectacular in winning their sixth straight over the Wolverines. They pounded the football with Brandon Saine, Dan Herron and Terrelle Pryor and let Michigan make the mistakes- which they did in abundance. It wasn't scintillating, but it was certainly effective. And it gave Ohio State the outright Big Ten Championship- Jim Tressel's third as head coach.
Play of the Game: Statistically, the game was just about even. Ohio State out-gained Michigan 318-309 and ran three fewer plays than the Wolverines. The difference was turnovers: one for Ohio State, five for Michigan, including the play which gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. On a 3rd-and-eight play from his own 9-yard line Tate Forcier was flushed from the pocket by the hard charge of defensive end Nathan Williams. While attempting to dodge Cameron Heyward, Forcier lost the handle on the football and it slipped out of his hand on the goal line. Heyward fell on it in the end zone, and the Buckeyes were ahead to stay. It was only the start of a very rough afternoon for Little Man Tate.
Timing Patterns: It's been one of the themes of 2009- Ohio State's offense struggling for much of the game, yet responding to an opponent's score with a drive and score of its own. We saw it against Wisconsin and Indiana, and we saw it again on Saturday- twice over. Both of Ohio State's offensive touchdowns came directly on the heels of Michigan scores. In the second quarter, after a 46-yard Jason Olesnavage field goal had cut the Wolverine deficit to 7-3, the Buckeyes put together a six-play, 80-yard drive, capping it with a 29-yard touchdown run by Brandon Saine to put the Buckeyes up 14-3.
The Buckeye first-responders were at it again in the third quarter. Michigan had used a Terrelle Pryor interception as a springboard to a 49-yard touchdown drive, getting the score on a scrambling 18-yard strike from Tate Forcier to Vincent Smith. With the Ohio State lead down to 14-10 and plenty of time remaining in the third quarter, the Buckeyes put together their best drive of the day- 11 plays, 89 yards- and punched it in on a 12-yard screen pass from Pryor to Dan Herron. With 4:46 left in the third quarter it was 21-10 Ohio State- and that's how it stayed.
Two Great Calls: There has been a lot of carping about Jim Tressel's merits- or demerits- as a play-caller, but its worth mentioning that both of Ohio State's offensive touchdowns came courtesy of beautiful calls on the part of the Vest. On the first score, Pryor and the Buckeye offensive line started right on what looked like an option, taking Michigan's defense with it- and when Brandon Saine took Pryor's draw handoff and went left, there was no one in Maize and Blue to stop him.
The call that produced Ohio State's final score was even better. On 3rd-and-goal from the Michigan 12-yard line, Tressel diagnosed a Michigan blitz and called for a screen pass. Pryor lofted a perfect soft toss over the head of the onrushing Wolverines and when Herron gathered it in, he was gone. He cantered into the end zone accompanied by a convoy of blockers, with nary a defender in sight.
Jim Tressel takes a lot of heat for his handling of the offense. It's only fair to give him the props when he deserves them- and he definitely deserves them for those two touchdown calls on Saturday.
Tate Taketh, Tate Giveth Away: It wasn't all bad for Tate Forcier on Saturday. The freshman quarterback threw for 226 yards and accounted for Michigan's only touchdown when he bought time in the pocket and threw across the field for Vincent Smith, who dodged Chimde Chekwa and scampered into the end zone to draw the Wolverines within four at 14-10 early in the third quarter.
But when it was bad for Little Man Tate... oh mama, it was bad. And it didn't get any worse than his devastating fourth-quarter stretch that took Michigan out of the game when it was still very much up in the air:
•- With more than 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines on the move at the Ohio State 35-yard line, Little Man Tate forced a deep pass into double coverage and was intercepted by Kurt Coleman.
•- Michigan next drove all the way to the Ohio State 6. On 2nd-and-five, with over eight minutes still to play, Forcier tried the same cross-field pass to Vincent Brown that resulted in a touchdown two periods earlier. Only this time, Devon Torrence was waiting, and he picked off the pass at the goal line to kill the threat.
•- On Michigan's next-to-last possession, with 3:34 to play, Forcier threw a screen pass directly into the arms of Thaddeus Gibson.
All told, Forcier accounted for each of Michigan's five turnovers on a fumble and four interceptions- three alone in the critical fourth quarter. Safety-first football from the Wolverine quarterback might have made this a very different game.
Fun Facts: Just a few pleasant numbers to chew on as you reflect upon Ohio State's latest victory over The School Up North:
•- Ohio State's sixth consecutive victory over Michigan is its longest-ever winning streak in the series, and the longest for either team since the Wolverines won six straight from 1922-27.
•- The Buckeyes have now won three straight in Ann Arbor, their longest road winning streak in the series since they won four in a row in the Big House from 1961 through ‘67.
•- The Buckeyes went 8-2 against Michigan in the ‘00s, its best record over any decade in the history of the series. By contrast, Michigan went 7-2-1 against Ohio State in the ‘90s.
•- Jim Tressel is now 8-1 against Michigan. The only coach with a better record in his first nine games of the series is Fielding H. "Hurry Up" Yost, who won his first nine meetings with Ohio State from 1901-09.
•- As of Saturday, it had been 2,191 days since Michigan defeated Ohio State on the football field.
Around the Nation
Game of the Week- Oregon/Arizona: With the Ducks and Wildcats looking to climb into the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl, Saturday night's clash in Tucson couldn't have been much bigger- and it lived up to the hype with a vengeance. It was rollercoaster ride to rival anything at Cedar Point: Oregon sprinting to a 14-0 second-quarter lead, Arizona responding with 24 unanswered to take a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter, Oregon tying it, Arizona re-gaining the lead on a 71-yard touchdown midway through the fourth, a brilliant drive led by Jeremiah Masoli that culminated in the game-tying touchdown with six seconds left in regulation amid thousands of UA fans crowding the sidelines waiting to storm the field, and finally, the drama of the two overtime periods.
For Oregon and Masoli (345 total yards, six touchdowns passing and rushing) the 44-41 victory couldn't have been sweeter. But for Arizona there is only bitterness- especially given the sequence late in the fourth quarter that cost the ‘Cats a chance to land the knockout punch. Leading 31-24 with 3:20 left, Arizona had 3rd-and-11 on the Oregon 35 and could have run the ball to set up a clinching field-goal attempt and force the Ducks to burn their final timeout. The Wildcats were then hit with a false-start penalty- an inexcusable blunder at home- that pushed them back to the 40, out of field-goal range. On the next play quarterback Nick Foles inexplicably threw deep and was intercepted in the end zone. Oregon had the ball back on its own 20, still in possession of its last timeout- and they needed it, seeing as they used all but six seconds of the remaining time to knot the game at 31-apiece.
Since joining the Pac-10 Conference, Arizona has never made it to the Rose Bowl. They aren't going to make it this year either, and they have that critical series of mistakes to blame. As for Oregon, they can lock down their Pasadena reservation on December 3rd, when they host Oregon State in the Civil War.
Speaking of Oregon State... The Beavers were in a similar position to Oregon last season- in control of their own destiny and needing only a home victory over the Ducks to lock down their first Rose Bowl bid since 1964. But they lost Jacquizz Rodgers with a shoulder injury a week before the game, lost any semblance of defense during the game, and Oregon shattered their Rose Bowl dream with a 65-38 rout in Corvallis. What comes around goes around. A year later the Beavers will have a chance to spoil Oregon's Rose Bowl party, with an added bonus- a win will send them to Pasadena, making up for the lost opportunity in 2008.
Ultimately it may come down to a battle of tiny Texan running backs that have torn apart the Pac-10 this season. Oregon State's 5'7" Jacquizz Rodgers, the sophomore from Richmond, has dashed for 1,313 yards and 19 touchdowns and has added 67 receptions. Oregon's 5'9" LaMichael James, the freshman from Texarkana, has 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns despite not starting until the second game of the season. The pair trail only Toby Gerhart of Stanford in the Pac-10 rushing rankings and their duel will be the highlight of what should be a heart-stopping Thursday Night in Eugene. Ohio State fans should be especially keen observers- after all this game will determine the Rose Bowl opponent for the Buckeyes.
Personally, I don't know who to prefer. Oregon's offense concerns me- Masoli is an unflappable dual-threat who throws with guile and runs like a fullback, Ed Dickson is a load at tight end and LaMichael James is probably the best back the Buckeyes will face all season. On the other hand, Oregon State coach Mike Riley is 6-0 in bowl games, quarterback Sean Canfield is a cool, calculating leader, and ‘Quizz Rodgers is also probably the best back the Buckeyes will face all season (his brother James isn't bad, either.) It's a pick-your-poison kind of deal. I wouldn't mind seeing Washington State on January 1st, but that isn't happening.
State of the Races: The national picture went a long way toward clearing up over the weekend, at least as far as the major conferences are concerned. Clemson locked up the ACC Atlantic and will meet Georgia Tech in the conference championship game in Tampa on December 5th. Nebraska clinched the Big 12 North with its win over Kansas State and will face Texas on the same day in Cowboys Stadium. Of the BCS conferences, only the Pac-10 and Big East remain undecided. Oregon and Oregon State will meet to determine the winner of the former, while Cincinnati's visit to Pittsburgh on December 5th will settle the latter.
Things are somewhat less settled in the second-tier conferences. East Carolina hosts Southern Miss this Saturday with the championship of Conference USA's East Division on the line. In the West, Houston controls its own destiny. If the Cougars defeat Rice, they win the division; if they lose and SMU beats Tulane, the Mustangs are the titlists instead. Central Michigan has clinched the MAC West, while the East will be decided in a winner-take-all showdown between Temple and Ohio in Athens on Friday. That same night Nevada takes on Boise State on the Smurf Turf with the WAC title hanging in the balance. Of the smaller conferences only the Mountain West (TCU) and Sun Belt (Troy) are wrapped up.
Big 10 Bowl Situation: The music is over in the Big 10, every team is in its chair, and all that remains is for the postseason invitations to be handed out. Here are my predictions as to where the qualifiers will be going this bowls season:
Ohio State (10-2, 7-1) Rose Bowl vs. Pac-10: The Buckeyes locked up the Big 10 title with their win over Iowa.
Iowa (10-2, 6-2) Fiesta Bowl vs. At-Large: The Hawkeyes finished tied for second in the conference with Penn State but beat the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley and own solid non-conference victories over Arizona and Iowa State. With their resume and large fan base, they'll get the Big 10's second BCS berth and will play in Glendale.
Penn State (10-2, 6-2) Capital One Bowl vs. SEC: The Lions will miss out on the BCS thanks to their head-to-head loss to Iowa and awful non-conference schedule. A likely opponent in Orlando is LSU.
Northwestern (8-4, 5-3) Champs Sports Bowl vs. ACC: The Wildcats should get the Outback Bowl bid by virtue of their win over Wisconsin, but they'll be snubbed by that game in favor of the Badgers, who travel far better. Miami or North Carolina is the likely opponent.
Wisconsin (8-3, 5-3) Outback Bowl vs. SEC: After a year's hiatus the Badgers will return to New Year's Day to take on an opponent from God's Conference- Auburn, perhaps.
Michigan State (6-6, 4-4) Alamo Bowl vs. Big 12: Mark Dantonio's team will look to salvage a disappointing season in San Antonio. Texas Tech is a possible opponent for the Spartans- or Oklahoma if the Gator Bowl doesn't snap up the Sooners.
Minnesota (6-6, 3-5) Insight Bowl vs. Big 12: The Gophers will make their second trip to the Insight in two years. Missouri is the likely opponent here.
The Big 10's Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl tie-in will be vacated. Michigan would have landed here had they beaten Ohio State... but of course, they didn't.
Mad Hatter Strikes Again: LSU head coach Les Miles usually straddles the line between "eccentric genius" and "blundering idiot", but he crossed it with both feet in his team's 25-23 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday. Trailing by eight, the Tigers drove to a touchdown with 1:18 to play, than recovered an onside kick at their own 42-yard line. A 26-yard completion from Jordan Jefferson to Brandon LaFell put LSU at the Ole Miss 32-yard line, in field-goal range with two timeouts left- and at this point things went sideways. After a spike to stop the clock, Jefferson was sacked back at the 41, forcing LSU to burn a timeout. On the next play, an ill-advised screen pass from Jefferson to Stevan Ridley resulted in another loss, setting up 4th-and-26 from the 48. There were 26 seconds left when Ridley hit the turf, but for some reason Leslie the Hat allowed 17 of them to bleed off the clock before using his final timeout.
Jefferson then faded back and hit Terrance Toliver for a 42-yard gain down to the Ole Miss 9-yard line with one second left, yet with no timeouts remaining, the Hat didn't rush his field-goal unit onto the field, and the game ended with the rather pathetic image of Jordan Jefferson spiking the football with zeros on the clock. Miles's stumbling post-game interview didn't exactly clear up matters. Stranger still, the Hat claimed to not know who told Jefferson to spike the ball with no time remaining, even though he was clearly shown calling for the "clock" play.
Clock management is a huge element of coaching. Good clock management is good coaching; bad clock management is bad coaching. It's as simple as that. LSU's clock management in the final seconds at Oxford was atrocious, and that reflects on Les Miles. Michigan fans pining for the Hat's return to Ann Arbor are probably having second thoughts- and they should. He's a hell of a recruiter and an entertaining personality, but as a game-day coach, he leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Winners of the Week
Connecticut: It's been a season of agony for the Huskies, but they finally tasted some well-deserved ecstasy Saturday in South Bend, rallying from an early 14-0 deficit to defeat Notre Dame 33-30 in double-overtime. It was UConn's first win since the murder of Jasper Howard on October 17th and follows three straight losses by a total of ten points. At 5-5 with home games against Syracuse and South Florida upcoming, the Huskies still have a chance to go bowling. Even if they don't, head coach Randy Edsell should be commended for holding his team together through unimaginably trying times; and his players should be commended for the heart and emotion with which they've played all season. It was good to see them rewarded.
New Mexico: After ten consecutive losses to open the season the Lobos finally got on the winning track, coming from behind to top Colorado State, 29-27, on James Aho's field goal with 12 seconds remaining. It's a good thing New Mexico was able to take advantage of a bad Rams team, because they're going to Fort Worth next week to take on rampaging TCU.
Syracuse: The Orangemen got their first Big East win by flat-out whipping Rutgers, out-gaining them 424-130 in a 31-13 Carrier Dome shocker. Making it sweeter is the fact that RU is Syracuse's top in-conference recruiting rival in New York City and Upstate New York. It's no coincidence that the rise of Rutgers under Greg Schiano has taken place alongside the decline of the Orange, as Schiano has invaded Syracuse's traditional talent base and grabbed guys who in past years would have played their football in orange and blue. (Ray Rice is the best example.) New coach Doug Marrone has to reverse that trend to get Syracuse back in gear, and beating Rutgers on the field is an important step along the way.
Marshall: We are... bowl eligible! The Herd got its sixth win of the season- the most since 2004- by defeating SMU in Huntington, 34-31. Mark Snyder probably needed to get Marshall to a bowl in order to save his job, and it looks as if he may do just that. Next order of business: beat UTEP next Saturday and lock up the Herd's first winning season since 2003.
Army: The Cadets won their fifth game of the season- the most for the program since 1996- by edging North Texas, 17-13. Aside from a heartbreaking loss to Tulane, Army has beaten every opponent it should beat, and that represents progress for the program and its first-year head coach, Rich Ellerson. Beating Navy for the first time since 2001 probably isn't in the cards, but there's still plenty of reason for optimism along the banks of the Hudson.
Losers of the Week
Notre Dame: A disappointing season became downright disastrous for the Irish as they lost their third consecutive game and their second Senior Day game in a row to a middling Big East program. At 6-5, Notre Dame now faces a trip to the West Coast and a Saturday night showdown with a Stanford team that won't be in the mood to take prisoners. For Charlie Weis, it's just about over. Even an upset of the Cardinal won't save his job at this point.
Oklahoma: Losing Jermaine Gresham and Sam Bradford was bound to have an effect on the fortunes of the Sooners, but they've looked far worse than anyone could have predicted even with the injuries. Oklahoma's 41-13 loss at Texas Tech on Saturday was its most lopsided regular season defeat since a 45-12 rout by Texas in 2005 and drops the Sooners to 6-5, their worst record since Bob Stoops's first season in 1999. The only silver lining in this lost season is that Oklahoma won't lose a BCS bowl.
Kansas: A week of turmoil for the KU program climaxed on Saturday when the Jayhawks were blasted 51-20 by Texas, their sixth consecutive loss. Mark Mangino probably could have gotten away with cutting down his players and verbally abusing parking-lot attendants if his team was winning- but it isn't, and it looks as if the hefty coach will be looking for work after this season ends. A win over rival Missouri on Saturday can salvage a .500 record and perhaps land a bowl berth, but it probably won't be enough to save Mangino's hide.
Stanford: The Cardinal's Rose Bowl hopes went bye-bye on the Farm Saturday night with a 34-28 Big Game loss to California. Red-hot quarterback Andrew Luck had a tough night against the Bears, completing just 10-of-30 passes and killing Stanford's final rally with an interception from the Cal 13-yard line. At 7-4 and with a bowl bid in its back pocket, Jim Harbaugh's team can still top off its resurgence by beating Notre Dame next Saturday.
Eastern Michigan: Ron English might be wondering what on earth he got into in Ypsilanti. The Artists Formerly Known as the Hurons dropped to 0-11 with a 47-21 loss to Toledo on Saturday and need to beat Akron at Infocision Stadium this weekend to avoid their first winless season since 1981. EMU has been a model of futility for a long time: they haven't finished over .500 since 1995 and haven't played in a bowl since 1987, when they won the MAC and upset San Jose State in the California Bowl. English has his work cut out.
Next Week: With Ohio State's regular season wrapped up, we sit back and watch the dominos fall elsewhere in the world of college football. Dan Wismar and Yours Truly will discuss the win over Michigan and piece through the rest of the landscape on the Buckeye Friday podcast.