Buckeyes, WWW

A final reflection on The Game: While We’re Waiting

Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

I hope you all are having a wonderful morning/day/night, and for the Americans among you, I hope you are all basking in the post-feast glow of Thanksgiving.

Me? I had an awesome Thanksgiving, spending quality time with family, eating unfathomable amounts of food, and watching my sports teams win. A lot. Setting aside the pre-Thanksgiving Cavs-Lakers matchup, which was fun to watch despite the loss, the Cavs won two in a row (against two of the pre-season favorites to be the 2nd best team in the NBA), the Browns won their second consecutive game in convincing fashion, and Ohio State once again knocked off their bitter rivals, the Michigan Wolverines.

So we start with The Game. A lot has been said and written about this rivalry, where it has been, where it is now, and where it is headed. Some have questioned the vitality of a rivalry when one team has won only twice in the previous 18 matchups. It’s a fair question, I suppose, but I also remember the 2-10-1 era of John Cooper. Did the losses ever stop hurting? Were the hurt, pain, and anger ever restrained? Not for me. I remember it all. And I think about it every year when this game comes around. I take no less joy and satisfaction in every single victory, just as the hurt of losing would not be lessened one bit.

This particular game, though, was a strange one. Michigan came in with the top defense in the country, and Ohio State featured the second-ranked offense. That side of the ball would be the clash of the Titans. But what about the other side? After watching OSU give up 298 yards on the ground to Maryland running back Anthony McFarland the previous week, it’s not surprising the fourth-ranked Wolverines felt good about this game. So good, in fact, that Michigan running back Karan Higdon felt it would be appropriate to guarantee a victory over Ohio State.

So how do we explain what really happened? How do we wrap our heads around that 62-39 result in favor of the Buckeyes? Indeed, the numbers Ohio State’s offense put up on that Michigan defense are staggering. Those 62 points are the most Ohio State has ever put up against Michigan. Michigan came in giving up 234.8 yards per game and then allowed Ohio State to gain more than double that amount with 567 total yards. Michigan had allowed fewer than four yards per play coming in, yet Ohio State gained almost 8.5 yards per play in this game. Michigan was averaging almost three sacks per game, yet failed to get to Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins even once in this game.

How do we explain all of this? Was this game just one of those flukes? Was it a sign of a disturbing trend for the Wolverines? After all, Ohio State has now scored 30 or more points in six straight matchups with the Wolverines, scoring 42 or more in four of those six. In the past 13 games, Ohio State has only failed to score 30 three times. Was Ohio State’s offense just better than we even thought? Was Michigan’s defense actually worse?

I don’t really know. On one hand, you could argue that Michigan’s defensive ranking might have partially been a product of their schedule. Ohio State was the only top-25 offense the Wolverines played this season. But Michigan played three of the top-30 offenses (OSU, Nebraska, and Notre Dame) and six in the top-50 (Wisconsin, Western Michigan, and Penn State in addition to the three previously mentioned). So I don’t think that was exactly it.

Was Michigan just overrated as the OSU fans chanted1 toward the end of the game? Hardly. This was a great Michigan defense and a Michigan team that was playing excellent football all season. Nobody was claiming they were weak or overrated before the game, so there’s no reason to do so now.

The truth might just be that this is sports. How does Ohio State also get crushed by Purdue? If there were rhyme and reason to all of this, we’d all make a lot more money betting on sports. Or maybe Dwayne Haskins is just a special, unique Ohio State QB with incredible talent. Maybe this was an OSU defense that just finally played at least moderately adequate football. Maybe this was a few breaks going Ohio State’s way. Maybe it’s a little bit of all of these things.

I’ve seen a lot written and said about where Michigan goes from here. I’ve seen questions about Jim Harbaugh and his future. I can’t answer any of those questions. I could easily see Haskins going pro after this season and the OSU offense reverting to a running system with Tate Martell and a tough matchup in Ann Arbor next season.

I do care about this rivalry, though. And while I want Ohio State to continue this incredible run of success against Michigan, I also want Michigan to be relevant to the Big Ten and the national scene again. I want Ohio State and Michigan to be the unquestioned two best teams in the Big Ten. I want a shot at a national title on the line for both teams when they play. And I want Ohio State to keep winning, of course.

This rivalry is my favorite thing in sports. I hang on every single play, every second of every game when these two schools face off. I enjoyed this year’s game for many reasons, not the least of which that for once I really felt like I had no clue what was going to happen. At some point, Michigan will win again. They have to. But until that happens, I’m going to continue to just enjoy this unprecedented run for all it’s worth.

  1. Have I mentioned before how much I hate when fans chant this? All you are doing is diminishing your own team’s accomplishment. Take pride in beating a great opponent. Putting them down lessens your own win. []