"The Game" rarely lacks drama although RichRod tried his best to spoil it when he brought some pathetic teams into the greatest rivalry in college sports. But that is past history, and the first edition of the Urban Legend vs. Hoke the Joke promised to be a terrific game. In spite of some big plays and a close final score it wasn't terrific, as neither team played crisp football. But it certainly didn't lack for drama, as Ohio State went for a perfect season and Meyer aimed for his first victory against that team from up north.
So what stood out on a cold early afternoon in Columbus?
A Fired Up Coach and an Amped Up Team
Urban was not lacking in passion, as evidenced the day before when he shed a few tears while closing with his memorable quote, "Let's beat the s#&* out of Michigan." While I love his emotion and the fact that Meyer "gets" this rivalry, he may have been a little too amped up. Emotion is a funny thing, because too little of it will kill a team, but too much can cause a squad to make mistakes. I thought some of the early penalties and missed assignments indicated a team that was sky high and playing with almost too much passion. Still, I will take that over the opposite, any day of the week.
Some Ultra Cool Uniforms
In past years the Nike Combat Uniforms have brought mixed reviews, but what wasn't to like about this year's version? The helmets featured a wide stripe and large, green Buckeye leaves that had a retro feel about them. I also loved the colors and the large numbers, and felt that these uniforms were enough like what the team normally wears that it was still recognizably Ohio State on the field. In fact I wouldn't mind seeing these unis used again in the future.
The first half defense looked much like what we have seen over most of 2012: missed tackles, big plays surrendered, and silly penalties. But Fickell must have made some halftime adjustments (Heacock would have been proud) and lit a fire under these guys, because they played their best half of the season after intermission. The D simply shut down the run, led by Johnathan Hankins and Zach Boren up the middle. Forced to pass, Gardener had to run for his life as the Bullets dialed up some pressure. I can't remember one time that the Wolverines made it past midfield in the second half.
Mixed Reviews for the Offense
Braxton Miller was pretty impressive throwing the ball versus the number one passing defense in the nation, hitting 14-18 for 189 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Meanwhile, the offensive line opened some nice holes for Carlos Hyde who rushed 26 times for 146 yards and a TD. That combination should have led to at least 35 points, but OSU shot themselves in the foot with some penalties and poor execution in the red zone.
Two things need to be added in regard to the offense: 1) Miller, once again, did most of his damage with his arm, not his legs. After the injury in the Purdue game he seemed a little more tentative when running the ball, and defenses also loaded the box, forcing him to beat them with his arm. The good news is that Miller showed he can be dangerous passing the ball, something that will be very important the next couple of years; 2) Tom Herman did a less than stellar job with play calling in the red zone. I was really frustrated when he didn't just run Hyde when the team faced a 2nd and goal inside the four. That series wound up with no points at all, and could have been the difference in the game had UM managed a late touchdown drive. Thankfully the Buckeyes ween't bit in the butt by their squandered opportunities.
A Coach with more Toughness than Brains
I'm talking about you Brady Hoke. On a cold, windy day in Columbus, with spitting snow, the Hokester wore short sleeves and looked unfazed by the bitter temperature. Hey, I salute his toughness, but maybe the cold wound up freezing his brain. In the second half Michigan seemed to play right into OSU's strength while taking the ball out of the hands of Denard Robinson. While outside runs and screen passes seemed to cause problems, the Wolverines ran the ball up the middle, right into the teeth of the Buckeye defense. On a key 3rd and 1 in the 4th quarter, Michigan chose to run Vincent Smith, all 170 pounds of him, between the tackles. Loss of 2 yards! Thank you Wolverines! Of course I know that Hoke doesn't call the plays, but then again, what head coach stands on the sidelines without a headset? Hey, Brady, next time you might wear a coat and a headset!
A Game Ball for a Banged Up Warrior and a Big Cheer for Tress
I confess that my heart was broken when news came out that John Simon wouldn't play due to an injury to his knee sustained in the Wisconsin game. Not only is he a great player and the emotional leader of this year's defense, but #54 embodies what it means to be a Buckeye. His loss was felt on the field, but fittingly, they gutted out a tough win and then handed the game ball to the senior defensive end.
Also of note was the standing ovation for the 2002 team, recognized after the first quarter for their National Championship won a decade ago. Thankfully Coach Jim Tressel came to join the festivities, and as the players hoisted him onto their shoulders, the crowd erupted. I loved it. A good man who wound up 9-1 against Michigan was there to usher in the Urban era, and we can only hope that Meyer can forge a similar record in "The Game."