If you’d have told me last week that Ohio State’s feeble offense would muster 34 points against TTUN, I’d have entered the weekend confident in an eighth consecutive victory in The Game. I would reason that there was no way the vile enemy could produce enough points against the Buckeye defense, saggy as it had been of late, to overcome that total. I would have been horrifically wrong, as Jim Heacock’s group failed on every level in allowing TTUN to win 40-34 in the big hole in the ground on Saturday. It wasn’t as gentle as Dr. Kervorkian’s methods, but it was still a mercy killing to this season to forget. We don’t accept moral victories; however, there is some solace in how much difficulty TTUN had in defeating the worst OSU squad in over a decade. You just know the sphincters of UM fans were tight enough to turn coal into diamonds, as they watched Braxton Miller convert a fourth-down scramble on what appeared to be a potential game-winning drive. Sadly, that drive stalled on the next fourth down, but the fact that they were scared to death illustrates the dominance Ohio State has enjoyed in this series of late.
Jim Bollman cracked open his piggy bank on Saturday, and while he didn’t spend any of his long-hoarded gadget plays (precisely zero were run this season), he did spend freely from his stash of passing plays. For the first time all season, Ohio State seemed interested in circumventing a stacked box by throwing the football. Lo and behold, it worked, for the most part. Braxton Miller missed a few would-be touchdowns, overthrowing his receivers who eviscerated the Michigan secondary all day, particularly on deep routes. It was great to see Philly Brown hang onto a 54-yard Braxton bomb and DeVier Posey also scored on a long pass play (43 yards). Miller produced just the fourth 200-yard passing and 100-yard rushing game by an OSU quarterback, joining Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor (twice). Just keep reminding yourself that Braxton is just a freshman and you’ll feel better instantly. There are no silver linings in a loss to TTUN, but that eased the pain a bit. As for the rest, this is how I saw it:
Flag Day: The first nail in the coffin of the OSU winning streak was a seemingly chintzy holding call on Zach Boren. Boren’s holding penalty negated a first down run by Miller and backed Ohio State up to its own 10 in a 7-7 game. On the next play, the Buckeyes were flagged for a false start (and no, it wasn’t J.B. Shugarts). I kind of thought the defender forced the movement, but whatever, the Buckeyes were back on their own 5. Miller dropped back to pass and Mike Adams was flagged for holding in the end zone, approximately 20 yards from his quarterback. The safety provided the first Michigan lead and after a short free kick by Ben Buchanan, the Wolvereenies made it 16-7. Boy did those nine points come in handy for the enemy. I hate to whine about penalties, and Adams’ was legit, but it was evident that one team was permitted a lot more leeway with its hands than the other on Saturday. Michigan’s first touchdown should have come back on such a hold. Similarly, Ohrian Johnson was flagged for holding on the Hemingway touchdown – a play on which Johnson’s facemask was simultaneously getting jammed skyward by the receiver, preventing the OSU defender from tipping the ball. Offsetting penalties would not have been unwelcome or undeserved.
Happy Retirement, Jim Heacock: What can you really say? This was not a good unit over the last month of the season, and in sporadic patches before that. As soon as teams learned that double-teaming John Simon opened up a galaxy of riches in yards and first downs, the Buckeyes were doomed. The injury to Hungry Hungry Hankins is probably being downplayed. Big Hank lost his effectiveness with his injury at Purdue and hasn’t been the same since. Kudos to the kid for playing hurt. Speaking of playing hurt, Ryan Shazier is an assassin, but his one-legged effort for most of Saturday afternoon hampered Ohio State’s chances, as did the injury to Andrew Sweat. I’ve long thought Sweat at Mike LB between Sabino and Shazier could yield some nice results, but we were denied that by coaching decisions early and injuries late. The linebacking corps was more like a linebacking corpse (amirite?) on Saturday.
The defense was gashed repeatedly, yielding two 100-yard rushers. Heacock returned to his genius plan of rushing only three linemen on third-and-long, and even a mediocre passer like Denard Robinson could look like Joe Montana with that much time. Robinson was 14-of-17 with three touchdowns and zero interceptions – a stat line I did not think possible even against his in-state directional school rivals. In the secondary, only Bradley Roby seemed to have a good day, and he may have been the only defender to earn a passing grade in the film room, aside from Simon, who overcame numerous double teams and played a good game. In the end, this defense allowed the most points since Ohio State’s NCG appearance against Florida. And we all know this TTUN offense is not as dynamic as that one was. Every time Miller led the offense to a score, the defense gave it right back. The most humiliating play was when no one bothered to cover Kevin Koger on a 4-yard touchdown. I’m not sure whose assignment that was, but a safety or linebacker is usually responsible there.
What Could Have Been: I’ve already mentioned the missed long throws. The most damaging was overshooting a wide open Posey on a double move on Ohio State’s last drive. The Michigan defensive back is still looking for Posey. Freshmen do freshman things, especially on the road, and when they’re being coached by a video coordinator. Miller had a few chances to skewer the Wolvies, and his 14-25 passing numbers are not indicative of what might have been. If Posey had scored on the play, there would still have been about 1:18 left on the clock and I’m not convinced the Buckeyes would have held on, but just one Robinson jump ball could have given the secondary a chance to make a play.
The Spike: With time for one last drive, Ohio State was moving the ball. A short pass to Devin Smith put the ball on the OSU 35 but the clock was running. Luke Fickell was waving his offense to the line to hurry up. The Buckeyes got lined up and Braxton Miller…spiked the ball? By all accounts, Miller wasn’t instructed to do that, he did it on his own. Perhaps he lost track of the down in the tumult of battle. Regardless, the few seconds saved cost Ohio State dearly. It set up a fourth-and-six and Miller’s last pass was tipped and intercepted. Perhaps the 9,421st quarterback draw of the season would not have been amiss, but the forced play did not work. Would have been nicer to have two shots to pick up that six yards, but alas. The last time I remember such an error was listening on the radio as a kid, as Mike Tomczak threw the ball out of bounds intentionally on fourth down at Purdue (there was no spike in those days), ending a comeback chance against the Boilermakers.
Other random thoughts/observations:
- Although ultimately futile, it’s interesting to sit back and wonder what a difference DeVier Posey would have made in the team’s fortunes this season. He’s a legitimate top wideout.
- J.B. Shugarts did not commit a false start. This bears its own bullet point.
- I didn’t notice the snap problems from Mike Brewster that plagued him last week, although on the 19-yard Miller touchdown, it looked to me like the play was going to the right, but the ball was snapped to Braxton’s left. Miller was already moving left to get the ball and he just continued, got the edge and weaved his way into the end zone. It’s possible that it was designed that way as misdirection. I thought it worth mentioning, either way.
- Shazier is a warrior. It’s a shame he wasn’t healthy. Also, I feel really bad for Andrew Sweat for not being able to participate in his last shot at The Game.
- I do not believe in punting from inside the 35-yard line. Ever. If it’s too long for a field goal, you go for it. Michigan started inside its own 15, but they were back to where they would have been on a failed fourth-down attempt in a play or two anyway. Fickell said his team would be tough. He should have showed some toughness in playing to win. I am hoping that mindset will develop as he learns under Urban Meyer.
- It has been an honor to recap these games for you this season.