Ohio State’s football season ends this Saturday when it hosts That Team Up North. What incentives there are for this game, at least materially, remain to be seen. Beyond a pair of shiny gold pants, hopefully not to be sold as down payments for tattoos, Ohio State’s season concludes regardless of the outcome of this game. For the Wolvereenies, their hope of even playing for entry into the B1G TEN Championship Game is contingent on the lowly Iowa Hawkeyes pulling the upset of the Nebrasky Cornhuskies. That game is being played today. For all intents and purposes, the football team can make the trek to The Great State of Ohio today and already know whether they’re playing for something other than pride. There is no chance this year of the Wolvereenies getting an at-large BCS bid. The only intrigue if Nebrasky wins today is if Denard Robinson will play his final game in the Outback Bowl or the Capital One Bowl.
It’s over after The Game for a lot of people involved. The programs continue despite the attrition and turnover, but we say goodbye to players like Jake Stoneburner, Justin Siems, Adam Homan, Garrett Goebel, Reid Fragel Rock, Stewart Smith, Taylor Rice, Zach Domicone, Ben Buchanan, Kharim Stephens, Etienne Sabino, Travis Howard, Orhian Johnson, Storm Klein, Dalton Britt, Zach Boren, Vincent Petrella, William “Meatyneck” McCary, Ross Oltorik, Nathan Williams, and John Simon.1 Each of these men will suit up for the Ohio State Buckeyes the last time. While we look forward to keys this game in order to secure an undefeated season, we thank each of these men for their four to five years of service to The Ohio State University. They will be denied an opportunity at a B1G TEN Championship and a bowl send off because of wrongdoings not committed by them, but they persevered under these circumstances undaunted. We cheer them as they go.
That Team Up North’s Offense
The Wolverines offense is a bit hard to quantify for a lot of reasons. The offense doesn’t have a lot of talent, but has some special players who can carry the team for extended stretches. In the same breath, those same skill players can shoot themselves in the foot, as we saw in the games against Notre Dame and Nerdwestern. Further, the Wolvereenies have seen some key players emerge at important positions like tight end, wide receiver, and tailback. Though unknown commodities on the recruiting trail, their emergence is a victory for Brady Hoke’s coaching staff in its second year in Ann Arbor. All told, That Team Up North is average to pretty good in a lot of respects, with the clear deficiency being in the passing game. Even then, the Wolvereenies can do some stupidly good (stupid and/or good) things throwing the ball.
The playmaker of consequence is at quarterback. Denard Robinson (#16) has battled nerve damage through the second half of the season, but should be good to go for his last installment of The Game. Ohio State fans have seen Denard Robinson long enough now to know what he can and cannot do. He is lethal running the ball, provided the Wolvereenies are effective running between tackles. This would bring a safety into the box and allow Denard to run outside tackles on the sweep. He can (and has) run QB power as well. Last year in Ann Arbor, Robinson killed us on the inverted veer and was stupidly 13/17 throwing the ball. This second statistic is the worst thing ever, but alas. With that in mind, we have also seen how woeful of a quarterback he can be. He was overwhelmed in losses to Alabama and Notre Dame. In the latter game in particular, Denard Robinson was throwing interceptions at such a clip that Manti Te’o was intercepting passes intended for other Notre Dame defenders. This gets more interesting for TTUN fans because offensive coordinator Al Borges can, at important times, try to shoehorn him into being the pro style West Coast quarterback he really wants.
Denard Robinson won’t be the only quarterback Ohio State sees this game. Devin Gardner (#12), who started the season at wide receiver, has returned to the quarterback position and has done well to find his receiving options. After the Nebrasky debacle and Gardner’s promotion, the Wolvereenies have not lost yet. Gardner should do fine playing quarterback and may see the field at the same time with Denard Robinson at tailback. The fun one to watch is Russell Bellomy (#8). The redshirt freshmen was comically bad in his few appearances this season.
The Wolvereenies leading rusher from the tailback position, Fitzgerald Toussaint (#28), was lost for the season (and maybe spring ball) with an injury last week against Iowa. Replacing him will be the job of two tailbacks, sophomore Thomas Rawls (#38) of Flint and the senior Vincent Smith (#2). Rawls had 90 yards on nine carries against the Illini earlier this season. Smith, the diminutive back at 5’6 and 175lbs, fell out of favor with the new coaching staff. He has just 76 yards this season. This might be why we see more of two QB sets with Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson on the field the same time as throwing quarterback and running quarterback respectively. Rawls is promising and Smith is shifty, but Robinson is their best runner.
The Wolverines are 6th in the B1G TEN with 200 passing yards a game. This is “average” in the B1G TEN and 97th nationally across all of college football. As such, the Wolverines passing game is frustrating for both the team’s fans and the opposition, since that Team Up North is prone to big plays that Brady Hoke can pull out of his ass when necessary. The leading receiver is surprisingly not the redshirt senior Roy Roundtree (#21) , but Jeremy Gallon (#10). At 5’8, 187lbs, Gallon doesn’t look like a conventional receiver and looks every bit like the unknown, bite-sized commodity that Rich Rodriguez routinely recruited to Ann Arbor. Still, Gallon can shake people off him while running routes, routinely finding ways to create separation down the field and find holes in zone coverage. Gallon had games of 72 receiving yards, 94 receiving yards, and 133 receiving yards in the last three games, all wins. Roundtree, the senior, had only one game over more than two receptions until recently, that game being a three reception and 30 yard performance in the loss to Notre Dame. In the past two games, Roundtree had five catches each for 139 yards and 83 yards. His big catch against Nerdwestern put the game into overtime. That Team Up North should feature a fair bit of three wide receiver sets. Drew Dileo (#9) had two big games against Massachusetts and Michigan State, but hasn’t been much of a factor elsewhere. Devin Gardner is actually fourth on the team in receptions. Though he doesn’t start at tight end (Mike Kwiatkowski [#81], the redshirt senior, does), true freshman Devin Funchess (#19) can be a handful in the red zone. He’ll be an All-B1G performer in a few years. He leads the team right now with five touchdown receptions.
I don’t think anyone will make an argument that the Wolvereenies offensive line is the best in the conference, or even close to it, but their line is pretty good and has a few players that will be playing on Sunday. The anchor of the unit is the left tackle, Taylor Lewan (#77). For TTUN fans, Lewan is an all-star left tackle who wears Jake Long’s number with honor. For other fans, Lewan is an exceptionally dirty player who holds like a motherfucker. He’s a first round pick eventually one way or the other. The rest of the line, going left to right, is Ricky Barnum (#52), Elliott Mealer (#57), Patrick Omameh (#65), and Michael Schofield (#75). If anyone remembers, Schofield was the one reduced to a turnstile by Alabama’ s defensive line.
That Team Up North’s Defense
That Team Up North’s defense resembles the offense in terms of overall production. It’s basically an average to pretty good unit with a few nice pieces, though still shares some quintessential hallmarks of GERG era. Its sixth overall in rush defense, though I think, at least, some of that can be qualified by the nature of the B1G TEN. Likewise, the defense is first nationally in pass defense, though I think that can also be qualified by the nature of the B1G TEN.
The Wolverines’ defensive line is pretty good, though it can be inconsistent. Much of the production in this unit comes from the defensive ends. Craig Roh (#88), a high school teammate of Taylor Lewan, is a top 50 defensive player in the conference and has 5.5 TFLs on the season. Opposite him is Frank Clark (#57), the former Glenville Tarblooder. Clark actually leads the unit in tackles for loss. The Wolverines’ interior linemen are more “stop the run” guys, without any real pass rusher inside like a Hungry Hungry Hankins can be. William Campbell (#73) leads the defensive line in tackles and can be outright disruptive at times. If he’s matched up with Marcus Hall, our weakest lineman, this might get a bit interesting. Quinton Washington (#76), the redshirt junior, is the nose tackle.
Remember the three years of the Rich Rodriguez experiment? Surely you do. He forgot to recruit linebackers and their linebacker play was the worst in the conference. Just dreadful. Regrettably, Greg Mattison is a bit of a miracle worker, and the quality of linebacker play just keeps improving. The star of the unit is Jake Ryan (#47), who doesn’t seem to have bad games anymore. He leads the team in tackles for loss with 13 and overall tackles with 75. The starting middle linebacker is Kenny Demens (#25), who is second on the team in tackles and has 6 TFLs on the season. He had 29 tackles over the three game stretch encompassing the Nebrasky, Michigan State, and Nerdwestern games. The other linebacker, Desmond Morgan (#48), has played in nine games this season is wearing Gerald Ford’s old number.
The secondary is led by Jordan Kovacs (#32/#11), the little brother of college football. The walk-on, and now senior captain, will have a legacy cherished by That Team Up North fans, and also somewhat qualified by just how bad the program was before Brady Hoke was eventually hired. He has 2 TFLs on the season, being regularly featured in blitz packages. The free safety is Thomas Gordon (#30), a redshirt junior. He has two interceptions on the year. The Wolverines have the #1 pass defense in all college football, though I’m not sure how anyone can say that after watching their cornerbacks play like windsocks game in and game out. The starters are Raymon Taylor (#6), who did have that pick six against Purdue, and JT Floyd (#8). So, read into that statistic what you will.
That Team Up North wins if… it has four rushing plays of 20+ yards. Big rushing plays did us in important ways last year. Denard Robinson’s use of the inverted veer targeted a hobbled freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier. It allowed basically everything to work. Denard Robinson picked up chunk plays on the ground. He followed that with some big plays in the passing game. All told, Ohio State conceded 40 points in the series and lost for the first time since 2003. The Wolvereenies are an average team in the B1G in terms of big rushing plays. Four plays of 20 yards or more is about what Nebrasky averages. Remember that game in early October? I can’t see Ohio State conceding 38 points and winning like that. It’s possible, just not likely or advisable.
Ohio State wins if… well, Braxton Miller needs to play well, unlike his game against Wisconsin last week. This has me nervous. However, I can’t see the Wolvereenies completing less than 50% of their passes and winning this game. If we can make them one dimensional in offense, bad may get a lot worse in a hurry against an inspired team playing its last game of the season.
- I think Jordan Hall is redshirting this year. [↩]