42 points. Take 'em down, pass 'em around...
That's the thing I can't get over. You can say Michigan just ran out of time and the last team to have the ball was going to win. (Did you like their chances to tie the game or even take lead had they recovered that onside kick?) You can point to missed tackles or overthrown passes. You can wonder how helmet-to-helmet hits on quarterbacks outside the pocket should be interpreted by the referees.
You could even sound like the sorest of losers, like the moron caller I heard on WTKA
after the game who blamed Ohio Stadium's shoddy turf for the Wolverines' loss. (Fortunately, that guy seems to be in the smallest of minorities.)
But ultimately, it comes down to 42 points
. You can't expect to win a game giving up that many points. (Unless you're, say, the San Diego Chargers
.) And if you watched the Michigan defense all season long (well, except the game
that was on ESPNU), you wouldn't have predicted it to yield six touchdowns.
39 points - on the road, with that defense - should be enough to win a game. And against any other team in the country, that number on the scoreboard probably would've been enough. Mike Hart pushed through the first tackle, and looked as fast and nimble as I've ever seen him. Chad Henne may have played his best game at quarterback. (But ooooohhhh, if he only could've connected with Mario Manningham on that pass down the sideline in the first quarter.)
But Ohio State was expected to be be an offensive juggernaut coming into 2006 - with two fantastic wide receivers (make that four?), two spectacular running backs, and the best player in the country taking the snap at quarterback - and in the course of three-and-a-half hours, destroyed all the good work Ron English had done with Michigan's defense this season. (I imagine he won't be including this game in his resume once he starts applying for head-coaching jobs.)
Coach English made some good second-half adjustments, finally figuring out how to break the Buckeyes' pass protection and get the blitz into Troy Smith's face. But by then, it may have already been too late. Michigan had already coughed up 28 points, and it fell upon Henne and the flying Wolverines to get the maize-and-blue back in the game.
On The Sporting Noobs Podcast
(new episode coming tomorrow!), I said Ohio State would win because of their offense - and more specifically, because of Smith. Kind of a "no duh
" statement, I realize, but what I meant was that I thought Michigan could knock around that Buckeyes defense a bit. The real test of strength would pit the supposedly immovable object of the Michigan defense against the irresistable force of Ohio State's offense. I just didn't expect quite so big an explosion after the collision. (My prediction, by the way, was Ohio State 31, Michigan 26. I just felt Smith would find a way to win the game - as he had the previous two years.)
But Michigan picked the worst possible day to start giving up the big play. And that was the difference in the game. Chris Wells' 52-yard run. A 39-yard pass to Ted Ginn. Antonio Pittman's 56-yard run. All for touchdowns. Michigan had some big plays of their own, but the Ohio State offense was just relentless. Even when it looked like the Wolverines defense had everything covered, Roy Hall or Brian Robiskie found a sliver of open space in a corner of the end zone, and of course, Smith didn't miss them. He really didn't miss anything.
After the season ends, I'm sure we'll once again hear all the talk about how Jim Tressel owns Lloyd Carr in this rivalry. And 1-5 is a difficult number to argue against. But I'm not so sure it's a question of Tressel owning Carr. I think it's more that Troy Smith owns Michigan. I'm not sure I've ever looked more forward to an opposing player graduating than Smith. And I hate saying that, because it seems like such a lame admission of defeat.
But Michigan just can't beat this guy. And I felt that way the entire game. The only thing that was surprising to me is that he never made Michigan pay by running the ball. But he also never had to. His development as a quarterback over his four years at Ohio State has been truly impressive. (I would've said it was a joy to witness, if so much of that growth hadn't taken place at Michigan's expense.) Obviously, Smith is fresh in my mind, clouding my long-term memory, but I can't think of any other players who I both hated and greatly admired at the same time.
(And this doesn't even need to be said, but if anyone but Smith wins the Heisman Trophy, the damn thing should be melted down and used to make doorknobs, and never given out to anyone ever again.)
Now, the current sensation sweeping the nation is the question of whether or not Michigan deserves another shot
at Smith and the Buckeyes. Right now, I'm standing on the side labeled "No Rematch." It's not that I wouldn't like to see Michigan play Ohio State again on a neutral field. Despite all the breakdowns, belated adjustments, and missed opportunities that plagued the Wolverines on Saturday, they still only lost by three points and fought the Buckeyes hard until the very end. And that was in Columbus.
I like their chances if they were to play Ohio State again in Arizona, and sure as hell wouldn't complain if the BCS roulette wheel hit Michigan's number on December 3 and set up that rematch. And yes, I'm biased - but I think Michigan is better than USC, Florida and Arkansas (and we already know they're 26 points better than Notre Dame). So if they're the second-best team in the country at the end of the regular season, it stands to reason they should play in the Fiesta Bowl.
But if you were among the people who said that Saturday's game was the de facto
national championship game, well, Michigan had its shot and lost. On the day their defense had to play its best, it gave up 42 points. And the disappointment from that and the sadness over likely the most emotional day in Michigan football history are the emotions I can't move past right now. They're too fresh in my mind.
Of course, I could change my mind in a couple of weeks. And you bet your sweet maize-and-blue ass I'll be watching USC-Notre Dame and the SEC championship game to see how it all shakes out. Just hold 'em to 38 this time if you get another shot, boys.
Labels: 2006 Michigan Football, college football