Best and Worst: Ohio State

Submitted by bronxblue on November 26th, 2018 at 2:11 AM

Worst: A Wasted Column

I try not to write these columns prematurely; I'm weirdly superstitious about such things, and I am always scared that if I start to assume the future, I'll have upset the Karma gods. And yet, I couldn't help but feel like the perfect coda to this year would be Michigan, the better team through 11 weeks of the season, beating a disjointed Ohio State, coming off a shoulda-been OT loss to Maryland, on the road. Michigan had come agonizingly close 2 years before, and that was with arguably a worst team going against a better version of OSU than the one that took the field Saturday. And so, the lede to this diary was supposed to be about release.

One of the YouTube rabbit holes I found myself falling into recently is chiropractic videos, particularly those featuring major adjustments. Some of it is surely visceral; to hear these pockets of air just, well, "crack" or watch people with debilitating injuries be able to start healing is hard to beat. But the bigger reason is that the sense of relief, of being able to fight back against the unrelenting drumbeat of life that is trying to squeeze you into tense little ball, feels both real and appropriate. I've got a comfortable life; I've got a good job that lets me work on projects that interest me, I've got a healthy and (largely) content family, and I've never wanted for basic necessities. Even during a week featuring Thanksgiving at my in-laws, probably the biggest stress was watching this football game, played by people I don't know for stakes that won't affect me one iota in a place hundreds of miles away. But you better believe that I still hoped, I yearned for a chance to see Michigan beat the Buckeyes. Because honestly, this hasn't been a rivalry in a long time. Ohio State has been the consistently better team than Michigan for going on 2 decades now. Michigan has beaten OSU 4 times since 1997; Purdue (5), MSU (5), PSU (5), and Wisconsin (5) all have more, and teams like Illinois (3) and Iowa (2) that have played them a hell of lot less frequently have nearly as many wins over that span. And that futility wears on you as a fan and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I remember a time when Michigan and Ohio State played these sorts of games and both fanbases had reasonable expectations of winning. But now, every time I see Michigan play against OSU I'm hoping for a win, a subtle difference that makes every second feel like a lifetime and every heart-breaker that much more excrutiating because it gives that small voice in the back of your head saying "maybe that was their best shot" some more credence.


But this year felt different, not just because Michigan once again sported a top-ranked defense and an above-average offense, but because OSU just looked so damn beatable. Now, this is OSU we're talking about, so "beatable" is a relative term; they were a top-10 team with a world-beating passing offense. But they were a very mediocre running team and had the type of defense that broke a lot more often than they planned to bend, and that all led to a series of underwhelming performances against mediocre teams. Plus, OSU had been such a train-wreck off the field, if there was a year for Michigan to pull out a win, 2018 felt like it. And with it, an entire fanbase would be able to finally, finally feel that the field was leveling out. That the promise of the past 2 close games were a sign of Michigan's continued ascension back to the top of major college football and, if not a drop, at least a plateau for the Buckeyes.


But that didn't happen. 62 points happened, and it could have been more. That's more points than Notre Dame, MSU, PSU, and Wisconsin scored combined (51) against Michigan this season. 567 yards was almost 200 yards worse than the next-closest performance by this defense (against IU, which I guess was more of an harbinger than it was given at the time). Michigan didn't pick up a sack and only had 4 TFLs, well below their season averages of 3 and 8, respectively. The fear that OSU would just double Gary and Winovich because they could single-block the tackles came to pass; there was absolutely no pressure inside and so on the rare occasion when Michigan could push the OSU pocket a bit, Haskins had easy escapes. And that's the key, as they barely got any pressure on Haskins, who's a sniper in the pocket and a loose cannon on the run. And without that pressure, Michigan just got chewed up on crossing patterns and little pick routes, where OSU receivers were able to get a head of steam and catch these little passes in-stride and run for the YAC that has been the linchpin of their offense all year. Then the injuries mounted, Brandon Watson was picked on mercilessly, linebackers were getting crossed up, the safeties and corners were just borking plays left and right, and an OSU offensive line that was decidedly mediocre all year found ways to hold on just long enough to keep the machine running smoothly.

And on the other side of the ball, Michigan's offense was...fine. It scored 39 points, 32 during what I'd charitably refer to as the "competitive" part of the game. It was reasonably efficient on the ground (4 ypc), especially early on, and the passing game found some holes in the OSU secondary. But Michigan was scoring FGs where OSU was scoring TDs, and Michigan suffered a number of big drops (including a couple from Gentry, who was scuttling a bit coming into the game) in the red zone that left points on the field. And all the while, OSU just kept coming. And even when Michigan pulled to within a score to end the half thanks to some terrible OSU special teams play, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was PSU 2017 all over again. Michigan was hanging by a thread for so long, hoping the damn wouldn't burst, and that's no way to beat a team like Ohio State on the road. I don't blame the playcalling as much as some in this game; equating "big play" with "passing" isn't a given, and OSU came into the game sandwiched between Texas Tech and Oklahoma in terms of yards allowed per game and, on a per-rush basis, in the vicinity of such defensive heavyweights as Pittsburgh, UCLA, and Nebraska. A 30-yard TD run takes about as much time as a 30-yard pass one, and the game was just close enough to keep that option open. But at some point Michigan needed a plan B, and running Tru Wilson down 41-19 probably wasn't it.

Now, I reject the notion that Michigan didn't have the athletes to win this game. If Maryland, Nebraska, PSU, Minnesota, and MSU can all give Ohio State varying degrees of fits on both sides of the ball, it's not about raw talent. Nor do I think it's purely about schemes, though Don Brown has yet to figure out a way to really slow down a Haskins-led OSU offense. Again, if PSU and MSU can hold them under 5.5 yards per play, I doubt they have some secret defensive playbook that eludes Michigan's staff. It's just...I don't know. I guess this just sometimes happens to teams. Ohio State was run off the field by 6-6 Purdue this year, and was blown out 55-24 by 8-5 Iowa last year. All year, everyone kept saying OSU was terrifying if it could piece together 4 consistent quarters of football, and in this game they did. There's a non-zero chance they shit the bed against NW, with Haskins throwing a couple of interceptions, their running game continuing to struggle, and we all look back and wonder what the hell happened this weekend.

But at some point, even the most homer of Michigan fans (like myself) probably just has to accept this is the rivalry for the foreseeable future, at least as long as Meyer is upright. This isn't the UM-MSU rivalry, which felt like a shift the minute Harbaugh arrived and MSU has since been running on bullshit fumes to a couple of sneaky wins. No, OSU is a better team and, despite fielding a mediocre defense and a one-dimensional offense while dealing with a metric ton of self-inflicted stupidity, they just waxed one of the better Michigan teams we've seen. Play this game a dozen more times it's probably closer, but Michigan is a really good team stuck in the same division with a team that can scrape greatness out of its ass when it feels like it. If I'm an OSU fan I'd be a bit pissed that my coach probably wasted 2 playoff-caliber teams sleep-walking through swaths of the past 2 seasons, but I don't know when Michigan will get back to beating OSU semi-consistently, to say nothing of turning the ass-kicking tide we've seen for years now. And every year, the pressure to do so is going to become even greater. And yeah, I'm sure Michigan will beat OSU soon enough, just because of the vagaries of a game played with a pointy ball by college-aged men. But I don't know how this gets fixed.

Worst: Narratives

This might get a little political. Sue me (please don't sue me).

This is a pathological desire in society (I'll speak for America out of experience, but my guess is it exists everywhere) to build a narrative around an event, to divine deeper meaning around something that occurs because we haven't figured out a way to stop the river of time. It isn't good or bad, not a healthy outlet for providing logic and cohesion to chaos nor an insidious attempt to impose a very particular sense of morality onto what is a series of zero-sum situations. You see it in politics, religion, natural disasters, financial markets, technology, you name it. We want winners and losers, heroes to cheer and heels to jeer. Vince McMahon is a billionaire because of it, Disney is printing money because of it, wars are fought (and then re-fought in the history books) because of it, and cable news basically exists because of it.

But sports have always occupied a particularly comfortable niche for this sermonizing. We joke about cheering for clothes, but it's pretty on the mark to say that sports give you color-coded heroes and villains upon which we shower praise and scorn. It removes the humanity from the equation and replaces it with a Pavlovian response to a name and a uniform. And when it's just laundry, it's soooo easy to then douse your fandom with the gasoline of class-ism, provincialism, and moral relativism that turns normal, semi-intelligent people into, well, cheap-seat NFL fans. And I'm as guilty as anyone - I still find myself occasionally getting really mad at college students who attend other schools than a college I graduated from damn near 20 years ago, forgetting that (a) many of them were also recruited by Michigan and, in a slightly different universe than this one, could be donning the Maize and Blue, and (b) I'm twice the age of some of these guys and maybe I should stop being such an idiot about sports. But we do it because it's a release, a way to feel like you're on the right side of something that feels black and white when the whole damn world is just one big splotch of gray. Someone is going to score more points than the other, and while that really should be it, a contest wherein one team performed better than the other according to the governing rules of the game, it never is.

The "Revenge Tour" always contained a bit of a self-own insomuch as Michigan had to seek revenge on 4 or 5 (depending on your view of Notre Dame) teams because they recently lost to them. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, etc. don't have "revenge tours" because usually they're, at most, 1 or 2 stops, and more times than not it's in championship contests. But it was mostly a harmless gesture by a team that had suffered through a rough season on the field and was trying to make amends for a misstep after two solid seasons of substantial improvement. And while I'm sure fans from other programs could take a different view on the merits of it, ultimately all it did was add another layer of motivation to a football game that already had those stakes. At its core it was "I want to beat you even more than I already do, in this sanctioned football game, because you beat my team last year" that fit nicely on some merch. It's a harmless ploy that makes for an easy story, especially when a team like Michigan is steamrolling major opponents with ruthless aggression. It was Michigan trying yet again to be capital "E" elite, to fulfill the hope that Jim Harbaugh's arrival brought to a program that, even before the Horror, hadn't been a consistent national player for well over a decade. I'm not saying there should have been such a narrative; Jim Harbaugh is making millions of dollars to coach a bunch of highly-ranked student-athletes at one of the best colleges in the world. This isn't David vs. Goliath; if anything, it's Goliath's snobbier brother facing off against his OTHER slightly more country cousin.

But on OSU's side, there wasn't something as benignly interesting as a team trying to bounce back from on-field struggles. No, OSU's season has absolutely been a roller-coaster, but that's largely been both their own doing and, at least before the year, due to some really unsavory off-the-field transgressions. Feel free to Google the Zach Smith saga if you want, but regardless of how you want to spin it basically Urban Meyer knew (or if you want to be perhaps unfairly-charitable to Meyer, had strong reason to believe) Smith had physically assaulted his wife on a number of occasions, yet kept him around due to some Omerta he had stemming from Smith being the grandson of Earle Bruce. He then was evasive throughout an investigation by OSU that ultimately led to him being suspended for the first three games of the season, a punishment that Meyer reportedly did not take well at all and took a couple of tries to generate some semblance of contrition. The team itself struggled all year defensively, especially once all-world Nick Bosa went down with a season-ending injury against TCU and then left the team completely to prepare for the NFL draft. They were still a buzz-saw on offense, but they had already been blown off the field by 6-6 Purdue and had really close shaves against teams like PSU, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Maryland. There wasn't really a feel-good story surrounding the 2018 Buckeyes, or at least not one that settled neatly into a glossy 10-minute spot on College Gameday, and that's totally fine. Nobody expected that; sometimes seasons just...happen...and especially when a number of your issues are self-inflicted, it's probably best not to shine a light it.

Apparently, though, this wasn't communicated to Gus Johnson, the manic pixie dream announcer who has one trick that he hopes will distract viewers from the fact he consistently gets players' names wrong, doesn't quite seem to know the rules of various sports he calls, and how migraines work. So as OSU began their extended curb-stomping of the Wolverines, Johnson kept hammering home what I can only assume was a hastily-scribbled talking point about the "redemption" of Urban Meyer, because "he's been through such a tough season." Which I guess is factually correct in the same way that Plaxico Burress had a tough go of it making his comeback to football after shooting himself in the leg at a club. And this isn't the first time Johnson has tried this completely tone-deaf re-writing of history; during PSU's Rose Bowl run two years ago he repeatedly spoke about how each win was a chance for the Penn State family to heal and recover from all of their turmoil and struggles, said "struggles" being the systemic cover-up of a child rapist for over a decade and the rather limp punishment ultimately handed down by the NCAA.

And this is all because society loves the comeback story, even if the person mounting the comeback doesn't deserve the praise. Louis C.K. admitted to repeatedly masturbating in front of multiple women without their consent and less than a year later he was back performing on comedy stages. Lance Armstrong was caught cheating at cycling from the jump, proceeded to constantly attack anyone who pointed it out, and a mere 6 years after he was banned from the sport forever was already trying to drum up sympathy on his podcast while decrying a former teammate who had the temerity to call on Armstrong to admit he was doping. Last year MSU got the "comeback" treatment because they had gone 3-9 and overcome a "rough" off-season that featured multiple players being booted from the team due to sexual assaults, including Auston Robertson ultimately pleading guilty to assaulting a female classmate, a similar offense to one he had in high school and which MSU totally knew about but tried real hard not to find out because they needed defensive ends. D. J. Durkin will one day coach at another football program, and we will inevitably hear about his long road back from...promoting a culture that allowed a college student to die during practice.

And trying to pivot to a discussion about the "fans" is also hollow, because as an entity we, the people who root for the laundry, are simplistic front-runners, turning on players and teams the minute they don't meet our expectations. I saw a number of people giving Shea Patterson the Brandon Peters Memorial "maybe he shouldn't come back, I'm confident in X" talk after this game, despite ample evidence he wasn't close to a major reason why OSU beat Michigan to a pulp. Hell, Devin Gardner, one of the nicest guys to don the Michigan uniform in recent memory, was ragged on repeatedly for not winning enough games despite playing behind some of the worst offensive lines I've seen. OSU fans would still find it in their hearts to root for OSU without Meyer at the helm.

Now, I get that people should not be cast out from society once they serve their dues; I thought the punishment for Urban Meyer was laughably weak, but he still lost a couple of paychecks and was publicly admonished for being a terrible boss and, at best, a dispassionate human being. But that doesn't mean your slate is wiped clean.  Urban Meyer is still the highest-paid public employee in Ohio; nobody is going to take more of that away from him.  But the world doesn't have to forget what he did with Smith, and if that tiny bit of added pressure makes it harder for him to sleep at night, so be it.  Urban Meyer and OSU won yesterday because they were the better team on the day. Period. End of story. Nobody was redeemed in this football game, certainly not the head coach at OSU, and by gawd we need to stop letting lazy announcers try to manipulate the story that way.

Best: The Offense Is Fine

I don't expect there to be an UFR for this game any time soon; beyond the fact that Brian has a long-standing penchant of not analyzing losses to OSU, I don't know how many times you need to read "that didn't work on offense" and "that certainly didn't work on defense" when 62-39 does a pretty damn good job telling you the story. But if you had told me coming into this game that Michigan would score 39 points against OSU, I'd have been ecstatic. Michigan scored points on 6 of 13 meaningful drives in this game, including 4 TDs. Patterson threw for 3 of them, and when not getting sacked was able to pick up some yards with his legs and generally keep the offense moving. It wasn't rosy by any means, as he averaged only 5.5 ypa and a shade under 60% completion with a WTF pick thrown in there, but he provided competent QB performance, and in the past 2 games that would have been enough to get Michigan the win.

But Michigan couldn't run the ball with any consistency once OSU got rolling, which led to them being behind the chains far more often, and in longer distances, than was optimal. Yes, Michigan has one of the best 3rd-down conversion percentages in the country, but that is largely due to them being in manageable situations. In this game Michigan was looking at an average third down of 7.5 yards to go, which is decidedly "not good" for any offense. And while Michigan has the athletes to throw the ball, doing so without conscience both goes against the strengths of the team and puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line to hold up under a rush, something they are probably okay at, at best. Ed Warinner has done a great job cobbling together a pretty solid unit (36th in sack rate, 30th in stuff rate), but this offense isn't designed to wing it 40 times a game and keep it's QB upright.

Still, this was a team that scored about 37 points per game. In terms of the delta betweens points scored and points allowed, Michigan is currently 8th in the nation with a +231 points; the national leaders are Alabama and Clemson (423 and 380, respectively), with Georgia close by. Once you sort of excise your really good G5 programs (Utah St., App St., UCF, Fresno St., etc.) that get to feast on a ton of bad teams, Michigan is one of the best teams in the country at keeping teams out of the endzone while putting some points on the scoreboard. Could the offense be more dynamic? Absolutely. But people clamoring for Kliff Kingsbury-style offensive shift at Michigan are just reacting to a shiny object in front of them. I don't honestly know if Pep Hamilton should be out; I feel like a lot of the complaints about him stem from people being mad at someone and him being a popular target divorced from context; same with McElwain getting a lot of negative press despite the fact that Michigan's WRs looked demonstrably better this year than last.

There will absolutely be changes to the staff this off-season, if for no other reason than coaches always move around as jobs open up. But barring a collapse in the bowl game, I don't see this offense being in dire need of a makeover, especially if the premise behind any move is to be more like Ohio State.

Worst: The Defense Picked the Wrong Day


So yeah, I don't know what the hell happened here. Yes, OSU counter-punched Michigan's aggressiveness with screens and slants. Don Brown responded with some more zone, though it was a bit janky. And then stuff just sort of fell apart. I went into this game assuming Ohio State would break some big plays; that's practically inevitable. But they didn't break out a ton of new stuff, as far as I could tell. They are a short-passing offense that relies on superior athletes to beat you for yards; they did that with aplomb. But Michigan knew that coming into the game; hell, I knew that coming into the game, and I barely pay attention during parts of games. And for all the hand-wringing about Indiana "exposing" Michigan last week, the Hoosiers barely cracked 5 yards per play in that game; they averaged almost a whole yard more against OSU (5.1 to 5.8).

Now, massive credit to OSU for exploiting issues in coverage. Brandon Watson was picked on so blatantly that the announcers were talking about it, while the linebackers all struggled to stay with guys coming out of the OSU backfield. OSU had a blindingly-wide open TD in the first half due to every safety on the roster just letting the receiver run past him, and OSU had a couple of other dropped balls that should have been bigger pickups. Michigan looked a step slow not so much because they couldn't run with the OSU players from an athletic standpoint but because said OSU players were able to get Michigan's defenders off-balance far more frequently than we've seen all year. Haskins posed some threat running the ball, but I thought Michigan largely bottled him up. But that lack of pressure let him set his feet more times than not, and when he did it was over. In fact, one of the few times he got flushed from the pocket he nearly threw a pick that bounced off of I believe Long and just past Bush. This game probably looks a lot different if that happens a half-dozen more times.

So I don't know what happens next. I want to provide some more biting insights. But this just feels like an outlier, a snowball that is already rolling down the hill that picks up so much speed nothing can stand in the way. Parris Campbell is fast, but that jet sweep should have been held to a first, at worst. Michigan's defense, previously great at batting away short balls or tackling for minimal gain, suddenly can't get around or are dragged for 5-6 yards after the catch. OSU had a gameplan that should have netted them 30-ish points, but a perfect storm left to the other 30. Part of it is Michigan having trouble defending a certain type of offense like OSU's, where a step slow in coverage can lead to huge gains because there is little help coming from the backfield. But at the same time, this also felt like OSU just played out of their minds. Per S&P+, OSU's offense played at a 97th-percentile; the only better game this year was a 98 against Tulane. Had Michigan gotten even a season-average offensive game from the Buckeyes, this is a much closer game and maybe some breaks go Michigan's way. I honestly don't know.

Quick Hits

Again, with more time and energy I'd dig deeper into individual units. But right now, it's all just a blur and I'm not going to lose too much sleep over measuring the level of ass-kicking.

  • I don't think this team has a red zone offense issue, but on those first couple of FG drives Michigan desperately needed to score more than 3 points. The ball to Gentry absolutely should have been a catch, while the ball to DPJ needed to be a couple of yards past the marker, not before it. In a game where it became painfully clear Michigan was going to need to at least keep up in a foot race, only getting 6 points instead of 14 set them fighting uphill all afternoon.
  • I have no idea if Patterson returns next year, but whomever starts at QB next season is going to have to be integrated more into the running game. I get the desire to keep a QB healthy, but Michigan's offense continues to look best when they can pose a threat outside the pocket. There were a couple of instances in this game when a timely Patterson run would have gotten them some yards on first or second down, but instead they tried to power through the middle of the OSU defense to limited success.

One More Game

Michigan should face a pretty good team in a major bowl; it might be the Rose Bowl against Washington if OSU goes to the playoffs, or in the Fiesta against LSU or WSU if not. Those all seem like reasonable opponents and good games overall. I'll be back writing a diary for that game whenever it happens, where I'll have some final takes on the state of Michigan football. But for now, I'm going to try to get back into the groove of life.


Goggles Paisano

November 26th, 2018 at 6:20 AM ^

Thanks for the write-up bb, that was outstanding.  I'm glad you brought up Gus Johnson because I forgot to in all of the post game threads as the focus was strictly on what went wrong in the game.  I was watching the game with my brother and I told him that "I cannot stand Gus Johnson".  He said "why not?"  I said "because he doesn't know anything about football and all he does is yell at any and every (little or big) opportunity in the game.  That is his schtick and that is all he is.  When he was talking about "the redemption of Meyer" I almost threw up.  It was as if Meyer was wronged and now suffers unwarranted judgement and of course the  headaches ("you see him grab his head right there").  I was so outraged that I let out a F U Gus Johnson in front of my kids. Love Klatt, but Gus Johnson, you suck out loud.  


November 26th, 2018 at 9:58 AM ^

When I used to listen to Bill Simmons's podcast, he had Gus Johnson on and asked him about his announcing style.  Johnson basically said that he reacts like the guys at home or the bar who see big plays and can't help but be excited.  Which I get, until you remember that those guys are fucking annoying after a while.

I like Johnson calling a buzzer beater in a tourney game.  But he's just unremarkable beyond being loud, and the fact he seems to have gotten actively worse at pushing the bullshit isn't helping to cover it up. 

Other Andrew

November 26th, 2018 at 6:34 AM ^

I don't know how you found the energy to put this one together, BronxBlue, but well done. Your sentiments reflect mine and probably a wide swath of Michigan fans. I didn't think I would wake up Sunday feeling down, because in the aftermath of the game, I was a bit more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ than anything else. However, I woke up in a sour mood, and stayed that way. And rightly so. We have to wait another year for a crack at these guys. I can't help but feel that a ton of time and emotional energy put into this season was somewhat wasted. Of course, then I think about how the players and coaches must feel, and I quickly realize nobody should care about me (and nor should I - sunk cost and all that).

The game was not closer than the score indicated, but the teams are not that far apart. Michigan knew what was at stake, but perhaps this is just another level-up on the way. The "Revenge Tour" next year can focus on just one team, and maybe that will work out better. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Swayze Howell Sheen

November 26th, 2018 at 7:05 AM ^

Good article. Tough to write, I imagine. One question: "OSU had a gameplan that should have netted them 30-ish points, but a perfect storm le[d] to the other 30."  This seems pretty optimistic to me - UM had exactly zero answers for what was going on out there. 


November 26th, 2018 at 7:36 AM ^

I guess my argument would be that Michigan not being able to generate any consistent pressure (something they did all year), plus the punt block seemingly out of nowhere, plus the Campbell long run that should have been tamped down, plus OSU being 5/11 on 3rd down yet only scoring TDs, stuff like that.  Sometimes teams look like they don't have counters to anything because the offense just executes perfectly.  I'm probably a bit optimistic, but this was the best performance by OSU's offense against not a body bag game all year, and it wasn't even all that close.  I doubt that was solely because Michigan didn't know how to defend it.


November 26th, 2018 at 8:23 AM ^

Thanks bronxblue. Excellent writing style. You really captured the way I think a lot of us feel (or want to feel, but can't just yet ) and can't figure out why we do. I feel a lot better  


November 26th, 2018 at 9:41 AM ^

Great work. Probably your best of the season. You know its funny all the rants and the pit-of-despair commentary that comes in the initial grieving period after another of these losses is hard to stomach, until reasonable folks start chiming in with well-thought out commentaries which give context to anguished contempt at the world and urgent calls to to blow the whole thing up and start from scratch.

Here's where I disagree with one thing about this rivalry, which both sides have agreed to accept as their lot in life, Ohio State has always chosen its coaches and fired them on the basis of whether they can beat Michigan. Our spiritual leader lived and died on the preparation of beating Ohio State.

The canonization of Bo begins and ends not with his ability to beat Ohio State, but his desire to prepare to beat them on any platform of their greatest stature. This was true when he beat Woody's best-ever team in 1969 and the day he died while doing a TV appearance in anticipation of the biggest matchup of the rivalry since the Ten Year War in 2006. Bo's legacy are his lasting lessons which encompassed playing your best in every game but preparing the best to beat the best in Ohio State.

That's what Michigan is really about. Always has, and Bo knew it, and always will be. Prepare to win every game, and always prepare to beat Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh knows this. He knows it better than the rest of us. He's the most competitive guy in the world. He was willing to stage national football camps and stir up the college football world just to bring his school back to national prominence and start getting attention among recruits in the South, and this is after coaching in a Super Bowl. Those weren't stunts. Those were recruiting efforts to beat Ohio State.

The fact that he can't or hasn't yet beat Urban Meyer is a problem for him. And he needs to solve it. But I don't believe for one moment that he can't get it done or that he won't like others are mystically claiming. So, Go Blue. And lets prepare to get better and beat the best now and in the future.


November 26th, 2018 at 9:24 AM ^

Well done.  My shorter take:

Michigan football is living through what the Red Sox lived through from 1919 through 2003, having many good teams and some that came very close to winning it all, only to suffer painful disappointment and feeling like their team was cursed.

Michigan’s football program is in an extended coma in its “rivalry” with Ohio State with only infrequent signs of life.  It may take a bunch of “idiots” to revive Michigan when it comes to playing Ohio State in football, just like it took the 2004 “idiots” on the Red Sox to jump-start that franchise to four World Series championships in the past 15 seasons.

Hoping that it won’t take another 65 years before Michigan football wins another national championship.


November 26th, 2018 at 10:57 AM ^

bronxblue, my long-time concern for Michigan is that by having one of its "football rivals" in a state that has a very rich pool of high-school talent from which to draw every year, there is almost no way that Michigan ever will be able to compete at the same level in football as Ohio State, as long as Michigan's in-state talent pool is so much more shallow than Ohio's.

Moreover, today's young football players are growing up in an era when Ohio State has been considered "elite" for their entire lives. Going back to 1993, Ohio State football teams have won fewer than 10 games in only six seasons, while Michigan has won at least ten games in only ten seasons, Michigan State has had seven double-digit-win seasons and Penn State has had nine double-digit-win seasons over that same period of time. If perception is reality, then Michigan could be viewed as a second-tier team within its own division of the Big Ten Conference unless and until it starts to win its division more frequently.

Finally, drawing from the relatively shallow high-school talent pool in Michigan while competing for those talented players against (a) an in-state "football rival" with less stringent academic standards and (b) a school with a much deeper talent pool AND less stringent academic standards (Penn State) adds to my long-term concerns for Michigan football.

It might be futile for Michigan to ever again be like Ohio State in football.  The better challenge might be to be like Stanford and be elite on the national level in numerous sports, even if the football program only rarely competes for a national championship, but consistently can be good, if not great.


November 26th, 2018 at 6:44 PM ^

Well stated Chatster.  The thing is, Michigan also used to greatly benefit from that deep talent pool in Ohio.  In fact, we used to get many of the kids who were also Ohio state's first choice and not just because they stood to be buried on the Buckeye depth chart for a few years if they went that way.  We flat stopped recruiting Ohio, and hired assistants with little or no Ohio high school coaching connections.

Ed Warinner isn't just one of the best O-line coaches in the game, he's a lights-out recruiter of Ohio players.  His history of getting kids to the big pay day is a major attraction.  Ohio State's championship O-line from tackle to tackle was drafted by the NFL, and each started in The Show as rookies.  Two of them weren't even recruited as offensive linemen.  They were struggling on the D-line and were on the verge of quitting when Ed took them.

Better days are coming.


November 26th, 2018 at 9:45 AM ^

Look...  Saying that this offense needs to change is not "reaching for a shiny object" in front of me.  Manball is dead.  It's been dead.  It will continue to be dead.

Imagine if our basketball team played this way...  Sparty lines up, shoulder to shoulder in a semi-circle surrounding the low post.  We come out and run right into the wall instead of taking a ten footer while the blue hairs smile and say "now that's Michigan basketball! Thank god we got rid of that new-fangled plan to take what the defense gives us!  That was a total pussy move!"

It's just maddening to me.  Every team we play crams the box with 8 men on first and second down and we proceed to run directly into it.  Why.  Why do that?  Because it's manly?


November 26th, 2018 at 9:59 AM ^

I agree with you.  I always, ALWAYS, cringe when I'm watching the game and Michigan comes out in a formation that gives the appearance they're accepting a challenge to see how many humans can be packed into a minimal space as possible.  Sometimes it works, granted, but damn if I always feel like the probability of success would be higher if they'd take advantage of a wide field and spread the offense out.


November 26th, 2018 at 10:16 AM ^

This offense isn't manball.  First, that doesn't really mean anything anymore, much like "spread" doesn't either.  Michigan threw the ball about a third of the time on first and second down and ran the other two-thirds of the time.  And that usually worked; they averaged over 5 yards per run and 6.5 per pass.  OSU, noted pass-first super team with a mediocre run game, ran the ball about 57% of the time on first and second down.  And it wasn't like their QB gave them much on the ground.

Michigan's offense works.  It gets bogged down sometimes, like every offense.  There needs to be, and I assume will be, tweaks to it.  But they averaged 37 points per game and had an average yards per play of 6.2.  OSU had an aervage of 6.7, and a lot of that is due to Michigan playing ND to start the year while OSU played Oregon St. 



November 26th, 2018 at 12:32 PM ^

It's amazing to me...  I trust your stats, but I still can't believe it?  They threw a third of the time on first down? 

At any rate, the number of runs vs number of passes isn't really the issue.  If OSU lined up with three down linemen on first down and safeties playing deep, I would run the ball on first down...  My frustration is the inability to take what the defense gives you in favor of "enforcing our will" and "doing what we want to do...  we want to run the ball."

I saw waaaaaayyyyy too much of this:  1st down, OSU stacked box, run directly into it for 2 yards.  2nd down, OSU stacked box, run directly into for 0 yards.  Third and long, OSU shows zone cover, we empty the backfield and throw.

I mean, I'm not keeping track on paper, but the offense is incredibly predictable.  Ask OSU...  The defense is also incredibly predictable.  The "style" of offense is old school sludgefart.  That's what it looks like watching it.  Zero creativity.

I think that Pep and JH would say as much.  The "body blow" thing...  The "set up the pass" thing.  I'm over it.  


November 26th, 2018 at 9:46 AM ^

I reject the notion that Michigan didn't have the athletes to win this game.  Nor do I think it's purely about schemes.  I guess this just sometimes happens to teams. All year, everyone kept saying OSU was terrifying if it could piece together 4 consistent quarters of football.

I agree that since others have done it, and judging by how the rest of the country fares against similarly talented teams, that our OSU problem is more than just talent (although it does make a difference).  There are a number of factors in there including matchups, coaching, scheme, depth, coaching turnover etc.  But, the one factor that seems to get mostly overlooked is where they fall on the schedule...the last game of the regular season every effin year.  This means we cannot play them before another big game in a trap type scenario, which other teams get the luxury of (see MSU in '15, Iowa in '16, and Maryland in '18).  This ensures that every year we are their number one priority and they show up to play their best game, which is when the talent discrepancy (and depth with injuries now) is most evident.


It was great for a while, but saving the last game of the year at noon for this game has been terrible for UM for quite some time.  I think it's time to throw tradition to the wind and allow some flexibility in the schedule, which would increase the likelihood of an upset.  This would also allow the possibility of playing them at night.  It would also be nice to get rid of the divisions and play a rotating schedule with the two best records playing each other in the conference title game to make the alignment more equitable.  At some point you have to ask what is more important, winning the game or tradition?  Otherwise, soon the tradition will be losing the game...if it's not already.


November 26th, 2018 at 12:15 PM ^

I have never liked saving a game for one specific time in the season because it just feels weird.  And that applies to all those rivalry games like the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl.  It would be interesting to see how these games play out if Michigan ran into OSU in, say, early November versus the end of the year.


November 26th, 2018 at 9:53 AM ^

Excellent write-up.  Thanks for doing this, bronx.

To me, the sentence that summarizes this best (and I agree with most) is this one:  "But at the same time, this also felt like OSU just played out of their minds."

I truly think that's simply what happened. 

I've been wondering what this game looks like if it's played in Michigan Stadium instead of the Shoe.  The Buckeye fans and players seemed to feed off each other's energy, right from the get-go.  Maybe the result playing at Michigan Stadium is the same, more or less, but damn if it isn't frustrating that, by chance, every "monumental game" in this rivalry since I've been a fan has been away at Columbus.


November 26th, 2018 at 12:17 PM ^

My guess is the game is closer, and who knows if Michigan catches a break or two being at familiar confines.  OSU has been a much different team on the road than at home all year, and my guess is that would have played out at UM as well.  But this performance is the type that can skunk anyone basically anywhere.


November 26th, 2018 at 10:30 AM ^

BronxBlue, thanks for doing this, both during the season and after that craptastic game. I do have to disagree with you on one point. No, the offense was not fine in any respect this game. There were troubling signs that the offensive game planning was timid and predictable all season. We told ourselves that they were trying to keep Shea's turnover tendencies down, and keep him healthy for this game, and not show to much of the playbook, yada yada yada. So now we get to this game, and voila! None of those things were true.  We saw more imaginative, trend busting play calls against Rutgers. Shea had more designed runs against Indiana. No the offense didn't score 31 points in the competitive part of the game. 41-19 with the defense unable to stop an unruly toddler, let alone OSU's offense. It was over then; therefore, they scored 19 in the competitive portion of the game

It's possible this is the offense Harbaugh wants, and Pep is just doing what he's told. I don't buy that argument, and we're not firing Jim Harbaugh. Pep needs to go even if he's just an innocent victim of Jim's myopia. It's been this way for two seasons now; we yak up our worst offensive game plans in our biggest games, and extra weeks before the game just makes them even worse. Time to try something different. We didn't accept last year's debacle on the offensive line, and low Warriner fixed most of what ailed that unit. It's just time to move on from Pep.


November 26th, 2018 at 10:36 AM ^

Excellent write-up.  I tend to agree that OSU just had one of those games where everything clicked for them.  But I disagree we match up to OSU from a player standpoint across the entire teams.  OSU knew our weaknesses - DT and Safeties - and attacked with superior player matchups.  Double teaming Gary and Winovich worked because our DT are just meh versus a solid OSU interior.  Getting Campbell or Hill matched up on our slowest DB and/or OLB was totally in their favor ... and the aggressive man coverage left huge swaths of the field open for chunk plays from elite WRs.  OSU has 4 guys of DPJ-quality on the field at the same time, posing nightmare spread matchups out of the slot or created from pick/rub/crossing patterns.  And Haskins is a legit NFL passer when given the time, which their pass pro scheme achieved.

You have to give credit to OSU's game plan, but if UM had better DTs and Safeties it probably gets stuffed or at least contained to that 35 points you mentioned and we can win that game.  It feels like we are getting closer as a program, but there are still areas to improve.  

So onward to the bowl game, would like to see this team go out with a W and finish 11-2.  This team is filled with hard working guys who deserve our support.

DC Wolverine

November 26th, 2018 at 11:05 AM ^

Excellent column. Sober, cold analysis.  Agree with almost all of it.  Thank you for the time, energy and effort to crank this out in the depths of horrifying sadness.  That's the Michigan Difference. Go Blue! 


November 26th, 2018 at 11:18 AM ^

It's more than a bit wrong to suggest that the NCAA's punishment of PSU was "limp."

For one thing, the only thing the NCAA could have added was the "death penalty." Otherwise it was one of the harsher punishments ever handed down.

Besides that, the things done or not done by PSU were criminal in nature, and were totally outside the jurisdiction of the NCAA. That is why the NCAA crumpled like a wet paper bag the moment a PA State Senator sued them to get the state's money back. They knew they had no case!

So, allow me to get political for a minute. (I actually like it when sports fans get political, because college football is really the "opiate of the masses" that distracts our attention and because we can be honest with each other, hopefully) One problem we have in this country, bipartisan in nature, is lack of respect for rule of law. Don't let college football allegiances blind you to the fact that the NCAA had no right to its original sanctions against PSU. Don't let justified moral outrage against PSU's admin justify the NCAA's outlandish overreach.

The NCAA is really just as dishonest and corrupt as the CIA and FBI. Shoot, I wouldn't be surprised if they're really the ones who shot JFK. And JR from 'Dallas.' 

I actually live in Pennsylvania. Most people outside of Pennsylvania have no idea what the "real story" is with the Sandusky scandal, because they don't have time invested in the back story.

As an aside, Ohio State learned from PSU. Their crisis management, from a PR standpoint, was far better than it was in 2011 (OSU President Gordon Gee: "I just hope the coach doesn't fire me!") and far better than PSU in 2011. PSU's board of trustees were idiots, utter idiots. Ohio State this time understood that if you do nothing for long enough, people will forget about it. The memory hole.

Note: This is coming from someone who hates post-sanctions PSU.


November 26th, 2018 at 11:21 AM ^

I couldn't take the tension so I left for a hike on top of a rock. My phone didn't get service, hence I was unaware of the carnage while spending time with family and friends. After a while I gathered the courage to ask my friend to check the score for me. 48-25 with 14 minutes to go. My heart sank. I don't think I have still recovered. 

I get it that there are some differences in athlete talents, number of talented players, injuries, and general bloody-mindedness. But why the team fails to prepare for the Game, year after year? To me it boils down to, if Purdues of the world can do it, why can't Michigan? Why not even a semblance of fight? As the saying goes, if one plays not-to-lose, they are unlikely to win. I guess somehow Michigan falls prey to that. 

In the big scheme of things a football game doesn't matter. In a day-to-day life, it pushes one down into the BPONE. Year after year.

Thanks for writing the column. I eagerly await for it every Sunday night, three months of the year. One of these years, we'll finish this weekend on a happy note. and Brian will write two UFRs that week. 


November 26th, 2018 at 2:17 PM ^


I think the team prepared for this game.  They probably prepared really hard.  But sometimes you just get run over by a freight train, and that happened here.  OSU played their best offensive game of the year at the same time Michigan played their worst defensively (by far), and that's how a game like this gets out of hand.  The past 2 years Michigan played more talented OSU teams to a standstill, and I have no reason to believe that level of preparation didn't happen here.


November 27th, 2018 at 9:09 AM ^

Thanks for this. It was a treasure. Well constructed and well written. I spent the entire week leading up to The Game drawing parallels to a cinematic treasure "The Great White Hype." Everything that happened in the run up to the game felt like it came straight out of Reverend Sultan's (Samuel L. at his finest) promotional machinery. I kept thinking Ohio State was James "The Grim Reaper" Roper (Damon Wayans). Laying on the couch eating pudding and smoking Kools. But he was the reigning champ and when that bell rang, he just walked out and put Irish Terry Conklin (Meeechigan) to sleep.

I also had terror visions of Jim Harbaugh as General Patton, sitting there in his cufflinks and pearl-handled revolvers with a glass of cognac reading up on his rival Herr Erwin ... Urban ... Rommel. In the end, he would vanquish Rommel, masterfully using his tanks to outmaneuver Rommel's tanks in the Horseshoe and then exclaiming "Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!!!"

Only problem is when the battle really happened, Rommel was using drone strikes and SAMs against Jimmy's Pershings and howitzers. It pretty much came to pass.

I certainly agree with your assertion that Michigan prepared for this game, just like Irish Terry trained his ass off for the fight and looked every inch the part coming in. But they clearly prepared wrong. For example, I refuse to believe Ambry Thomas just does whatever he wants when he ball is kicked to him and his decisions on kick returns Saturday must have been at least somewhat guided by some kind of emphasized coaching point. I surmise that UM thought they had something there and could consistently exploit OSU's kick coverage. The polar opposite turned out to be true and UM paid for it with horrible field position on multiple occasions. Their assumptions, and consequently their preparation, turned out to be dead wrong and led to disastrous results. Defense ... looks like the same thing. They thought they had the antidote, but it was clear from the first crossing route that they were going to get bit and die from the poison.


November 26th, 2018 at 2:20 PM ^

There were still 18 minutes left in the game when OSU went up 41-19. Michigan responded with a TD drive to make it a two score game with 14 minutes left to go. It was still possible to win the game at that point. Unlikely, yes. But possible. What Michigan needed was a defensive stop and they couldn't get it. After the Campbell TD put OSU up 48-25, Michigan responded again with a TD to make it a two score game with 9 minutes left. A victory was increasingly unlikely, but still within the realm of possibility. But they needed a stop, and once again, they couldn't get it. At that point it was over with OSU going up 55-32 with 7 minutes left.

So I would not describe the offense as "fine", but I do think it produced enough for Michigan to make it a competitive game. The defense on the other hand was awful and lost the game. There was immense pressure on DJ Durkin after the 2015 blowout loss to OSU. There should be equal if not more pressure on Don Brown after a far worse performance.



November 26th, 2018 at 2:21 PM ^

Well, 7 of OSU's points came from a blocked punt, so let's just chalk up special teams gaffes to both sides.

Also, it's not beyond the pale that a team can come back down 16 points in a quarter.  Michigan scored with over 14 minutes left in the 4th and, had they scored on a 2-point conversion, would have been down 2 TDs.  


November 26th, 2018 at 11:33 AM ^

Hopefully we will get someone like LSU (I admit I have not watched them this year maybe they are a spread team now as well) - if we face another passing spread team we will have the same issues - unless their O-line absolutely sucks. Next year Don Brown needs to work on the zone defense. We are not going to be able to beat modern passing schemes with our current man to man defense. Even in the B1G it seems like the  majority of teams are now pass spread offenses.


November 26th, 2018 at 12:11 PM ^

THANK YOU for calling out Gus Johnson... I honestly don't usually get the announcer hate, but this was ridiculous. Not just the Urban Redemption arc, but the fact that he pulled up a coverage replay just to gripe about the Michigan secondary being grabby (right after OSU had scored a TD on a blatant pick play with a WR blocking like 6 yards downfield). Or how he was praising Haskins for "brilliance" for basically throwing balls on target to wide open guys (which, he had an excellent game, but nothing shocking for a known accurate QB).

And spot on with the general gripes about "redemption". It's not that anybody who's done their time ought to be a pariah forever - it's that winning at sportsball should never be a "redemption" for being a trash human. Whether or not Urban is "redeemed" (he's not) has nothing to do with the final score of The Game.


November 26th, 2018 at 12:59 PM ^

A very informative and interesting writeup.

I don't entirely agree with some of the conclusions.  The offense isn't "just fine."  It was decent and would have been adequate if the defense and special teams did their part.  But it needs to be much more explosive to keep up with the opponent on a day like Saturday.  We have the talent but don't utilize it well.  Like any defense, our Don Brown defense has some weaknesses which can be exploited - but I don't think it's prudent to try changing that drastically given the overall success.  21 of OSU's points were gifted to them due to INT's and a blocked kick and a couple late scores were probably due to an emotional letdown, fatigue and injuries.

We do need to make some improvements to address these issues.  A new OC would probably be a great start.  Continuing to recruit for greater overall depth as well as speed in the secondary on defense would be the next area of focus.

But I agree that it is not appropriate to draw too many conclusions from a single bad game, really less than one bad half.  We have the talent and ability to beat OSU.   Except for some bad breaks and an incredibly inept QB performance, we had them beaten the last two years.  OSU was destroyed by one team with lesser talent this year (and last year) and should have lost a couple more to others with much lesser talent.

So our recent futility against OSU is bizarre. It's like a curse.  It's combination of bad luck and likely something else.  It may be preparation.  Maybe OSU prepares better for this game, making it a major focus.


November 26th, 2018 at 1:00 PM ^

Yes. F*ck Gus Johnson. The next person who tells me how great he is should be condemned to sit and listen to that grating bastard in a small room in Purgatory.




November 26th, 2018 at 1:05 PM ^

I appreciate the fact that you managed to write this.  I'm just...done.  I don't want to watch the Game anymore.  It now exists in that particularly bad place where unpleasant meets boring.  The frustration is matched only by the predictability.

I'm not done being a Michigan fan, to be sure.  But I plan on skipping the game next year and - to the extent that I can - even entertaining the idea of Michigan beating OSU.  It all just becomes silly at some point.


November 26th, 2018 at 3:31 PM ^

Thank you for this write-up. I've enjoyed your stuff all season.

I think our defense had to pick its poison and it just chose wrong.  Our average DTs could get no pressure, so OSU could single block them while doubling Chase and Gary.  Normally we would send LB blitzes for pressure, but they had to drop all day into coverage. Once Haskins had time, his receivers could get separation from a couple of our D backs.  That was the end of us.  

If our line got pressure on Haskins, that was a whole 'nother ball game.  


November 26th, 2018 at 3:49 PM ^

Thanks for the terrific analysis as always.  Funny that I find what you write about Michigan football is better than 90% of the stuff written by beat reporters and the sports journalism crowd.  

Keep on keeping on.  My 2 cents regarding the game....Buckeyes O played their ceiling game and our D played its basement game.  Worst of all combinations. I consider the outrageous 62 points allowed to be an anomaly.  Buckeyes had their dander up and played a whale of a game.

We are a B+ team that is ascending.  Not quite great yet.

Harbaugh has an excellent coaching staff and much to be proud of.  Needs to get back to work and win the bowl game against a good opponent so he and the returning players can wash the terrible taste out of their collective maws.


November 27th, 2018 at 11:52 AM ^

They really did play to the extremes.  Connelly's numbers had Michigan's defense at 3% while OSU was at 97% in terms of performance, which has to be on of the largest divides of the year.  There are two teams that are probably reasonably close overall playing at the exact opposite ends of the spectrum, and that led to a massive blowout.  

I think the bowl game needs to be a solid showing so this doesn't feel like 2016, when the OSU loss really stung more than it should because they couldn't follow it up with a win.


November 26th, 2018 at 4:26 PM ^

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: no one who participates in college football-- as a coach, as an announcer, as a fan, as a parent-- has any right to call out other people for their moral failings.  Given what we now know to be true about CTEs, we are all knowingly urging, promoting, and validating young men who do not yet have full executive function in their brains to injure themselves in ways that will lead to depression, suicide, premature dementia, memory loss, and other awful outcomes.

You want to feel self righteous because Urban Meyer thought that the police being informed about possible domestic violence was enough?  You don't have a leg to stand on.  Your coach is doing far, far worse every day, just by choosing to play his role in this barbaric sport.  As fans, we are all valuing our personal entertainment over the lives of the young men we cheer for and against.  None of us pass any sort of reasonable moral litmus test, and just because so many other people are doing it doesn't somehow make it less morally reprehensible.

"But look at what he did, Meyer is such a bad man, I feel so good *my* coach didn't do that!" is a pathetic attempt to make you feel better about your team losing. If you cared *at all* about the morality of the coaches, you would view Meyer's handling of the Zach Smith situation as the very least of his sins.   But to do so would force you to recognize your own coach's culpability in a far worse transgression, which you have no interest in doing.  You don't really care about the morality of what college football coaches do; you're just latching on to something that you think makes you feel superior.   


November 27th, 2018 at 12:11 AM ^

You present an interesting perspective but an incomplete one.  There are risks and benefits to absolutely everything in life.  These athletes are adults and capable of making their own decision regarding the matter.  As for CTE, the scientific picture is still murky and evolving.  Of course, it exists but the exact nature and extent of the risks are still not fully determined.  Unfortunately, the popular hysteria crushes any dissenting opinion or skepticism on the subject.  And lawyers will exploit this hysteria before all the facts are known.  I will probably even be down voted for even questioning this hysteria.  But that's beside the point.  People should be free to make their own decisions in life, to weigh risks and benefits and choose accordingly.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, is risk free.  Your paternalistic attitude, so common today, destroys this freedom.  And without freedom, life is without joy.


November 27th, 2018 at 11:58 AM ^

Moral high grounds are always dubious, but your argument seems to be that because football is inherently dangerous and yet everyone takes part in it, that apparently blankets all other behavior that can be tangentially related to it.  Which makes no sense to me.  Urban Meyer is an asshole who covered up domestic violence because he felt like he owed a mentor's horrible grandson a job.  The fact that said job was poorly coaching a football team doesn't somehow roll that behavior into some general, societal "wrong".  

By this very tortured logic, we shouldn't hold anyone accountable or negatively view anyone because we are all part of societies that have killed others for their own gain.  It's moral relativism taken to the nth-degree, which is fun for a college freshman I guess but doesn't have any relevance to modern society.

In other words:


doesn't make it less relevant.