Michigan gets the monkey off its back, beats Ohio State

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (C) celebrates with teammates after his diving touchdown into the end zone against Ohio State during the first half of their NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Michigan November 26, 2011. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES) – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

The streak is over. It had been 2,926 days since Michigan had last beat Ohio State, but today, the Wolverines ended that, picking up a 40-34 win against the Buckeyes in a thrilling game at the Big House.

Courtney Avery picked off a Braxton Miller pass in the final minute of the game to seal the win for Michigan, which is now 10-2 with a legitimate chance to be selected to a BCS bowl. In fact, at this point, I’d be surprised if the Wolverines were passed up by the Sugar Bowl, which is very likely going to have two at-large choices thanks to the SEC likely putting two teams in the national title game.

It was an improved defense that had Michigan in that position heading into today, but it was Denard Robinson that finished the job. The junior quarterback had the best game of his career in what was really a must-win situation for the Wolverines (more on that in a second). He was 14-of-17 for 166 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 170 yards and two scores. He’s had statistically better games, but this is the one that Denard will be remembered for in Michigan.

As to the must-win declaration: With Ohio State in the state it was in this season, and with Urban Meyer coming on board, if Michigan didn’t win this year, it might have been a while before the Wolverines found a way to win against the Buckeyes. Brady Hoke has done a great job in Year 1, but he’s led a bit of a charmed existence thanks to a very weak Big Ten, an 8-game home schedule, and his chief rival — both on the field and in recruiting — being hampered by a rough season on and off the field. He’s taken advantage and deserves credit for doing so — he should make no apologies for dragging a fading program back to 10-2 — but had he lost this game, a lot of the goodwill he has built up might have been gone.

It nearly was, had it not been for the erratic arm of Braxton Miller. The Ohio State freshman looked brilliant in spots, especially running the football, but he missed a lot of open receivers and cost the Buckeyes at least two sure touchdowns with overthrows. The second came on the final drive, as DeVier Posey had double-moved J.T. Floyd into oblivion and was running free down the sidelines.

The thought of Miller with some more seasoning and in Urban Meyer’s offense should scare not only Michigan fans and the rest of the Big Ten, but the rest of the country. Those two will win a lot of games together.

But not today. No, today belonged to Michigan, which isn’t thinking about all of that other stuff while celebrating the only thing that matters in Ann Arbor, beating Ohio State.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Michigan grounded in loss at Michigan State

These might have been hideous, and the game might have been, too, but Michigan State will take it.

The Spartans ended Michigan’s run at a perfect season today with a 28-14 win against “Big Brother.” That’s four straight, which pretty much makes big brother your older, fatter, kind of alcoholic brother that you can beat at sports.

Michigan’s offense was rendered impotent as the Spartans corralled Denard Robinson’s run game and forced him to pass, which, um, isn’t what Michigan wants to be doing. Robinson was 9-of-24 for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The interception was returned for a touchdown by Isaiah Lewis, effectively ending the game.

Perhaps more impressive, however, was Michigan State holding Robinson to under 50 yards rushing. The Spartans also hit him well after the whistle a couple of times, you know, just because. It worked, though, as Robinson was out of the game at the end of Michigan’s final drive, causing backup Devin Gardner — who Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges inexplicably used with relative frequency during the game — to come up with a fourth-and-22 play that is sure to reside at the top of ESPN’s Worst of the Worst for years to come. Seriously, Gardner ran for about 130 yards on the play, 125 of which were in the wrong direction or sideways.

It’s only loss No. 1 for Michigan, but it brings back memories of the Rich Rodriguez era. Michigan State out-schemed Michigan in the second half, destroying the “Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison won’t be out-coached” meme that Michigan fans were spreading. The Wolverines couldn’t tackle, which surely gave Michigan fans the shakes after watching that on repeat for the last three years.

I’m not saying Brady Hoke = Rich Rodriguez, but this should put the brakes on the Brady Hoke for Pope campaigns. Michigan is just now entering the tough part of its schedule, and should expect more of this as it goes on this season.

As for Michigan State, it’s not out of the woods yet. The Spartans have to play Wisconsin and Nebraska in the next two weeks, so the euphoria from this win could wear off quickly. But the Spartans are unbeaten in Big Ten play after games against Ohio State and Michigan, and control their own destiny when it comes to playing for the Big Ten championship.

But that’s all irrelevant right now, as “Little Brother” has officially grown up and is in control of the state of Michigan, which might be the most important thing to the residents of East Lansing.

Michigan wins a wild one over Notre Dame

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson looks for his receiver during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in Ann Arbor, Michigan September 10, 2011. Both teams wore throw back jerseys during the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook (UNITED SATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

With the first night game in Big House history, throwback uniforms and an incredible last-second win over Notre Dame, Michigan fans got quite a treat last night. The atmosphere was electric and completely different from what we’ve come to expect from the wine and cheese ground in Ann Arbor.

Players on both sides made some spectacular plays, and Denard Robinson overcame a bad interception to drive down the field for the winning touchdown.

That said, this was one of the more pathetic displays of defense I’ve ever seen in college football. Brady Hoke might be bringing toughness back to Michigan, but he and his coaching staff should be embarrassed by what happened on Notre Dame’s last touchdown. Meanwhile, Chip Kelly has never been known for his defenses, and Notre Dame found a way to give up huge plays with under 30 seconds left in the game.

Michigan’s Denard Robinson dilemma

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (16) runs the ball by Ohio State defender Johnathan Hankins (52) during the second quarter of their NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Michigan’s new head coach, Brady Hoke, is facing a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, he needs to bring Michigan back to playing Michigan football after the disastrous RichRod experiment. That means moving back to a pro style offense and moving from the absurd 3-3-5 defense that stopped nobody in the Big Ten back to a traditional 4-3. Michigan needs to get bigger, and Hoke has started that process with his 2011 recruiting class.

Yet with respect to the offense, Hoke also has Denard Robinson, one of the most explosive college football players we’ve seen in years. He was perfect for RichRod’s offense, even though that offense and Robinson sputtered against better defenses. It was an all-or-nothing proposition, and naturally Hoke is anxious to move on.

So how does he use Denard Robinson going forward? Hoke says “We’re smart enough to have elements he does well from what he did in the past in our offense.” But he plans on using Robinson as the quarterback in his pro style offense, which will have Robinson taking snaps under center instead of the shotgun and relying on play action.

I’m skeptical this can work. Sure, he’ll still unleash Robinson at times, and I suspect they might use the option play, but Robinson’s effectiveness will likely suffer dramatically under this system.

Robinson made big plays in the passing game last year, but that was because he found wide-open receivers when defenses tried in vain to slow down his running game. This year he won’t have that luxury. I don’t see Robinson consistently making the tough throws demanded in a pro style offense. He’s also very short and that will limit him as well.

We’ll see how this experiment plays out, but I suspect that Hoke will regret taking Robinson out of his element.

A better option might be to have a traditional quarterback run Hoke’s new offense, and keep a version of RichRod’s system around for Robinson to run as a Wildcat formation. He could also use Robinson as a Slash-type weapon in the traditional offense.

Right now their odds of winning the Big Ten are set at 15/1, so few are expecting a breakout year.

With this transition and the drama surrounding the Big Ten this year with the addition of Nebraska and the troubles at Ohio State, Michigan should be one of the more intriguing stories of 2011.

Ohio recruiting battle heats up

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel celebrates with his team after their NCAA football game against Indiana University in Columbus, Ohio in this October 9, 2010 file photo. The Ohio State University announced on May 30, 2011 that head coach Tressel had resigned and that Fickell will take over as interim head coach for the 2011 season. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Things have changed dramatically in the Big Ten since Ohio State defeated Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl last year behind Terrelle Pryor and other Buckeyes who were set to start suspensions at the beginning of the 2012 season. The ensuing scandal has claimed Jim Tressel’s job, sent Terrelle Pryor to the NFL supplemental draft and has added uncertainty to Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting operation. Ohio State vacated last season’s wins and Gene Smith is hoping the NCAA won’t impose more sanctions, but there’s uncertainty and it’s impacting Ohio State’s recruiting.

Meanwhile, the powers that be at Michigan came to their senses and parted ways with Rich Rodriguez. They hired Brady Hoke, and now they’re going after 300-pound linemen again. At Michigan State, Mark Dantonio continues to turn that program around as well.

With the problems at Ohio State, Hoke and Dantonio are going after the talented recruits in the state of Ohio that were mostly locked up during the Tressel years. Michigan just landed Kyle Kalis, a huge lineman from the Cleveland area who is a top-150 recruit according to ESPN. He had originally committed to Ohio State, but then changed his mind in the face of potential sanctions.

Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski is giddy in his recent column as he explains the potential for Michigan and Michigan State to turn the tables on the Buckeyes if more Ohio recruits shun the Buckeyes. As he points out, “since 2001, Michigan and Michigan State are a combined 1-15 against Ohio State.” Part of it was coaching, but recruiting was very important as well as Tressel did a great job of keeping the best Ohio players in Ohio.

There’s no doubt that the Michigan schools will get a boost, but even Wojnowski admits it will likely be temporary, and it might not affect the balance of power much at all.

First, consider that Ohio State had a monster recruiting class last year, and they were already loaded with young talent. The Buckeyes picked up two quarterbacks last year that could make them set at the position for the next six years! Braxton Miller was a top-ranked recruit last year, and many think he can start this year as a true freshman. He’s a mobile quarterback, but he’s also a pure passer with great instincts as well. He’s not a physical specimen like Pryor, but he’ll likely be a better all-around quarterback.

The Buckeyes also picked up Glenville’s Cardale Jones who many see as a Pryor clone. He’s big, strong and fast, and many think he has a better arm than Pryor. He’ll be grayshirting as he needs to go to a prep school to work on academics. If that works out, he can redshirt the following year and then be available for the following four years.

Next, Ohio State is still getting recruits. Kalis was a huge loss, but the other nine 2012 commits have decided to stay with the Buckeyes. They are all Ohio kids but they aren’t top-150 stars, and the Buckeyes aren’t getting an national recruits. Instead, they’re getting kids who bleed scarlet and gray. Just this week they added two more recruits, Luke Roberts and Patrick Elfein. Neither of these guys were snagged away from top programs like USC or Alabama, but they are solid recruits from the state of Ohio. Ohio State has plenty of blue-chippers from the previous three recruiting classes, having one “down” year where they load up on high-character kids who love the Buckeyes can actually be a positive.

This brings us to Luke Fickell, Ohio State’s “interim” head coach. Fickell is determined to infuse the team with values like toughness and character, and he recently brought on Mike Vrabel as an assistant coach. This was a real coup, as Vrabel brings his three Super Bowl rings and a ton of credibility to the coaching staff. Wojnowski had a peculiar reaction, calling the hiring of the “inexperienced” Vrabel an act of “desperation.” This is where the optimism in Michigan might be getting a little overblown. Vrabel played with Fickell, and hiring a 14-year NFL veteran with three Super Bowl rings as linebackers coach is hardly a desperate move. Also, Vrabel will be a huge help in recruiting, as Luke Roberts stated when he committed to OSU this week.

Unless Ohio Sate gets massive additional penalties from the NCAA, I doubt the recruiting landscape will change much as a result of the scandal after this year. Ohio State will get back to landing the best recruits out of Ohio, and that will give them a big edge against their rivals.

The factor that will have an effect on the balance of power is coaching. Michigan made a huge mistake going to RichRod and getting away from physical football. They panicked when Tressel was racking up wins against Lloyd Carr, so they made things worse by bringing in a coach who thought he could win with Big East tactics and players. With Brady Hoke, Michigan has a good change of at least getting back to a competitive rivalry just by playing Big Ten football. Hoke is taking advantage of the current situation, so that will help speed up Michigan’s anticipated comeback. Dantonio will keep Michigan State competitive, and Ohio State will be fine either with Fickell if he proves himself or another coach next year.

Related Posts