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.

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Big Ten to reveal alignment – Michigan, Ohio State split

While the conference has yet to make an official announcement, ESPN.com is reporting that the Big Ten will be split this way for the 2011-12 season:

Division #1
Michigan
Nebraska
Iowa
Michigan State
Northwestern
Minnesota

Division #2
Ohio State
Penn State
Wisconsin
Purdue
Indiana
Illinois

There are always crossover games every year in conferences with two divisions and the Big Ten won’t be any different. Michigan and Ohio State will still play each other every season and with the way the divisions are set up, they have the opportunity to square off in the conference championship game too, if the Wolverines ever become relevant again, that is.

The same goes for Wisconsin and Minnesota when they battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe every year.

Some of the rivalries had to stay intact (i.e. Michigan and Michigan State for one example), and I think the conference decision makers did well with this realignment. There’s no question that there’s a sense of balance between the two divisions.

Ohio State defeats Michigan, claims Big Ten title outright

Coleman

At least the Wolverines managed to keep the Buckeyes in check for the first half. Nevertheless, countless mistakes led to their downfall in front of their fans in Ann Arbor.

Michigan had given up at least 400 yards per game all season, so they were facing a huge challenge against a high-scoring Buckeyes team. Although they’ve done well against the pass, their front seven has been weak at best. That being said, Jim Tressell wisely had his team run the ball throughout the game. Terrelle Pryor’s arm has improved, but nobody expected him to throw into Michigan’s pass coverage. Thus, Pryor only passed for 67 yards, but his Buckeyes rushed for 251 yards total, including 74 of his own.

Without considering Ohio State’s proficient running game, there is no way Michigan is going to beat their rivals when their quarterback, Tate Forcier, is tossing four interceptions. From the outset, things didn’t look good for the Wolverines. During Michigan’s first drive, Forcier fumbled the ball outside of his own end zone, providing an easy touchdown for the Buckeyes’ Cameron Heyward. For all his shortcomings, the freshman quarterback did throw for 226 yards against an intimidating Buckeyes defense, so there’s promise.

In the third quarter, Pryor connected with Daniel Herron on a beautifully constructed play for a 12-yard touchdown. That brought the score to 21-10, giving the Buckeyes a large enough lead to focus on containing the Wolverines’ offense.

In defeating Michigan for the sixth year in a row, the Buckeyes also clinched an outright Big Ten championship. They will head into the Rose Bowl on a five-game winning streak. With guys like Kurt Coleman, Brandon Saine, and Herron stepping up, Ohio State will have a great chance in their BCS game. Their losses to USC and Purdue earlier this season must have never happened.

College Football Wrap: Ohio State 42, Michigan 39

The hype, these teams and this contest did not disappoint. The two best teams in college football played Saturday and in my opinion, the better team won, too.

Ohio State had a better game plan, was more physical and out-executed Michigan. Think about this: the Buckeyes coughed up three turnovers, which led to 10 points. Take away two bad snaps by a club-handed OSU center and the Buckeyes win by at least two touchdowns.

Everything that was wrong with Michigan’s defense last year was on display again in this game. Poor run defense, tackling and dumb mistakes plagued UM for four quarters. The tackling and dumb mistakes were on the Wolverines, but credit must be given to Jim Tressel and the OSU offense for the way Michigan’s run defense was shredded for touchdown runs of 52 (Chris Wells) and 56 (Antonio Pittman) yards. Tressel used spread formations with four and sometimes five receivers to get the Wolverines’ talented group of linebackers back on their heels. That created gaping holes for Wells and Pittman and UM did the rest with shoddy tackling. This was a defensive unit that was giving up just over 29 yards on the ground per game coming into this contest and left Columbus surrendering 202.

Troy Smith should have cemented his claim for the Heisman Trophy tonight. While I thought he was a little careless on the two OSU fumbles (although both not his fault), Smith picked apart the UM secondary, was accurate the entire game and displayed great mobility getting outside the pocket. Smith threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns while connecting with playmaker Ted Ginn Jr. eight times for 103 yards and a 39-yard touchdown. Both Smith and Ginn got Morgan Trent turned around like a top on more than a handful of occasions. I thought the stat of the game for Smith was how he connected with eight different receivers, including four different teammates on his touchdown throws.

Mike Hart and Chad Henne should not be overlooked in Michigan’s loss. Hart rushed for 140 yards on 23 carries and scored three times. Henne, although not as accurate as Smith was, threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Mario Manningham (six catches, 85 yards) was superb too, although OSU did a nice job of keying on him after the opening drive. While I thought UM was extremely balanced on offense, I’m surprised that they didn’t run Hart even more in effort to keep OSU’s offense off the field. Although you can’t argue with the passing lanes that were created by offensive coordinator Mike DeBord’s scheme, which allowed the Wolverines to pass more than they usually do. While I thought the Buckeye secondary would play a lot better, give credit to Henne for throwing a couple of frozen ropes.

In the end, the Buckeyes played fundamental ball and had a tremendous game plan on offense to remain balanced. While UM will kick itself for not making better adjustments after giving up 28 points in the first half, the effort given for the late Bo Schembechler shouldn’t be overlooked.

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