“It’s farfetched to think that for a player to understand what The Game is about, he has to be from Ohio or Michigan.”
- Tim May, The Columbus Dispatch
In his weekly press conference, Urban Meyer was asked multiple times about the importance of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, and how the requisite passion can be achieved when the Buckeye roster is increasingly national; Meyer credited previous coaches Woody Hayes, Earl Bruce, and Jim Tressel for providing the blueprint (notice a name conspicuously missing?).
As May rightly points out, some of the most important figures in Saturday’s game for the Buckeyes were out-of-state recruits; J.T. Barrett, Mike Weber, J.K. Dobbins, Jalyn Holmes, Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, just to name a few.
However, it is clear from their passion and understanding of the rivalry that those players have been indoctrinated from even before they stepped on campus. Holmes talks about watching the game on TV, Barrett discusses seeing a video posted online of a Michigan commit burning his Ohio State recruiting letters, and Jones talks about growing up in the Midwest with the rivalry all around him.
“It’s the biggest rivalry in college football,” the Chicago-native said. “There’s a lot of trash talk between (the) two states, not even just the teams. There’s a lot of bragging rights on the line. Being from the Midwest, I know all about this rivalry. It means a lot to a lot of people.”
However, Meyer’s efforts to get all players on board, regardless of where they are from, not only involves banning the wearing of the color blue and requiring players to refer to the Wolverines as “The Team Up North,” but it also involves Michigan-specific workouts throughout the year, the clock counting down to The Game, and the regular reminders that the Buckeyes have only lost to UM twice in this millennium.
If the understanding of, and the buying in to, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is vital to a team’s on-field success, it is difficult to imagine a coaching staff doing a better job of educating its out-of-state players than this one has over the last six years.
“Looking for the next J.T. Barrett? Look no further than J.K. Dobbins.”
- Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland.com
It’s often said that quarterback is the most important position in all of sports, and no matter how you feel about J.T. Barrett’s perceived strengths or weaknesses, there is no denying that he has been the most productive quarterback in the history of the Ohio State football program. And, because of that production and the value of his position, the Buckeyes have been wildly successful during his tenure in Columbus.
The fact that he’s had the ball in his hands for the vast majority of plays over the past four years has also made him the unquestioned leader of the team; which is evidenced by the fact that he is the first-ever three-year captain in OSU history. However, Texas bloodlines or not, that is what has me hesitant to bestow the mantle of team leader on J.K. Dobbins too early.
My reluctance isn’t in the freshman running back’s ability to give a fiery speech in the locker room, or to lead a team to on-field success, but instead it is in the Ohio State coaching staff’s willingness to let him be the dominant playmaker that the first few games of the season indicated that he could be.
Urban Meyer has said on multiple occasions that Dobbins has earned the right to start, but when it comes to carries, redshirt-sophomore Mike Weber has become more and more the focal point of the offense; even if the Buckeyes could probably stand to run the ball a bit more still.
Now don’t get me wrong, Weber has been excellent, so this isn’t a Dobbins vs. Weber debate, but rather a question as to whether or not the playcallers next year (Kevin Wilson, Ryan Day, Tony Alford, or whomever else might be brought in) will allow Dobbins to get enough touches to assert himself as a leader from a production standpoint.
Given his late season success, I think that there is a legitimate chance that Weber exits for the NFL draft at season’s end, which should give Dobbins a larger percentage of the team’s carries in 2018, but there’s no guarantee that he will get a large enough share to be the teams unquestioned heart and soul.
So, until the offensive coaching staff proves that they are able to put their trust in anyone not named J.T. Barrett, I will have to be convinced that anyone can assume the leadership position that he has earned.
All the former ❌ichigan players giving the current players advise & motivation to beat OSU when y’all NEVER beat us ain’t shit changed!— Cardale Jones (@Cardale7_) November 22, 2017
There is very little better in this world than Cardale Jones dropping truths on Twitter, especially during Michigan Week. However, for those of us that suffered through the heartbreaks of the John Cooper era in Columbus, we might be a little more hesitant to rub Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer’s successes in the faces of our Wolverine friends than 12 Gauge is.
But that’s what’s so great about sports. Trash talking is part of what makes the experience so much fun. If you don’t actually have to get yourself worked up to go out and bang bodies for sixty minutes on Saturday, then there’s no reason for the smack talk to ever be taken too personally.
That’s why every year in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I am very comfortable saying that I “hate” Michigan, because in the context of a college football rivalry, for level-headed fans, there should be a difference between “sports hate” and “you poisoned my dog, stole my car, and stood up my little sister for the senior prom hate.”
Two years ago this week, I tried to define “sports hate” for a very different audience than that here at LGHL, but my ultimate takeaway from writing that piece was that as long as your head understands the context, there’s nothing wrong with letting your heart hate whom it wants to hate.
STICK TO SPORTS
- Forget the NFL. Thanksgiving TV is all about The National Dog Show!
- Twenty-five years ago, “Mortal Kombat” redefined American video games.
- Check out these Thanksgiving-themed podcasts to ease your holiday travel.
- So, you know how you can turn off “location services” in Google? Yea, Google just ignores that.
- “Lady Bird” is the perfect Thanksgiving movie if you want to see something about a family more messed up than yours.