Cross the Ts, dot the I’s, and cross out the Ms. We are now officially ankle deep into M*ch*g*n Week.
And with the week beginning, we were — somewhat — back to the normal routine of how the Ohio State Buckeyes operate going into game week. On Monday, head coach Urban Meyer was back at the podium inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center briefing the media about the Bucks latest win (Maryland) and their upcoming opponent (TTUN).
Ohio State escaped College Park, Md., with a win on Saturday, but get the regular season finale against their rival inside the friendly confines of The Horseshoe. Saturday though is still a handful of days away, and there’s still a lot to be accounted for. Some members of the Scarlet and Gray are recovering from injuries, while others are trying to improve their play.
Meyer touched on a little bit of everything during his presser, but let’s take a look at the five important quotes in his final regular season briefing with the media.
1. “I thought that we started to crack the rock the last few weeks as far as playing good defense, elimination of big plays. And obviously it was not good.”
After defeating Michigan State, 26-6, a couple of weeks ago, it seemed that the Buckeyes were getting better on defense. They stifled the Spartans a week after nearly getting upset at home by Nebraska. The upward trend looked promising.
That all came crashing down last Saturday against the Terrapins, as 535 yards were surrendered by the OSU defense. Terp running back Anthony McFarland took off for 298 yards, which is one of the worst rush-D performances ever in the history of Buckeye football. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome lobbed 181 yards and a touchdown on just six completions, with his longest pass of the day going for 60 yards.
However, the defense did make some plays; they forced a fumble early in the first quarter, stopped Pigrome on the final drive of regulation from getting UMD into game-winning field goal range, and sacked the QB four times. But you’d like more from the OSU defense against a 5-5 squad.
This week will be a big challenge, as Michigan’s offense is led by QB Shea Patterson and RB Karan Higdon. They are more experienced than the stars that Maryland had, and have done a lot better over the course of the season. In a later question, Meyer stated that eight missed tackles were committed against UMD — and that five is the maximum number of whiffs that they generally are willing to accept throughout a game.
Big hits were attributed to the misses, which has me a little concerned for this week. You know walking in that The Game is gonna be a hard-nose, tough-it-out battle on both sides of the ball. These young men are going to go full force, and with a head full of steam. If the Buckeye defense want that big hit, they may end of collecting a big missed tackle in the process if they aren’t careful.
Meyer knows the issue. The question is will this team stick with fundamentals over flash in the biggest game of the season?
2. “He’s probable. As a matter of fact the last 20 minutes I went and saw him. He’s doing good. I think we’ll get some practice out of him tomorrow.”
The player in question? Offensive lineman Thayer Munford. He got rolled up on in the UMD game, and his status was cloudy for The Game. With Meyer addressing him as probable, there should still be a grain of salt taken with his ability to be able to play come noon Saturday. If he isn’t 100 percent, would you still put him in? Branden Bowen and Brady Taylor might be an option if you have to dig deep down into the roster, but it appears that backup Joshua Alabi would be the go-to if Munford isn’t ready.
Meyer was hoping to get Munford back on the practice field on Tuesday; so, hopefully, sometime soon we should have a more definitive answer on whether or not we’ll see Munford this weekend. Left tackle is a critical position, especially when you consider how good the UM defense is this season.
In the same breath, running back Mike Weber, who missed the Maryland game, is said to be good to go after a quad bruise. During the last game, it was unknown as to why Weber wasn’t getting into the game; eventually the TV broadcast reported that it was for an undisclosed injury. Meyer explained the the injury in his postgame press conference.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Baron Browning has been cleared to play. Considering how the defense performed last week, I don’t see why he won’t be used this weekend against the Wolverines.
3. “And does that involve maybe more risk, more this, more that? I think it probably does. You’re probably a little more conservative when it is a team that you’re better than.”
This was Meyer’s response when asked about taking risks in games where the talent is equal. If we’re using Urban’s theory, so far it’s rung true. Against TCU, Minnesota, Michigan State and Maryland, the Buckeyes were obviously the better team. And in each game, the opposition did some razzle-dazzle trick plays to catch the Bucks off guard. While a couple of the plays got called back because of penalties being committed, some of them worked out perfectly.
Going into this week, don’t expect Ohio State to be doing the trick plays, and I’d wager that Michigan won’t be breaking open the piggy bank for the tricks, either. There’s so much on the line in this game (bragging rights, division title crown, and possible College Football Playoff aspirations) that one failed trick play could bring all the goals/hopes/dreams down in one fell swoop.
Now, does that mean the Bucks won’t be going for it on, say, a fourth-and-2 from the UM40? I think there will be some conservatism on risky play calling, but it’ll all be calculated. If a certain play call hasn’t been utilized, and a pressure situation comes up (i.e. third or fourth down) you might see something big happen. Whether that means Dwayne Haskins airs it out on a deep ball, or goes to the flat on a fourth down to Luke Farrell, knowing the thought process of Meyer helps in forecasting what he may do in game situations.
Jim Harbaugh, on the other hand, is a wild card.
4. “It’s not who’s favored and who is not. I didn’t know that. And I don’t imagine our team really does, I guess. If they are, then they’re looking at the wrong stuff. They ought to be working on how to win an individual battle against a good team.”
Early Monday, the Wolverines were a four-point favorite. For the first time since 2011, the eyes of the betting world had UM beating OSU. And it’s the first time since 2004 that they were road favorites.
It’s hard to not notice this kind of stuff. But Meyer believes in the contrary.
Rivalry Week is a weird thing. In a way, it doesn’t matter what the lines are; in fact, I’d wager that all bets are off at what actually happens. If the Buckeyes come out with fire, they can easily pull off the upset. But if the team up north puts six years of frustration into their game plan, they could easily pull off a monumental win.
Winning individual battles will be where it’s at. Just like in 1995, when UM running back Tim Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards over the Buckeye defense; and in 2006, when Troy Smith led the Buckeye offense in a nail-biting 42-39 victory against Michigan in “The Game of the Century.” The team that wins the most individual battles, wins the game. The Buckeye offensive line vs. the Wolverines D-line, and the Michigan pass attack vs. the Buckeye pass-D will be just two of the battles to keep an eye on.
5. “I’ll say this, especially the time and the effort and the players and the coaching staff -- and if you’re asking me, the head coach -- the amount of time and effort that you put into these games -- and certainly there’s no bigger than this -- you know, the word pressure absolutely is there. For someone to say there’s no pressure that’s not true.”
Careers have been made and lost in this rivalry.
Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler both had legendary careers in no small part because of their 10 Year War, which included national titles aspirations and Rose Bowl appearances being blossomed or spoiled.
John Cooper is a College Football Hall of Fame coach, yet he’s remembered most in Columbus for this set of numbers: 2-10-1, his record against OSU’s rival. Lloyd Carr won a title with the Wolverines in 1997, but an ice cold streak against Jim Tressel cut his time in Ann Arbor short — whether it was warranted or not.
Meyer has not lost to TTUN in six tries, and there is big pressure on him to win a seventh time. On the other side, Harbaugh has yet to defeat Ohio State. Something has to give this Saturday some extra importance, as another year of bragging rights is just one of the storylines in this chapter of The Game.