I must say that I wasn’t really looking forward to this weekend. After the second half of last week’s game, about the only thing that I was looking forward to was next season. But then, on Friday night, the Trojans couldn’t hold their playoff spot, getting stomped by Utah 47-24, and it appeared that the College Football Playoffs selection might be chaotic enough to give Ohio State one more chance.
I had been traveling all week, so it was good to sit in front of the tube and take in a full day’s worth of sports, starting with the World Cup. Defensive lapses cost the U.S. that one, and it was on to the Big 12 championship. It was a game that left me wondering why TCU head coach Sonny Dykes would choose to try for the touchdown on fourth down of his overtime possession, rather than take the field goal. And, given that decision, why he didn’t run a play for quarterback Max Duggan, who had brought the Frogs back into the game. Bad decisions. Kansas State 31, TCU 28.
I live in Savannah, smothered by UGa flags, bulldogs, and obnoxious zealots. But we all know that Georgia is good – really good – and has been for several years now. LSU played a decent game, but this one belonged to the Dawgs all the way. During the matchup, I texted my brother in Columbus, asking him if he’d like to see the Buckeyes taking on Kirby Smart’s boys. His silence was all the answer I needed.
At last, the Big Ten Championship game
Dinner was over. The dishes washed and put away. A couple of ACC teams were playing on another channel, and I was hoping against hope that Jim Harbaugh would take a loss. As TTUN scored on its first possession, I realized that I didn’t care all that much. If OSU didn’t win the B1G, then it didn’t matter who did. But I was committed to watching it. Eighteenth-century Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley argued that the only way we know something, with “certitude” (his word), is to perceive it with our senses. (Yes, yes, the tree falling in the woods.) I figured I’d better keep the game on, or it wouldn’t exist.
When I woke up, it was halftime, and the sound had been thoughtfully muted. Michigan led, but only by a point, 14-13. For a brief time, I was rejuvenated.
The second half
Then came the second half, a half that we had seen before against the Buckeyes. Michigan has been a second-half team all season. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the halftime adjustments of the coaching staff, and that might be the case, especially with their defense. The offense, on the other hand, seems simply to wear down opposing defensive lines as the game progresses, gaining more and more yards on the ground, exploding for big plays, breaking the foes’ wills.
The Wolverines put up 29 points in the second half, including a two-point conversion on the third TD. The Boilermakers managed three scores of their own – all field goals. Final score: 43-22. Very much a replay of their win at The Shoe.
Purdue’s Aiden O’Connell, a very good passing quarterback, had a pretty big night. Despite being sacked four times, he hit 32 of his 47 passes (68%) for 366 yards. But there were no touchdown tosses, and he was picked off twice. The Boilermakers, in fact, had more total yards than UM – 456-386 – and more first downs. They had the ball longer, by more than seven minutes. But they lost the game. And it wasn’t close.
Michigan’s formula for victory was the same as the week before. Prevent big plays from the opponent. Hold them to field goal attempts, rather than touchdowns. And create some big plays of their own. Purdue had six drives that resulted in points. But there was only one touchdown, to go with the five field goals. While the Boilermakers did have a number of plays for longer than 20 yards, the longest being a 32-yard pass play, they didn’t go all the way. There was always a blue-clad safety, and he always made the play.
On the other side of the ball, there was Donovan Edwards carrying the ball. He didn’t break the 200-yard mark, as he did against the Buckeyes, but he racked up 185 yards on his 27 carries. Quick through big holes, then turn on the jets. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy again was solid, without being spectacular. As a passer, he’s no C.J. Stroud. Nor is he an Aiden O’Connell. But he reeled off a 9.5-yard average for his 17 passing attempts, threw three TD passes, and had only one interception. This balanced offensive attack moved the ball down the field and put it over the goal line. Michigan, too, had six scores. But, in their case, they were all touchdowns.
The playoff picture on Selection Sunday
So now we know. With USC’s devasting loss, the Buckeyes are in the playoffs, facing Georgia on New Year’s Eve. The team deserves the slot, and I relish the opportunity for the Bucks. Beating the Bulldogs in Atlanta won’t be easy, by any means. But remember 2014? The Buckeyes seemingly “stole” a spot to get into the playoffs, got seeded No. 4, and beat No. 1 Alabama on the way to the national championship. It could happen again.
And, of course, we get to see C.J. Stroud for at least one more game. Maybe TreVeyon Henderson and even Jaxon Smith-Njigba. We haven’t really witnessed a full-strength OSU team all year. LSU moved the ball through the air fairly easily yesterday. And the Buckeyes have far more firepower. New Year’s Eve offers an opportunity for redemption and for achievement. Let’s get it done. Go Bucks!