I'm warning you up front, this is going to be like therapy for me. You want cogent analysis? Come back Monday for Brian's column. It'll be fantastic, I'm sure. This diary? It's going to be one big scream into the void.
Worst: What Do You Think?
I'm broken. I mean, not in a real sense: I'm a grown-ass man with two kids, a beautiful wife, a fulfilling career, and my health (largely) still intact. I don't have to worry about violent uprisings, disease, radioactive mosquitos, or alien invaders. In the grand scheme of things, I'm doing fine.
But in sports terms, I'm as broken as Jeff Jarrett's guitar. I guess I should be used to these types of games against OSU, but I'm not. Games decided by last-second stands, crucial penalties, and terrible officiating are the norm in college sports, but it's only "chaos" when your passive bystander; when it's one of your teams, it's heartbreak.
Initially after this game, I was full of piss and vinegar about the officiating. Even though I'd deny it in front of child protective services, I dropped a "fuck" in front of my two kids and in-laws the minute Samuel sprinted toward the sideline on the last play. I've seen this horror film play out a million times before, and the good guys never win. I accept that there will be uncalled holds and PIs in big rivalry games, even though you'd think human beings with pride would be able to call a football game consistently regardless of the context. But whatever.
And UM was not without fault; Perry roughed the punter by the letter of the law, and that Cole penalty was right even though the spot was questionable. Harbaugh had a right to lose his mind and he deserved a penalty for it, though I honestly don't think OSU was going to be denied on that drive after the second Speight interception.
But when an official is goaded into throwing a defensive holding flag because the crowd called for it, you get sick of it. Or when an extremely shaky PI is called on Hill even though OSU was basically mugging receivers all day, you get sick of it. Or when OSU, a team that gave up 8 sacks and 13 TFLs, somehow escapes without a holding call even though you see multiple OSU guards just sitting on Glasgow and Charlton and Wormley choked by tackles, you get sick of it. When, at best, it's a questionable call on 4th down if a player somehow got the first down on a play where he ran into the ass of the guy blocking for him (who looked like he was behind the line), and they don't even come out to measure it but instead scurry off to the replay system for a series of inconclusively bad angles, you wonder if the pie we call fandom is worth it.
Now, I should preface this all by saying OSU played well enough to win and UM played badly enough to lose. UM basically gifted OSU 14 points with their 2 interceptions. The first I put at least partial blame on the offensive playcalling; asking a QB on the road to throw deep in his own endzone, under a heavy rush, is asking for trouble. The second was all on Speight simply not seeing Baker and trying to throw a ball in tight coverage. For what feels like forever, UM couldn't consistently run the ball against Ohio State (they only had 100 yards on 40 carries if you throw out sacks), and in the second half they only had about 100 yards of total offense. Like they did against MSU and Iowa, the offense seemed to turtle a bit with the lead, unwilling to take too many risks but in the process leaving the defense out there to defend 46 plays in the second half. And in that 4th quarter, Barrett asserted himself running the ball and OSU had multiple opportunities to tie the game/take the lead. The fact they missed a couple of easy FGs absolutely mattered, and UM's defense failed to tackle Samuel prior to that 4th-down conversion despite having him dead-to-rights yards behind the line.
Yardage was about equal (OSU had 15 more in OT), and UM had a decided advantage in field position (their own 35 versus OSU's own 23). The time of possession was actually in UM's favor, though OSU holding onto the ball for about 11 minutes to 3 in the 4th is pretty telling, and UM was much better on third and fourth down than OSU (10/20 vs. 5/19). It was a close game where either team could win, and in the end, the analytical part of my brain can see how OSU pulled it out.
But I'm sick of that. I'm sick of OSU (and MSU and, weirdly, Iowa) pulling horseshoes out of their asses to beat UM. I'm tired of terrible officiating affecting games either way, the fact I can see a couple of these numbnuts stroll into frame and my heart immediately begins to burn because I know I've got another couple of hours listening to these guys screw up their jobs.
I'm tired of OSU being so fucking good, of being the class of the conference for what seems like most of my adult life. That UM was stuck with an aging Carr, an overwhelmed RR, and an incompetent Hoke while OSU had to deal with one whole year of Luke Fickell before Urban Meyer's heart started beating right again and he set down in Columbus. And they'll be good again next year, really f*cking good, while UM will be trying to replace most of their defensive line and secondary, plus basically all their receivers, offensive line, and leading rusher.
This isn't a rivalry anymore; it's a yearly execution. It's every scene in a spy movie where the hero is captured and the sinister doctor rolls out his various torture devices, except nobody escapes and it looks like an Eli Roth movie at the end. UM is 3 and 13 versus OSU since 2000, with 1 win in the past dozen years. We make fun of Notre Dame fans and their echo stirring about the past, but there's a whole generation of recruits who see OSU-UM the way we used to look at UM-MSU; one dominant team with a couple of close/fluky losses intermixed. Off the field, in the classroom, in the boardrooms, UM is an elite school that OSU can't touch, but when it comes to football, UM is a class below. Maybe Harbaugh turns it around, maybe Meyer gets bored/health reasons/scandal(s) and the tides turn, but right now I don't see a world where UM makes this any better than a 50/50 game in the best of years. I mean, this could well be the best defense in the school's modern history, a unit that basically swallowed up one of the best offenses in college football for 3 quarters, and they still gave up 30 points. And next year OSU will come to Michigan with senior versions of most of this team, probably shooting for another top-4 finish, and we'll do it all over again.
This despair you're reading, it's real. Call me a bandwagon fan, call me a whiner, question my faith, whatever. But this was supposed to be one of those years, and it ends yet again with a missed opportunity at a conference title and a bitter loss to OSU. Penn State, a team Michigan trounced by 39 points, and Wisconsin, a team UM choked out for 4 quarters and should have won by more than the 7 they did, will get a chance at a conference title and a playoff birth. Michigan will await their fate, likely going to some BCS bowl because they're a "good draw", and I'll cheer them on and write some 5,000-word diary after their game and convince myself 2017 will be a great year. But right now, in this reality, I'm settling in for a lot more of these games than I ever wanted.
Reddit is terrible, or at least exposes some of the worst traits of humanity. If you have ever visited its popular message boards, or seen a bunch of 60-something news reporters/pundits argue over "the internet", you have sense that it can often devolve into a stew of crass pseudo-intellectual debates, stark displays of basically anything terrible that ends with "–iny" or "-phobia", and sometimes outright threats of violence of "doxing". But I've been pleasantly surprised by the discussions over at the r/cfb domain, where game threads and breaking news typically feature thoughtful analysis and discussion from knowledgeable fans. You've got your trolls, but it's a place where people who really follow their teams will drop off nuggets of wisdom, and as someone who legitimately likes watching college football it's nice to hear about other programs beyond the talking heads on ESPN and a brief look at a box score.
But the one part of the subreddit that drives me insane is the tired-ass "saltiness" meme that pops when a team loses a close one. When you can't be creative or intelligent, or because you are likely quite young, male, and "digital", you call out anyone who disliked the outcome as super "salty" and incite mini flame wars. The issue with it is that it's a non-starter, a dead-end for meaningful discourse. And in the process, it casts all future debates in this binary model that all nuance and context is stripped away.
Jim Harbaugh came out and was "salty" with the media after this game, pointing out that the officials made some, at best, questionable calls/non-calls, and it sucked to be on the receiving end of it. And the response was the same mealy-mouthed bullshit you see nowadays, with reporters and fans saying it's a uniquely raw take by a coach but lacks "class" or is too "bitter", because pointing out consistent incompetence doesn't jive the with the usual PR-laced gruel these goobers are used to being shoveled. Nobody needs to hear Harbaugh sit there and say "OSU played a fine game, our guys fought hard, this is a great rivalry, blah blah blah" while Jim Delany wacks off behind the curtain.
I'm fine with Harbaugh trying to stump for his team, to say that they got a raw deal. He pointed out the numerous uncalled holding penalties MSU got away with in their game against UM; the next week, MSU is called for a bunch of them and the Illini pick up 10 TFLs and 3 sacks along with a dozen "pressures". I understand refereeing a game is extremely difficult, but at the same time a bunch of janky 50- and 60-year lawyers trying to keep track of college kids moving as fast as Olympic sprinters is a recipe for bad results. Technology has made it easier for fans to see when referees mess up, and instead of using the tools available to improve the overall product and how officiating is done, the leagues have doubled-down on obfuscation and confusion to cover these flaws up, figuring that if nobody knows what targeting, pass interference, or "control" of a catch is, they'll be golden.
A wonderful reminder that football’s tool of measurement is some shit your dad put together with what he had in the garage.
— Ryan Nanni (@celebrityhottub) November 26, 2016
So yeah, tell it like it is. You've got the money, so pay the inevitable fine and point out that the old men who keep wanting to see their faces on TV are fucking up some games for you. And throw in a little something else to drive the point home.
Best: The Defense, Again
They really deserved to win this game. Going into the fourth quarter, OSU had 153 total yards on 51 plays. They had held the ball for a total of about 18 minutes, and were under 100 yards rushing for the game. But you give OSU enough chances, enough 3-and-outs by the offense (UM had exactly 9 offensive plays in the 4th quarter), a bad PI on Hill to keep that final drive alive, and you are bound to break. Before OT, UM's defense had given up 10 points to one of the best offenses in the country, and even the one TD was set up on a super-short field after the interception and all of the penalties. I read a couple of people call out Don Brown as overrated for not stopping OSU in the 4th quarter, but at some point you'd expect your offense to put some more points on the board and give you some breathing room. OSU's first drive was for 72 yards, and their final 2 of regulation were for 61 and 77. In the middle, OSU had 10 real drives for a total of 106 yards, and that includes penalty yardage. Any other game, UM is winning this game comfortably, maybe even laughably.
The defensive line was again dominant. 8 sacks on Barrett thoroughly rattled him, and even with his runs in overtime Samuel was mostly held in check. Mike Weber could barely get going on the ground, and no Buckeye receiver had more than 40 yards receiving. Barrett looked rattled throwing the ball all day, but he rushed the ball 30 times and had one huge 41-yard run that flipped the field late. He still throws the ball terribly under pressure and seems to have regressed a bit in that department under Meyer, but he's terrifying in college and (ugh) will be back next year in all likelihood.
I thought Glasgow and Charlton were as dominant a pair against OSU as I've seen in my life. Charlton ate up whomever OSU sent up against him; he had 2.5 sacks and probably should have had a couple more. Glasgow was consistently pushing into the backfield, giving Gedeon and McCray even lanes to fill. And there was a series toward the end of the 3rd quarter where Glasgow was just being tackled on every snap and he was still forcing Barrett to bounce around. Wormley was mauling guys as well, and even though he was tripped by OSU's guard I think he was the one responsible for Barrett's pick. Gary also had a fantastic play in the second quarter where he beat two blockers and surprised Barrett in his endzone, nearly causing a safety.
The secondary was splendid as usual. Lewis was beat on one play, Stribling might have as well, and that was about it. Peppers got his first pick, and Hill was absolutely boned on that pass interference call in the 4th. He played a great game otherwise. You could tell OSU wanted to exploit the linebackers in coverage and I thought both McCray and Gedeon acquitted themselves well; there weren't too many breakdowns and McCray even picked up 2 PBUs.
This defense should still be good next year, but this was special unit. They'll be littering NFL lineups for years going forward, but it sucks seeing a really good effort coming up just short in a game like this.
Best: Speight Playing
You want a hot take? I think Speight played pretty well in this game. OSU has a great secondary and enough young talent up front to give passing games fits. Speight missed last week and clearly was still a bit injured in this game, and yet he completed 64% of his passes for 219 yards, 2 TDs, 2 picks, and a respectable 6 ypa. Yes those picks led to 14 points, and his fumble delayed a UM TD, but (a) he was the whole offense for most of this game, (b) the playcalling and offensive line did him no favors at times, and (c) his receivers were being manhandled at times. I mean, he had a ball to Chesson (?) where two OSU guys tackled Jehu before the ball seemingly got past the line of scrimmage. Multiple times you'd see a UM receiver basically carrying an OSU corner on his back, including on that fateful 3rd-down in the second OT. He was only 50% in the second half, and too many drives ended with incompletions to survive on the road. But he also completed a great pass to Darboh in the first OT on 4th down, and had PI been called on the next drive might have scored again. He wasn't amazing, but considering what were the alternatives under center, Speight deserves a lot of credit for his play.
Worst: The Second-Half Offense
I know above I said the offense turtled in the second half, and that's maybe not the best term, but it's weird seeing a Harbaugh offense just close up shop with a lead. I got it somewhat against MSU because that was a game UM had in the bag, but 10 points against OSU is nothing, and expecting your defense to shut down the Buckeyes for 4 quarters is a near-impossible task.
I'll miss Peppers for his dynamic playmaking, but it was like setting downs on fire every time he came into the game; if there was some special plan for him, some trick, I hope they aren't saving it for the bowl game. The offensive line struggled to get much push, and as everyone sort of expected before the season, settled in as "okay" as a unit. Against most teams that's enough, but against OSU you need to be able to consistently get a push up front, not 2 yards a carry. Speight wasn't sacked an immense amount, but he was under pressure and getting hit semi-frequently, and other than Smith none of the packs could get any traction running the ball. Chesson almost broke a couple of sweeps, but the longest play from scrimmage for UM was a 22-yard reception by Butt, and expecting to just march up and down the field against OSU's line wasn't in the cards today.
Darboh had some great grabs, and both Butt and Perry had their moments. This is another unit depleted by graduation; here's hoping they have a couple of guys emerge to take their places, or else this offense is going to struggle even more against the better defenses in the league.
It wasn't a terrible offensive performance by any means; again, this isn't a unit talented enough to steamroll good teams on the road. Maybe OSU downloaded UM's playcalling a bit, but in the moment it didn't feel like they were doing all that much different. The second half was just disjointed, and maybe on a second watch-through it would be more obvious. But UM let themselves get slogged down in that second half, and if they have any hope of winning games in this series they need to figure out a way to overcome this malaise.
Best: Kenny MF Allen and the Best Damn Holder in the Country
Kenny Allen was fantastic all day. He made his FGs, consistently pinned OSU back in their own redzone (5 of his 7 punts were inside the 20), and was a major reason UM enjoyed a significant field position advantage. Again, it's killing me looking at these stats and realizing UM blew them all. But whatever, Allen was the boss and whatever #collegekicker thing that went on in the middle of the year is long gone. And Garrett Moore had a great recovery of an errant snap for one of Allen's kicks, which should definitely be added to the highlight reel. And while kick returns were minimal, Peppers had a great kickoff return that set UM's first TD.
- OSU came into the game averaging about 7 penalties a game for 53 yards, while UM was toward the lower end at 4.7 for 45 yards. Guess who had 7 penalties for 59 yards and who had 2 penalties for 6 yards? My daughter hasn't lived in a world where a fucking hold is called at OSU stadium for UM, and she probably won't until she goes to college. Either put away the whistles completely or call the game according to the rulebook, but you can't just mix the two together, let it sit in the sun for 2 days and curdle, then pick the top layer off and feed it to people. For fucks sake.
- Harbaugh trying to put his obviously-broken headset back on was a bit of needed levity, even though it was during OSU's second TD. Harbaugh deserved that penalty because he let his cards hit the field, but the fact referees are so protected from criticism yet don't like to get shown up drives me insane. Nobody is here to see Dan Fucking Capron screw up another game, yet here we are.
- I know Michigan is one of the best rushing teams in the country, but this was yet another reminder how much they miss a truly dynamic back. Smith is great for grinding out yards, but he's never going to make guys miss, and you can't rely on a series of 4-yard runs to score. They are going to finish the year without a 1,000 yard back for the 5th straight year. Iowa is going to have 2, Nebraska may have 1, Minnesota has 1, 4 and 8 MSU has 1, IU as well. I'm all for a balanced rushing attack, but sometimes you also need to have one guy who can just smash a defense for 25 carries. Michigan didn't have that this year, and I'm not sure anyone on the roster fits that mold. Maybe Evans makes that leap next year or Walker makes a splash as a RS freshman, but it has to happen.
Next Game: TBD
We'll know in a couple of weeks. It'll probably be a good bowl. Yippee.