Best and Worst: OSU

Submitted by bronxblue on November 24th, 2012 at 9:22 PM

Note:  I usually try to incorporate the other Diaries in this post, but I’m kind of on a tight time crunch and just want to get this out.  As always, please read the rest of the Diaries for thoughtful analysis, unique viewpoints, and photoshopped goodness.  Me thinks there might be some good stuff after this game.

So, yeah.  This is going to be shorter than past editions because, whatever man… 

Best:  “The Ohio State fans are a special people.  Once a Buckeye, always a Buckeye”

That quote, uttered by noted Ohio State booster…er objective ESPN color commentator Chris Spielman, perfectly encapsulates how surreal today was for a non-Buckeye.  During today’s game, Jim Tressel, noted disciplinarian and legal scholar, was honored along with the rest of his 2002 National Championship team. This, of course, was the team that featured a mercurial but talented freshman RB Maurice Clarett, who led the Buckeyes in rushing that season and also scored the title-winning TD in overtime against Miami.  The whole gang was back, to give the OSU faithful one more opportunity to cheer on a myth, a delusion about its history that seems painfully obvious to everyone not wearing crimson and grey. 

So between the first and second quarters of the final game the 2012 Buckeyes will play, a premature finale caused by Mr. Tressel’s behavior during his years in Columbus, the fans in attendance gave him a standing ovation, one of the biggest cheers of the day.  All the while, the athletics department and the greater school, with nary a hint of irony, trumpeted his return as a conquering hero of sorts.  The narrative went, at least in some circles, that most schools would have done the same, that fans love to cheer on winners and that most of those players were completely above board and played fairly, won every game that season, and, let’s be honest, Miami was no saint either.  The thinking went that this was a team that the school should be proud of, or at least should be able to recognize publicly.

Now, I’m trying my best to stay off the soapbox, so I’ll keep this brief.  Not all schools would be so quick to celebrate past athletic accomplishments tainted by violations.  The next Steve Fisher Appreciation Night at Crisler will be the first, and Brian has been very clear about his feelings toward Louis “seriously, he can die in a fire for all I care” Bullock and the rest of that brood. 

But more than some relativistic moral high ground that some UM fans want to take with OSU, the fact remains that the Buckeye fanbase IS special.  It drove one of its more prominent alums out of the state, put a bounty out on high school kid who dared to change his commitment, and it has trouble with its emotions.  It is a fan base seemingly always on the wrong side of razor’s edge that is fandom, crystallized in a ceremony memorializing the man who gave them one tainted undefeated season while sullying the next one as well.  O-H-I-O, indeed.

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Best:  MGoMeltdowns are awesome

So as is the custom around these parts, the traffic to the site after a loss follows the same trajectory as general internet traffic does whenever illicit pictures of some starlet are “leaked” to the the web totally-unexpectedly-but-right-before-my-new-movie-Crushed Blue Velvet Girlfriend 2-is-released.  For a graphical representation, here is a screenshot of the site about 4 minutes after the game ended

freakout

Click for full size

It will never approach RCMB or anything in the SEC not related to Vandy, but TWO redundant posts sarcastically “thanking” the coaches for losing the game, one out-and-out “Fire Borges” thread and one claiming he merely “sucked”, one thread already set for deletion, and about 1,100 posts in a game thread, 50% of them berating Al Borges and the team for a poor second half, is nothing to sneeze at.  Subsequent posts included petitions to fire Al Borges, a couple crying out for sanity, and one inferring a discussion about iCarly and Larry Hagman that felt appropriate for an 8th-grader’s “MySpace” profile.  Then Ace showed up with his usual quality summary and solid reasoning, which is like, Booo this man!

So why is this a “Best”?  Because this outpouring feels organic and based on real concerns.  During the RR era, people used to freak out after wins OR losses, calling for guys’ heads and questioning everyone’s credentials from the water boy on up.  It was an anger born from desperation and confusion, watching a once-proud program flail about on the field for 3 hours every Saturday.  But with this team, the complaints are natural, as people know what Michigan is and what they aren’t, and the reasons behind those limitations are real.  It’s sobering to see the cracks in this team both today and going forward, but at least they aren’t obfuscated by a general malaise.

Worst:  The Blame Game

Since time immemorial fans have complained about offensive coordinators at UM; in my lifetime, I don’t remember a single OC who left the program without being singed pretty badly on the way out.  DC’s tend to get off cleaner, at least in part because defensive playcalling feels “harder” to dissect than offensive sets.  It probably is a combination of the reactive nature of defense versus the active nature of offense, fans being trained to focus more on the ball than anything else on the field, and the reality that, with few exceptions, offensive players are more prominent, their successes and failures more memorable than their defensive counterparts.  And as the puppet master, the general leading that side onto the field, the offensive coordinator naturally takes on a prominent, public-facing role that invites criticism.

Al Borges called a good first half of football against OSU and between a predictable (best case) and atrocious (worst case) second half.  Of course, he probably doesn’t deserve as much credit as he’ll get for the first half nor as much blame for the cratering in the second half.  Denard’s end-of-quarter 67-yard TD run was all about a playmaker taking advantage of poor tackling technique by OSU and making a play with the ball.  In the second half, he wasn’t the reason Devin fumbled the ball deep in UM’s territory, nor the line’s continued inability to get any type of push up the middle. 

So yes, the offense failed to do much in the second half against an aggressive but beatable defense.  And while it did reasonably well in terms of points in the first half, two of those TDs were on plays that benefitted as much from OSU mistakes as UM’s offensive playcalling.  I already discussed Denard’s run benefitting from the GERG-approved “bump the runner, but hard” tackling technique.  The muffed punt by Brown gave UM great field positioning, and they cashed in after OSU again bailed them out with a roughing the passer penalty on 3rd down.  The pass to Roundtree was a decent playcall but morphed from first-down yardage to TD because of a stiff-arm and some blown coverage.  At no point today did the offense feel particularly well-tuned, and toward the end the playcalling devolved to a single index card with “throw the ball” scribbled on it with blue crayon. 

For better or for worse, this game was a microcosm of what Al Borges brings to UM.  As I have said for months, echoing others both here and in the greater blogosphere, he is not the type of OC who is willing/capable of drastically altering his gameplan within a game, and only sparingly between games.  It was clear after the first game of the year that he has an offense in mind with the players he has, and outside of massive injuries to key players that won’t change. 

He’s Teddy KGB, and his tell was nakedly obvious to everyone who watched this game, and really, the past two seasons.  He’ll win his fair share of hands because the cards dealt to him dictate so, but he’s had two seasons to show the UM faithful that he is better than statistics and flops and hasn’t come close to proving otherwise. 

Worst:  Loyalty

One of the chief complaints people had during the Rich Rodriguez era was the blind loyalty he showed to certain members of his staff, often at odds with their performance on the field.  The name “Tony Gibson” remains a bad word on certain message boards, and at various times Bruce Tall and Jay Hopson came under fire for their ineffective coaching.  Yet despite fielding horrific defenses and offensive units that were “unpredictable” at best for long stretches of his tenure, RR kept these coaches around because they had come up with him and thus deserved his loyalty, like a successful athlete who finances a cadre of family and friends because he had history with them.  And that, as much as the recruiting misses, the weak performances in big games, the caustic media environment, and the losing, was the reason he failed at UM.

So when Brady Hoke arrived at UM, after all of the memorable quotes and wins, one message you kept hearing was his loyalty.  He loved this program, he loved this school, and he respected the coaches that worked with him.  The 11 wins masked some of the issues that became more prominent this year, previously hidden behind unsustainable fumble recovery rates and last-second heroics.  The offense has struggled mightily all year, with the line unable to consistently open lanes for running backs, who then seem unable to produce any additional yards beyond those made available by play design and blocking.  The passing game has proven more proficient as the season progressed, but that seems to have been due as much due to poor defenses as any growth brought on by better play-calling and maturation.  Punt returns remain an issue for special teams, as does blocking on kick-offs, but that may be as easy as adopting a couple different formations and getting someone back there who won’t let the ball bounce 20 yards after it touches the ground.

The defense has been statistically spectacular and functionally solid.  Mattison has been able to generate solid play at all three levels despite a dearth of experience and/or talent at those positions, but the secondary remains questionable outside of Kovacs and the line could not hold up as the game progressed, being gashed consistently by Hyde in the 4th quarter.  But those feel like correctable issues with recruiting, and the advancements already made for a unit that 2 years ago was one of the worst in the nation provide hope.

I am not advocating wholesale changes of the staff, but it will be a test of Brady Hoke’s loyalty to see what happens after the bowl game.  RR seemingly picked loyalty to his coaches over winning*, and it cost him.  We’ll see if Hoke believes that these men can fix the problems before them and move on, or if his loyalty to UM leads him to shake up the staff.

*I know this is reductive to an extent, but I honestly believe changes to the staff could have saved him in his second and third years.

Worst:  The Wall

This game was like the meanest 13-year-olds you’ll ever meet, because it rudely highlighted the season-long inability of this squad to run the ball with anyone not named Denard.  Lewan struggled for swaths of the game, highlighted by Adolphus Washington strip-sacking Gardner on UM’s opening drive.  Thomas Rawls had 3 yards on 5 carries, highlighted by 1 and 2-yard runs on first down.  On twelve rushes in the second half, UM totaled 23 yards for 1.9 yds/c, and  that includes a fumble and two instances where UM got 0 yards on short third- and fourth-down runs.  Beyond this game, Fitz had rushing averages of 1.1 (Purdue), 3.4 (Illinois), and 0.9 (Air Force), and failed to break 100 yards all season before his injury, a year after recording 5.  With Lewan likely leaving, talented but young recruits on the line probably not quite ready to start, and Denard and his 3 1,000 yard seasons graduating, it remains a mystery how this team will move the ball on the ground at all next year.

Best:  Denard

It’s been said already, but Denard once again left everyone breathless.  People will probably remember the 67-yard TD run, but he also had an amazing 30-yard run on UM’s first drive, and finished with 122 yards on 10 carries.  He definitely struggled in the second half with a fumble and less than 10 yards on 4 carries, and there were signs that he might have been injured after that early fumble.  Regardless, he scored his 6th career TD against OSU, and showed continued leadership and support for this team in whatever capacity he was asked.  And while it does appear that it may take a fresh set of eyes to use him to the best of his abilities, he leaves UM as an all-time great both on and off the field.

Worst:  Fun with Flags

Per usual, the Big Ten referees were out in full force, throwing 14 flags for around 130 yards.  The customary WTF Call of the Week Award(TM) goes to the atrocious offensive PI on Roy Roundtree that even stopped Chris Spielman, but this game also featured a couple of personal fouls and a couple of missed calls, including the Norfleet facemask penalty on an OSU punt return that even Dennis thought was going to be called given how frequently he kept looking at the ref as he ran off the field.  It was a chippy game, but one due less to players making solid, hard-hitting plays as much as stupid block-in-the-back penalties and out-of-bound hits 2-3 yards into the sideline.  It felt like a MSU-UM game, and both of these teams should be better than that.

Best:  Devin, the Defense, and the Future

Despite his struggles holding onto the ball and that bad interception to effectively end the game, I thought Gardner played reasonably well.  He was under near-constant pressure all game (4 sacks), and had no running game to support him in the second half.  11-20 with a TD and an INT are decent numbers in only your 4th game of the season at QB and the first “real” road game (Minny barely counts as a football team given how they ended the season).  Roy Roundtree also had a nice finishing game against OSU, highlighted of course by that 75-yard TD, while Gallon continued his sneaky-good season with 67 more yards.  Both of these guys came on strong to end the season, and I think Gallon will have a fine senior year.

Now, you’d think after giving up 20 points in the first half the defense would be in for a Worst, but they held tough in the second half despite being on the field seemingly the whole time, only giving up 6 points (3 after a turnover that gave OSU the ball on the UM 10 yard line) and forcing a fumble.  The line largely held until the 4th quarter, when Hyde and co. started to gash them inside.  Mattison devised a defense that limited Miller to one 42-yard scramble but also sacked him 4 times.  Miller had a good day passing the ball, but he noticeably slowed down the second half and, frankly, he remains far less dangerous with his arm than with his legs.  It wasn’t a dominant performance by any means, and the corners were still unable to stay with OSU’s receivers at times, but it played well enough to win. 

Will Campbell finished with 10 tackles, and the LBs all played reasonably well.  Frank Clark had a bone-shattering sack on Miller in the first half and recovered a fumble caused by JMFR in the 4th to give the team a chance.  The future looks bright for this unit, and it will be interesting to see how they play at the bowl game after a month to prepare and next season firmly in view.

Best:  In the Wild

So on Wednesday, I attended the UM-Pitt basketball game at MSG with BronxBlueWife (BBW, for short, though not really in any way), and obviously wanted to support the team and rock the Maize and Blue.  But as someone who graduated college about a decade ago, those old Steve & Barry t-shirts are starting to fall apart, and I haven’t been back to replenish the stock recently.  But then I remembered that I DID have a shirt with the appropriate color scheme, fit, and yes you know where this is going…

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Yes, that’s BronxBlue rocking the smedium t-shirt (stupid dryer).  And yes, I am married, gainfully employed, and the owner of an automobile and a 401k.  Also, apparently, a 4.2-head and an 8-year-old haircut.  But these shirts do exist in the wild and are worn non-ironically.  And as you can see, seats were VERY available.

******

So maybe outside of the bowl game, this will be it for my weekly recaps of games.  I’m not knowledgeable enough of a basketball fan to really dissect the game in a meaningful way, and there are so many games that even short recaps would take quite a bit of time.  I might knock one out before the conference season starts if anything eventful plays out, and maybe after a marquee game or two.  But thanks to everyone who read through my rants and leaving comments.  Go Blue!

Comments

UFM

November 24th, 2012 at 9:43 PM ^

Don't understand all the moral finger wagging by Michigan fans about having Tressel honored along with the rest of the 2002 championship team. The man made a big mistake, one he paid for dearly. But what is less moral than holding grudges and refusing to give forgiveness? He messed up. He received major penalties. Life goes on for Tressel and tOSU.

bronxblue

November 24th, 2012 at 10:20 PM ^

I have literally no idea where you got the moral equality between lying to legal authorities, playing players in a game when you seemingly knew they were not eligible, and at best tacitly acknowledging the selling of school-sponsored gear and parenphenalia for tattoos and other impermissible benefits with pointing out the hipocrisy of an academic institution holding a rally honoring him and his accomplishments.  And, oh yeah, that 2002 team could have been stripped of its title but the NCAA apparently was barred by the statute of limitations. 

So yeah, if pointing out the silliness of this whole endeavor makes me as morally bankrupt as Tressel in your eyes, then by all means keep believing it but don't be offended if I dismiss this view out of hand.

UFM

November 24th, 2012 at 10:58 PM ^

Haha calm down there. Reading comprehension--it's a beautiful thing. I was not comparing your morality to Tressel's. I was comparing Michigan fans' morality to OSU fans' morality. My point being that all this talk about how Tressel shouldn't be honored with his 2002 team is ludicrous. Tressel was severely punished for his mistakes. But we as fans can forgive. Christianity will tell you that there is nothing more moral than forgiveness. Implying OSU fans are less moral because we choose to forgive the man who cost us our title run this year turns morality on its head.

And nice try on the 2002 slight. Come back with some facts or else you're just providing fodder for next week's TWIS.

bronxblue

November 25th, 2012 at 9:04 AM ^

The argument you put forth was questioning the morality of UM fans (which I am part of) holding grduges and Tressel's actions and OSU fanbase (which appears to be you, what with "cost us our title run") accepting him back into the fold.  And I know we are always supposed to love the sinner and hate the sin (or whatever quip you like), the man screwed up and broke a large number of NCAA rules, and not 2 years later he's being carried out on the shoulders of former players to celebrate a title.  You can commemorate the 2002 title team, which I'm fine with them doing, without dragging out the disgraced coach.

But whatever.  I'm not taking a moral argument about Tressel; I even said that this post wasn't about some perceived moral superiority between the two schools and their fanbases.  Every college football team has blood on its hands when it comes to violations, no matter how great or small, and I'd be foolish to believe that only the violations we know of are the ones reported.  But I can think of no other prominent school that celebrated a man who was fired for violations recently, in this case only 2 seasons later. 

And if you want some facts, there is the report about Clarett claiming impermissible benefits in 2002, and here's a link to the NCAA bylaw about their statute of limitations, which states that an investigation into wrong-doings will stretch no farther than 4 years from the notice of inquiry.  The exceptions carve out situations that probably could have been applied in this situation (pattern of willful infringment, disregard for NCAA standards regarding player recruitment and monitoring, etc.), but apparently the NCAA did not feel that the two were related (while USC's violations, which on paper don't seem that much different, led to the 2004 title being vacated).  It was a shocker that the NCAA didn't look deeper into the allegations made by Clarett at the time, and even more troubling given what turned out to be a multi-year issue with Tressel later on. 

But this feels more and more like a trolling by you, so I'll leave it at that.  You don't see an issue with Tressel being brought out as a conquering hero, and I do.  The great thing about humanity is that we are allowed to each have those beliefs.

As a final pro tip, the reason the board doesn't discuss politics or religion is because it creates unneeded controversy.  Your Christianity arguments, regardless of their validity, could foster some "healthy" debates around here on a topic unrelated to football.  Might want to tone that down a bit.

 

 

ChuckieWoodson

November 24th, 2012 at 9:53 PM ^

Dont you get about it? So what if he paid dearly for it? That makes it ok? No, it does not. The sugar bowl example of playing the tat 5 is another example of his lack of integrity. We deserve to point the finger and have the moral high ground because we earned it. We sat Fitz.

Generic MGoBlogger

November 24th, 2012 at 10:40 PM ^

that we are still in fact rebuilding while Ohio never really lost much talent other than recruits. While I'm still very butthurt about the game, I think we need to realize that next year with almost all of Brady's players in the system and pretty much all of RR's gone it will be our first real indicator of how we will compete with Brady as our head coach. Ohio never really needed to rebuild at all. While they lost a year with Fickel, it was made up in the spring and throughout the fall with the competitive and solid coaching abilities of Meyer (who is still a total asshole). Be prepared because Michigan football will be back on a national scale next season... GO BLUE!

BoilerBlue

November 25th, 2012 at 1:13 PM ^

This team took the best game offensively and defensively that OSU had played all year and only lost by five points in Columbus.  Miller went 14/18 trough the air for pete's sakes and the he had three throw aways by my count.  He had his best game ever, ala Denard last year.  Meanwhile, we're still playing at a disadvantage in talent levels.  Someone at OTE did a breakdown this year of recruit rankings for current starters on the top B1G teams.  OSU is rolling with mostly 4* kids on the field while we're starting with a majority of 3*s.  I'm really looking forward to hosting them next year with a rebuilt offensively line that will have started a whole season together at that point and a senior quarterback with a whole season of starts under his belt.  I'm optimistic.

ca_prophet

November 25th, 2012 at 12:00 AM ^

... with a senior Devin Gardner and Borges' full passing package (including all the route trees that seem to get people open routinely on 3rd and 8).  Hopefully it will not be undone by a slow-to-gel line that's going to replace nearly everyone; on the flip side replacing nearly everyone from an underperforming unit might not be that bad :<)

Onwards and upwards!

 

willywill9

November 25th, 2012 at 8:41 AM ^

No smoke... You're a really good writer, and a have a very reasonable take.  I hope you do find a way to contribute anyway.  

This segment has been awesome all season, thanks for your efforts!

maizehusker

November 25th, 2012 at 8:57 AM ^

I agree with bronxblue that the Tressel reaction is the Best. Honoring his legacy symbolizes winning at all costs over ethics. This was OSU blowing a big raspberry in the NCAA's face saying "we'll continue to let the booster's run the show if it means getting the best players and winning NCs". bronxblue is spot on about our 90's MBB team. OSU is the Bizarro World version of Michigan, where our players carry Steve Fisher of the field and retire the Fab Five's numbers.

OSU's self-imposed penalties and the NCAA's penalties were reactionary to a systematic problem. Honoring the face of this problem demonstrates that OSU sees this as a non-event. I'm happy to know that the star OSU players will continue to recieve tattoos, loaner cars, and money for their "victories" from boosters and fans so willing and ready to dispense them.

Smash Lampjaw

November 25th, 2012 at 11:41 AM ^

The killer was when Michigan gave up on the play-action. It was a tough choice, because I did not even want to see Denard try to block in pass-protect. But when the play-action threat stopped the hard rush doomed Devin, causing the fumble and the interception, IME. Probably covered in countless rants yesterday, but I grew weary of reading them. I do not think we were so very different from RCMB FIRE ROUSHAR.

WyoBuckeye

November 25th, 2012 at 2:33 PM ^

Bronxblue, If you could be so kind as to produce a handbook of proper fandom, the Buckeye Nation would be greatly appreciative.  We realize our shortcomings and look to you to instruct us.  We too want to be able to proudly display our school colors in as morally superior of a manner as you are able to.  That way when Michigan does beat Ohio State again one day, we can chase the chill of defeat from our sorry bones by wrapping ourselves in the virtue of our own moral fiber, just as you do.

bronxblue

November 25th, 2012 at 6:39 PM ^

You guys really need to find a better hobby than trolling other fanboards and overreacting to a person's opinion.  

But hey, since you asked and apparently have time to kill until spring ball, here's a sneak preview from my upcoming cave paintings about Buckeye behavior that will be found throughout Columbus:

  • When a coach is accused of hiding illegal activities of players from authorities, and mountains of evidence are brought forth proving this to be true, blame everyone else in the world.  Because it's not paranoia if everyone is out to get you.
  • When holding a press conference about said coach, make sure his boss appears as weak and placative of his past transgressions.  Nothing shows institutional competency like openly admitting your subordinate has more power than you.
  • As soon as possible after your coach is forcibly removed from his position because an outside entity demanded it, welcome said coach back with open arms.  If possible, carry him on your shoulders around a stadium.
  • If current players are accused of violating numerous NCAA rules concerning improper benefits, reserve an extra-prominent parking space for the most famous of those players to park his newest ride that his "mom just picked up for me."
  • As a coach, when you learn that your players are receiving impermissible benefits, make sure that they are allowed to play in a bowl game because you haven't been able to beat an SEC team in your history and that is just sad.  Hell, Minnesota has done it twice in the past decade!
  • Put out a bounty on recruits who don't sign with Ohio State.  Those boys are traitors and should be dealt with accordingly.
  • If a former Buckeye has the nerve to be objective in any official capacity, he is dead to you and must be driven out from the great state before he infects others.
  • If an opposing player is injured (especially a rival), make sure to cheer his pain and suffering.  
  • Scour the internet for anything negative said about your program.  Pen "witty" remarks as needed.

The funny thing is that I've met some really great OSU fans over the years, and work with a guy who is a good fan with a proper perspective on the rivalry.  He thought it was weird that Tressel was welcomed back, and I've read other opinions that share the same sentiment.  Even those who agree with honoring the 2002 team (which I totally get, even with the Clarett cloud hanging over it) seem to recognize the inconsistency with Tressel being welcomed back.

But it is also a fanbase that can get incredibly bent out of shape whenver anyone questions some perceived morality play at hand.  Listen, I'm not saying UM is some saint - we had the Ed Martin scandal, we definitely didn't treat a recent coaching staff well, and the fanbase can be insufferable at times.  But for people to get so bothered by me pointing out that UM hasn't rushed to celebrate our most recent dark spot in athletic history like they did in Columbus, and for the leaders at UM to state publicly their reasons for this decision, seems to be a sensitive nerve the OSU fans need to address, not me.  

Blueroller

November 25th, 2012 at 2:43 PM ^

The best reaction I've seen so far. Borges "is not the type of OC who is willing/capable of drastically altering his gameplan within a game, and only sparingly between games."

How much trouble that continues to cause is perhaps the biggest question going forward. Based on Saturday it's hard to be optimistic about that. Let's hope you're right about the OC getting disproportionally credited/blamed.

LSA81grad

November 25th, 2012 at 3:12 PM ^

Why are people optimistic about Gardner and Borges working together NEXT YEAR when . . . uh . . . they were together THIS YEAR and Borges couldn't figure how to make it work?

Mabel Pines

November 30th, 2012 at 1:12 PM ^

and loved it!  My thoughts exactly.  I would just like to add to that one poster who is all about forgiveness; forgiveness is awesome, but there is still punishment.  Forgiving Tressel, fine.  But how about waiting to carry him off on your shoulders until at least your punishment is over??  Otherwise, the message of "what you did was bad" does not really get sent.  Especially to those under the age of 22....