Ten-Year War, II
"I don't think Ohio State's broke. I think there were some obvious mistakes made... on the grand scheme of things, mistakes that are very correctable. My goal right now is to put together a fantastic recruiting class..." This was Urban Meyer at his introductory press conference. He went on to talk about how special Braxton Miller was and what kind of coaches he wanted to attract - he talked about his health, his family members and didn't mention Michigan except when he was asked. There was no signature moment, like with Tressel or Hoke. When asked by a reporter, he used the words Michigan and respect in the same sentence. On the eve of NCAA sanctions, Meyer took the highest road possible, and why wouldn't he?
No, Ohio State is not broke. Football has quite a few life skills embedded inside it, but one of the most important is deciphering a way to success, and more than that, not doing it beforehand, but along the way. In-game adjustments, adversity through injury, building a program up from nothing - they all take tremendous effort before a positive result is even possible. For the Buckeyes, they simply went about their business.
"I made a comment, we had a team meeting two years ago, and if you'd have told me when I walked out of that team meeting that this group would buy in and we'd go on a nice run and have the highest scoring offense in program history and 24 straight wins and all that, I'd have looked at you and said you're out of your mind," said Meyer to reporters this past January.
Since the hyped match-up in 2006, when every casual fan was either a Wolverine or a Buckeye for a day, the Game hasn't really been the same since. It's what "The War" was going to revive. Ohio State kept rolling, looking to gather more national championships, while Michigan is still picking itself up off the ground. They lost their way after that game, with Brady Hoke's 11-2 season the only 10-win campaign since. As a whole, the Wolverines are 50-40 since that November 18th game; the Buckeyes are 62-17, and that's not including the twelve wins vacated in 2010. Not only did they win the Game of the Century, they won every Game since, excepting a 2011 match-up with a Luke Fickell-led program. Even that one was close.
Of course, there have been a number of silly stories to show that the rivalry, which has lately been a slaughter, is good and well: Urban Meyer forbid scouts from wearing the color blue, and refusing to say the name of other schools is now the rage. Perhaps they should look instead to the fact that the last time UM beat OSU by more than 14 points, it was 1993. The Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines by more than 14 in 2010, in 2008, in 2004, in 1998, and in 1994. If you weren't old enough to be a Michigan fan in 1993, then you've never experienced a blowout of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
A lot can change in two years. Two years ago, Urban Meyer was reassuring people Ohio State wasn't broke. In another two years, perhaps Michigan will have found itself again. To do so, Michigan might want to take a page out of OSU's playbook. The Game, the War, and everything else will mean little if we don't have an identity and a work ethic to put our hats on. And once that happens, we'll have some catching up to do. Hoke is 0-2 against Urban Meyer.
Call it a no-fly zone, call it a legion of boom, call it an aggressive mindset that permeates through the whole defense - whatever you call it, it's press coverage, and it's making a resurgence.
"It's huge, just getting hands on guys and trying to intimidate them," said Jourdan Lewis. "That's our key point right there - being physical. That's what Coach Mattison is always talking about, being a physical defense."
Press has its disadvantages - the technique is demanding, and with one false step, a corner is playing catch-up with little or no help behind him. But after watching Michigan State dominate the league en route to its fifth Rose Bowl, and watching the Seahawks shellac the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in the Super Bowl, teams are rethinking the risks involved. Having some athletic corners on hand doesn't hurt, either.
That's why teams like Michigan and Ohio State, two squads that were victimized by the passing game in their respective bowl losses, are re-dedicating themselves to plugging up their weaknesses. OSU even brought in a new defensive coordinator specifically for the purpose. "It's the first time in my career I spent the entire spring on defense," said Urban Meyer. "I'm not an expert on defense, but I'm an expert on getting guys to go hard. We had an issue last year. We weren't very good on defense. You can't win championships without having a great defense."
That championship mentality - that you can go anywhere, and beat anyone - is another benefit. Being a corner demands a short memory span and a confident demeanor, and leading a defense from the back end instills those traits in a whole team. "We played Nebraska, and they hit the big play action on the first play," said Tracy Claeys, Minnesota's defensive coordinator. "I went up to [Eric Murray] and said, 'Can you handle him?' He said, 'Coach, don't worry about it. He's not going to catch another one.' He took care of it." Football may have always started by stopping the run, but now, teams are flipping it the other way around.
It's a welcome move after seeing the B1G go 2-0 in bowls where it allowed 20 points or less, and 0-5 in bowls where the opponent scored 21 or more. The Big Ten may never have the explosive offenses, across the board, that the Big 12 has, but that won't matter. As a result, corners are now getting the chance to bump and run with receivers, throwing off the route's timing, forcing the offense to tip their hand, and giving smaller windows to receivers on routes designed to break the press - routes corners will see coming. As with any throttling defense, it's about steadily taking away options.
The Big Ten of old was a defensive conference, and it would do well to catch up to itself once again. Despite losing Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Darqueze Dennard, Brock Vereen, Bradley Roby, and Ricardo Allen, the Big Ten is looking better this year from the cornerback spot than a year ago. Whether it's Penn State's Jordan Lucas, Iowa's Desmond King, or Wisconsin's Sojourn Shelton, almost every team with a shot at the Big Ten title has a young, athletic defensive back, and the defenses are shifting along with it. They're getting simpler, more aggressive, and more reliant on finding terrific play from the secondary.
"It takes practice to play that way," said Kerry Coombs of Ohio State. "Football is made up of a variety of different schemes. It's not like you can just say, 'Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go press.' It's the scheme and how everything fits together." When teams played the Seahawks, they knew exactly what they would ultimately get, because Seattle didn't deviate much or try to fool people. It played simply, trusted its personnel, and nobody could stop them. In a copycat sport, other teams are taking notice.
Hitting the Links Is Versatile
This was the game in 1993, undoing an unbeaten season and making up for a subpar season by Michigan. Michigan's win allowed Wisconsin to capture their first Rose Bowl win and fourth appearance.
Robinson is actually from Orchard Lake, Michigan - he was in the hybrid RichRod-Hoke class and did not receive an offer from UM. For what it's worth, MSU also didn't offer the young man, though credit goes to Minnesota and PSU. Here, the Jags SB Nation site breaks down how you might see him on the field this year.
I'm not sure if I've highlighted Illinois yet at all on the Brews, but I'll rectify that a little with this short, worthwhile piece on Josh Ferguson.
910 wins, 42 Big Ten titles, 3 Heisman winners, one Jake Ryan, and a participant in the last-ever Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Desmond Gant graduated in the spring, hence the lateness of the signing. Minnesota's stockpiling tall, possession receivers, and Gant seems to fit that mold a little bit. I liked watching him play - he has a loping style, and cuts through traffic and catches contested passes with poise. If you're a coach, he's a low-stress player. Hopefully he develops well and has a great career at Minnesota.
State is breaking in six new defensive starters; Michigan, 2. There's no point crying over spilled milk, but as this piece points out so well, the work that Dantonio & Co. put in two, three, four years ago got them to the Rose Bowl, before anyone was celebrating anything Sparty-related in the press. Now, they're reaping the benefits with the next-man-up, accountable, focused, and driven unit they have.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has said he thinks this defense is still a year away from being SEC-caliber, but they'll have to figure it out quick as they play South Carolina on the first game of the year. Both of those teams will be breaking in new QBs, and possibly relying heavily on the run game.
The terrific Iowa tight end re-signs with the Colts and retires with the team he played nine years for. The last namesakes of the Big Ten's awards that are still playing are Charles Woodson, Drew Brees, and Brandon Fields.
B/R sums up all the headlines from our off-season so far.
The 2010 team had the best offense in America but it also had the 12th-best scoring defense. That tumbled to 52nd the next year, but it's improved steadily since. Last season, Oregon had the fourth-best offense, and the 13th-best defense. Speaking of...
After 17 years as the Ducks' defensive coordinator, Aliotti retired this off-season. Don Pellum, a promotion from within the program, looks to make his mark.
Yes, I'll include every single one of these. Every Big Ten blog does its own thing, and this is a cool one of Iowa's that I enjoy.
Coleman takes advantage of six in the box against MSU.
Okay, okay, just kidding, here's the highlight.
A bonus one, for me being a douchenozzle on that last one. I remember watching this live and being blown away.