Friday, November 23, 2012

MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT, 'THE GAME' MEANS MORE THAT EVER

TBT/Darla Duunkle-Hudnell
COLUMBUS — This season's installment of "The Game" has all kinds of tasty story lines.

Being that No. 4 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) is ineligible to participate in this year's post-season, Saturday's finale against rival Michigan (8-3, 6-1) has gone from heated, to making the sun feel like a giant block of ice. 

The showdown with the No. 20 Wolverines is not only considered an unofficial bowl game for the Buckeyes, it's also their opportunity to achieve perfection — a thumb and nose to the folks who said the program was dead.

That's at least the way this writer sees it, anyway!

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, however, says there is no need to find any added motivation. As the Buckeye leader so bluntly puts it ... C'mon, it's Michigan.

"I think the old adage about you can throw it out the window, I think this is just a pure, intense rivalry," Meyer said on Monday, inside the team meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus. "It doesn't matter who's undefeated, who's fighting for what, who's playing for what."

What the Buckeyes are playing for has to be taken in account, though. They are not only vying for an undefeated season — which would be a monumental triumph after last year's seven-loss disaster — but they have a possibility of being named Associated Press National Champions, albeit an uphill chance.

However, Meyer said all of that means little to them right now. Those at Ohio State, historically, are judged more on the outcome of the Michigan game.

"I don't know," Meyer said. "We just talked about winning this game. We're not talking about what everybody is going to think a week from now, two weeks from now. Our kids are focused in.

"Right here is the team meeting room, and it's electric in here when you start talking about this game. Where we're at right now. Will we be defined by this one game? You usually are. Regardless of what happens, this is the game. Our kids know that. Our coaches know that."

An inspiring pregame speech isn't even needed, according to the Buckeyes' mentor.

"The pregame speech isn't going to get these kids fired up to play this game," Meyer said. "That's where a lot of people get confused, saying, 'hey, what are you going to do special for this week?' We've got to get really good at offense, defense, and kicking. That's what we're going to do special. It's not going to be a whole bunch of conversation because it is what it is.

"We have more conversation about games that aren't quite as appealing because you're dealing with the competitive spirit of kids. 

"If we have to motivate them for this one, we wouldn't be 11-0."

To be 12-0, the Buckeyes must slow the Wolverines' one-two offensive punch of quarterback Devin Gardner and do-it-all senior athlete, Denard Robinson.

Last week in a 42-17 rout of Iowa, the junior Gardner tallied 351 total yards and six touchdowns (3 pass, 3 rush). He gives the Wolverines more of a passing threat than the former starter Robinson, who moved to athlete and rushed for 98 yards against the Hawkeyes.

Meyer knows that Michigan will do everything they can to hit the Buckeyes with their dynamic duo. In fact, the Buckeyes coach has some experience with this type of thing, coaching the Florida Gators to a national title in 2006 with a passing quarterback in Chris Leak and a dynamic athlete in Tim Tebow. 

Of course, Michigan's version is a bit different.

"I think they're both very good athletes," Meyer said. "I thought Denard could throw, maybe not as good as Gardner can ... 

"I don't think they're that dissimilar. Like Tebow and Chris Leak were just completely different players. You had two different packages. I don't think they're going to have very different packages for them."

Robinson should still be considered the Buckeyes' highest priority.

"I know Denard. I recruited him," Meyer said. "I have great respect for him as a person and as an athlete. He's one of the finest athletes in America, so you'd better know where he's at at every snap.

"I think he'll probably be able to throw that ball well enough. I know they have something waiting. So we have to be ready for it."

Bottom Line

This could be the most important game in the history of this rivalry.

Sure, in 2006 "The Game" was a battle of unbeatens, with a trip to the BCS Championship at stake. However, each program was at their pinnacle six seasons ago. They were amongst the nation's elite. 

This one is about the future of the two programs. The war in recruiting. An audition as the conference's flag bearer moving forward.

I could breakdown matchups and X's and O's until kickoff, but ultimately in big games, it comes down to coaching. Meyer versus Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. This is where the Buckeyes hold a huge advantage.

Meyer is 7-1 in bowl games and 4-0 in BCS tilts — including 2-0 in national championships. 

Simply said ... Meyer wins big games.

And they don't get any bigger than this Saturday's in the Horseshoe.

Prediction: OSU 30-21