Wednesday, November 27, 2013

BUCKEYES LOOK TO CONTINUE DOMINATION IN 'THE GAME'

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COLUMBUS — In November of 1969, the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes went into Ann Arbor boasting a (then) school-record 22 straight victories, were in the midst of a national title run and were considered huge favorites over Michigan — and their first-year head coach Bo Schembechler.

The Wolverines upset the Buckeyes that day, 24-12. It was the start of the famous "Ten Year War" between Schembechler and Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes, and the birth of what would become the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

Fast forward to November of 2013 ... the Buckeyes are on a school-record 23-game winning streak, are tabbed by Las Vegas as two-touchdown favorites over the Wolverines, and are vying for a chance to play for a national championship.

Perhaps Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer slides in the tape of that 1969 debacle for his 2013 group to use as an attention-getter going into Ann Arbor this Saturday? 

"I might," Meyer said Monday, when asked if he'll use that 1969 tilt this week in the film room. "I might. It's always good to talk about the history of the rivalry. Our players know it, but we might do that."

Of course, Meyer said this is a week where his players aren't in need of added motivation. There will be no coach-speak from Meyer about how it's just another game ...

"It is different. It's not just another game. It's not. Our players know that," Meyer said. "Does that mean we put less value on Indiana or less value on the following week coming up? I didn't say that. But there is an extra pep in the step. We officially started working the game a day earlier than we normally do, and they get it. Our players get it.

"A new coach doesn't come in here and try to stimulate that rivalry. That rivalry's been stimulated a long time ago, and we need to carry it on and make it stronger."

It hasn't been much of a rivalry in recent years, though, as the Buckeyes have dominated the Wolverines the past ten outings, winning all but one (2011). The Buckeyes have won 10 of the last 12 meeting between the two storied programs. 

The third-ranked Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) look poised to make it 11 of 13 against the Wolverines, as they are currently playing at a championship level, led by junior quarterback Braxton Miller, who in eight full games played this season has compiled 2,364 yards and 24 touchdowns, with a QB efficiency rating of 165.8 (1st in Big Ten).

"Braxton Miller is a different quarterback (now)," Meyer said. "People make the comment about he's having fun, and he's having fun because he knows what he's doing. He's confident in the personnel around him, and that was not the case last year. I wasn't here, but I can only imagine his freshman year. Because Braxton, if he's not comfortable, he's not going to act like he's having fun when it's not fun. 

"He knows where people are now. He knows the protections. He's playing quarterback. He has a skill-set to be a pro quarterback, there is no doubt in my mind."

The Buckeyes are also powered by senior tailback Carlos Hyde — who has rushed for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns — and a front line that includes four seniors that have paved the way for an offensive unit that has averaged 48.7 points per game (3rd best in the nation).

Unlike the red-hot Buckeyes, the Wolverines have dropped four of their last six games, after beginning the season 5-0. And it's been the Michigan offense which has disappointed the most. While the Buckeyes boast the seventh-best offense in the nation (530.9 yards per game), the Wolverines possess the 97th ranked unit (362.8) — out of 123 FBS schools. 

According to Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, it's a lack of consistency — not talent — that has attributed to the Wolverines' struggles on the offensive side of the football.

"Offensively, we need to be more consistent," Hoke said Monday, during his weekly presser in Ann Arbor. "We get a nine-yard gain and then take a step back. Or we have good protection and don't finish the throw, or execute the throw, or catch the football — which is all part of it. That is all part of execution. 

"The rhythm you need to have from an offensive perspective has to be more consistent. The kids are working, believe me. They're working. They want to find that rhythm as an offense and run the football and be able to play-action pass and do things that have been very good to us at times."

Bottom Line

We can talk until we're blue (or scarlet) in the face about how this is "The Game," and that all records can be thrown out when these two teams clash on the gridiron. But, I'm sorry ... this isn't 1969.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Bo Schembechler isn't coming out of that tunnel Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Unfortunately for the Wolverines ... Meyer, Miller and Hyde will be.

Lee's prediction: OSU 49-20