Rushing to Victory

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Last updated: 11/27/2013 4:26 AM
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Rushing to Judgment – If You Want to Win 'The Game', Then Run For It
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first football cliché that a coach uses in his job is probably “Football is won in the trenches”, and for good reason. The line of scrimmage is everything – it is either immediate success or failure. Winning the line of scrimmage is sustenance. Without it, a team will starve and they will eventually fall away.

For programs that want to run the ball, winning the line of scrimmage is the only way to accomplish that goal. When it comes to the Ohio State – Michigan game, running the ball is just about all that matters.

Since 2001, the team that rushes for more yards in The Game is 12-0. You have to go all the way back to 2000 when the Buckeyes out-rushed the Wolverines 149-88, yet lost 38-26.

Since then, however, there have been no blips, no exceptions. The team that runs the best, wins the best.

When Jim Tressel's first team went to Ann Arbor, it was Jonathan Wells who set the tone by busting through the Michigan defensive line time and again. The Buckeyes' 137 yards rushing were only 20 more than the Wolverines', but it was enough. Wells rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in that game, leading the Buckeyes to a 26-20 win.

The next year, the rushing totals of the two teams were again very even. The Buckeyes had the edge 140 yards to 121, but it was Maurice Clarett's 119 yards and endless energy that put OSU over the top in their 14-9 win. Michigan's Chris Perry was held to 76 yards on 28 carries, which was well below his average.

Maurice Clarett finds running room against Michigan in 2002.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Maurice Wells

Perry got his revenge the following year, rushing for 154 yards on 31 carries. Ohio State managed just 54 yards rushing. Michigan won the game 35-21.

Chris Perry picks up yardage in 2003
Photo by Jim Davidson
Chris Perry

In 2004, Troy Smith's career as the Wolverine Killer began. Ohio State out-rushed Michigan 205-71, and Smith's 145 yards was the main reason why. They had no answer for Smith, nor would they ever find one. The Buckeyes won it 37-21, and a slayer was born.

Troy Smith picks up yardage in the 2004 game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Troy Smith

Neither team ran the ball very well in 2005, but Ohio State's 118 yards dwarfed the Wolverines' 32 yards. This game was proof enough that every yard mattered, and Antonio Pittman got every last yard he could when he ran through Prescott Burgess for the game-winning touchdown to make it 25-21. Sophomore Michael Hart was held to just 15 yards on nine carries.

Antionio Pittman finds the endzone in 2005.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Antonio Pittman

The Game of the Century took place a year later. It was #1 vs #2, but despite the amount of talent on the field, the old adage still held true. The Buckeyes rushed for 187 yards in their 42-39 win, and the Wolverines managed just 130. Hart had a fantastic game, rushing for 142 yards, but it was the 33 yards lost on Chad Henne sacks that did the damage. Antonio Pittman and Beanie Wells, meanwhile, combined for 195 yards rushing.

Antonio Pittman hits a homerun in the running game in 2006
Photo by Jim Davidson
Antonio Pittman

There may have been no better example of winning the line of scrimmage than the 2007 game. Ohio State held Michigan to just 15 yards rushing in their 14-3 win. The Buckeyes ran for 229 yards – 222 of which belonged to Wells. Ohio State won the line of scrimmage all afternoon long. It was a meek ending for a brash group of Michigan seniors.

Chris Wells in 2007
Photo by Jim Davidson
Chrus Wells

The 2008 game was almost unfair. It was Rich Rodriguez's first foray into The Game, and he didn't have the roster to compete. The Buckeyes rushed for 232 yards while the Wolverines managed a nearly respectable 111 yards. The game was never close, as Ohio State won it 42-7. They controlled every aspect of the game, from the line of scrimmage to the sale of the gameday programs.

Chris Wells in 2008
Photo by Dan Harker
Chris Wells

Despite the extra year running his system, Rodriguez's second attempt at winning the line of scrimmage didn't go any better. Ohio State rushed for 251 yards to Michigan's 80 in the Buckeyes' 21-10 win in 2009. Three separate Ohio State players rushed for over 70 yards, while freshman quarterback Denard Robinson managed just 31 yards on 10 carries for Michigan.

Terrelle Pryor scampers for a gain in 2009
Photo by Jim Davidson
Terrelle Pryor

Robinson was much more game in his second time around in 2010, but it wasn't enough. While he rushed for 105 yards, Daniel “Boom” Herron was busy running for 175 in OSU's 37-7 blowout win. The Buckeyes ran for 258 yards to Michigan's 182.

Boom Herron gashes the Wolverines in 2010
Photo by Jim Davidson
Boom Herron

Then came 2011. Two new head coaches meeting for the first time, so many colliding variables. Yet the universal football truth held true yet again in the Wolverines' 40-34 win. Michigan destroyed the Buckeyes in the running game, rushing for 277 yards while holding Ohio State to just 137 of their own. Denard Robinson rushed for 170 yards and Fitzgerald Toussaint added 120.

Denard Robinson struggles for extra yards in 2011
Photo by Jim Davidson
Denard Robinson

Last season the Buckeyes nearly doubled up on the Wolverines, rushing for 207 yards to Michigan's 108. They were led by Carlos Hyde's 146 yards on 26 carries. Ohio State ran the ball on 52 of their 70 plays. Why? Because they could.

Carlos Hyde finds a big hole in 2012
Photo by Jim Davidson
Carlos Hyde

Now having read all of this, when it comes to the 2013 edition of The Game, which of these two teams do you see winning the battle up front? Which team do you see running the ball best? Is there even a question?

For Michigan to win this game, they are either going to have to go against what has worked throughout most of history, or else somehow they are going to have to run the ball, which is something that they haven't been able to do against anybody in the Big Ten but Indiana.

Either way, however, they are going to have to control a line of scrimmage that they haven't controlled since the leaves on your trees were green.

Based on the history above, there doesn't appear to be much chance for a Michigan win this Saturday. However, there's even more history to suggest that even the slightest chance is more than enough in this game.

It won't be easy. It never is. But that's life in the trenches.

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