The thing about classics is that you can never do them the service that they deserve, so it’s best to just provide the words that can convey the message in a manner that doesn’t lean too far into screaming or blank disbelief.
Standing on the field for the final five minutes and the two overtimes, it was impossible not to simply take in a 360-degree view every couple of minutes, soaking in an atmosphere and game that was equal parts present-tense and history.
I would catch eyes with another bystander and we would just silently shake our heads in disbelief that Michigan and Ohio State — No. 3 versus No. 2 — were currently mired in an overtime battle that possessed the kind of stakes generally reserved for games in January.
This was a new one for all of us, so it should be no surprise that we are still learning a thing or two from this group of hard-fighting, never-quitting Buckeyes. What did we learn this week?
1. The OSU defense was perfectly prepared for Jabrill Peppers.
There is nothing special to defending Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers when he is “Michigan offensive player Jabrill Peppers.” All the Buckeyes did was maintain their assignments and keys and they held him to four yards on four carries. His first carry went for six yards, but his next one went for a loss of five, then two yards, and he finished his day on offense with a carry of one yard.
The play of the game may have come from defensive end Sam Hubbard, who brought Peppers down for that loss of five yards on third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. It was a great example of players doing their jobs, as Hubbard maintained contain. If he doesn’t get him, who knows what happens. Malik Hooker was there as well, but Hooker missed a couple of tackles in this game, so he was no guarantee to bring Peppers down in a one-on-one situation.
2. Isaiah Prince is still too unreliable to be reliable.
It was a rough day for the Buckeye pass protection, including right tackle Isaiah Prince. Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton had 2.5 of the Wolverines’ eight sacks and he gave Prince fits all day long. After bouncing back post-Penn State, things were looking good for Prince, but it’s clear that he’s still too inconsistent to no longer worry about. The next time the Buckeyes play, they’ll need to make sure he’s got some help. The baseline for a good tackle is there, it’s just difficult to get a true sophomore offensive tackle where you want him.
3. Raekwon McMillan lived up to his role as a MLB in this game.
Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan was everywhere on Saturday. He had six of his 16 tackles in the first quarter alone. Thirteen of his tackles came on running plays, and 10 of those were for gains of three yards or less. Eight went for two yards or less. He helped the Buckeyes hold Michigan to 91 yards rushing on 43 carries (2.1 avg). Despite all of that, his most important play came on a blitz when he pressured and hit quarterback Wilton Speight as he was throwing. The pass was intercepted by Malik Hooker and returned 16 yards for Ohio State’s first touchdown.
4. This offense can’t take advantage of an aggressive defense as well as others can.
It was a failure on all aspects of offense, from the quarterback to the receivers to the offensive line, and it only got worse when Michigan was blitzing. When Barrett did find the right guy, it wasn’t a guaranteed catch. When there was an open receiver in man coverage, Barrett didn’t always see him. Then there were other times when nobody was open and the offensive line didn’t give Barrett enough time to check his other options.
The offensive line had difficulty handling the blitzing linebackers, who had a pair of sacks. Cornerback Channing Stribling had two tackles for loss. The Buckeyes were never able to take advantage of having a safety playing man coverage against their wideouts while All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis was lined up in the slot against Curtis Samuel.
At the end of the game Michigan had safety Dymonte Thomas lined up on Noah Brown. I kept expecting a throw into the end zone, but it never happened. That was even in the red zone and the Buckeyes still wouldn’t attack Michigan “downfield.”
Ohio State’s best success came late in the game when Michigan was dropping back into a zone to avoid giving up a big play.
5. Ohio State’s defense is a bad matchup for Michigan’s offense.
Michigan doesn’t necessarily have outstanding talent on offense. They have an okay offensive line, a decent quarterback, two receivers who are Big Ten starters, and running backs who aren’t good enough to beat out De’Veon Smith. That’s not an offense that is ever going to terrify an opposing coach.
Michigan’s best assets are their receivers Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and tight end Jake Butt. The receivers fall right in line with Ohio State’s cornerbacks, who are as good as you’ll find. Darboh caught eight passes for 8.5 yards per reception. Chesson caught two passes for 11 yards. Darboh caught the fourth-down touchdown in overtime, but he was relatively quiet for the most part. Butt caught five passes for 58 yards, which is about three fewer receptions than I expected him to have, and about 40 fewer yards.
The linebackers did a pretty good job on Butt, which is saying a lot.
6. Michigan’s defense is a bad matchup for Ohio State’s offense.
Man coverage against receivers who have not been able to get open consistently, plus a run defense that allows very little up the middle against an offense that needs to run up the middle. These are two things that don’t combine very well when it comes to the Ohio State offense. Can the OSU offense do better in their next game? Absolutely. Should they be expected to? Depends on the opponent.
7. Tyler Durbin is allowed to live in Columbus for at least another month.
If you want to be happy for anybody, be happy for Tyler Durbin for making his third field goal attempt. Had he missed that, he may not have been allowed to continue living in Columbus — for his own safety. Instead, he hit his third field goal and all is fine now. He doesn’t have to worry about having the 2016 battle with Michigan labeled as “The Tyler Durbin Game”.
8. It’s time to start talking about Malik Hooker’s place in Ohio State history.
Where does Malik Hooker rank in Ohio State history at the safety position? He is now OSU’s all-time leader in interceptions returned for touchdowns (3), and he did it in just 12 starts. No, Hooker is not a perfect player, but he’s still just a redshirt sophomore. He misses tackles, but makes more than he misses. He can sometimes get caught looking into the backfield, but has the kind of makeup speed to get away with it most of the time.
Hooker’s 181 return yards on his six interceptions are second to Derek Ross’s 194 in 2001.
So can we start talking about Hooker in the same breath as Mike Doss and Donte Whitner? I don’t go back past the late 1980s, but I think it’s time to start talking about where Hooker belongs. And you better start doing it quickly before you’re referring to him in the past tense.
9. Ohio State was the more disciplined, better prepared team.
I wrote about this earlier, but the Buckeyes were the team that didn’t let circumstances dictate how things were going to go, and the Wolverines were the complete opposite. When you lose a game you should have won, you have to look at the plays that cost you the game. Michigan simply couldn’t hold on and Ohio State simply couldn’t stop fighting. And when it came to discipline, it was Michigan’s head coach losing his cool and putting the Buckeyes on the UM 4-yard line with a first down. Teams are reflections of their coaches. Sometimes the reflection that comes off of Ohio State’s mirror is even better than the Urban Meyer visage standing in front of it. That’s a credit to the OSU coaching staff as a whole.
10. This offense as it stands now is not going to score much on Alabama.
Yeah, there’s time to come up with some gameplans and figure out what Alabama likes to do, but you still have to block and you still run and you still have to get open, and I just don’t see that happening too often. That doesn’t mean Ohio State can’t beat the Tide if they ever meet up with them, it just means they’ll need the same kind of help — if not more — from the defense that they got against Michigan.
How does it get fixed? If I tell you now, Urban Meyer won’t pay me for my consulting fees.