Sunday, November 25, 2012

Michigan v. Ohio State: Dr. Fickell and Mr. Hyde

One year ago, Luke Fickell, carrying the tag of interim coach, was the victim of Michigan’s emotional win in Ann Arbor, beating Ohio State for the first time in several years.
On Saturday, returning to his old job as defensive coordinator under a new regime (led by former Florida coach Urban Meyer, who took the Columbus job after a year’s sabbatical for “medical” reasons … and was supposed to be in the TV booth for that encounter in Ann Arbor), Fickell exacted his revenge upon the Wolverines with a masterful set of adjustments at halftime.
With Michigan leading 21-20, thanks to a lighting-striking 67-yard bolt from U-M senior Denard Robinson, Fickell must have yelled, “Enough is enough! HE’s NEVER going to throw the football!” to his troops underneath old Ohio Stadium.
The changes he ordered worked to perfection, leading to no Wolverine second-half points and a 26-21 Buckeye victory to end the 2012 season with a 12-0 mark. Michigan now sits at 8-4 and must wait eight days to discover where its bowl destination and opponent will be.
Fickell’s work was made more special knowing that his top defensive player, senior end John Simon, was out for the game with a knee-leg injury. But in the second half, Fickell chose to make sure two players were always shadowing Robinson whenever he touched the ball – usually linebacker Zach Boren and safety Ryan Shazier.
It worked! Robinson, who has 124 yards rushing on six first-half carries, only ran four more times and lost two yards in the final two quarters. In fact, Michigan ran for a total of minus-4 yards on the ground in the second half, as no one seemed capable of getting a single yard at critical times.
Example: sophomore Thomas Rawls ran the ball five times, losing one yard, getting three yards on two carries and nothing on two other attempts … and he was to have been the “power” back out of the remaining running corps.
In soccer, a key statistic is the amount of time one team actually possesses the ball (he who controls the ball, controls the action presumably in the other team’s end of the pitch). In football, it is field position which can tell much of the story and, in the second half, field position totally favored Ohio State.
Michigan ran exactly ZERO (none, zip, zilch) plays in the Buckeye side of the 50; Ohio State ran 34 out of 40 plays in Michigan’s half. Folks, that sums up the second half and game for Michigan.
Ohio State simply exploited Michigan season-long weakness in its rushing attack – between the guards. By collapsing, and actually pushing that trio BACK into the backfield, it simply gummed up ALL the Michigan offensive works, including the passing attempts. For most of the second half, Gardner was scrambling around and never actually threw a single pass with both feet planted.
While Gardner will be a feared passer in his senior season, he clearly demonstrated his inexperience as just a three-game starter, fumbling and throwing a poorly-directed pass for an interception on Michigan’s final two drives of the game. Except the word “drive” is misleading since no possession went for more than 23 yards in the second half.
The key play of the game happened early in the third quarter when the Wolverines were unable  to convert on a fourth-and-3 at their own 47, with Robinson gobbled up like so much of the turkey consumed two days earlier. Afterwards, he blamed himself for taking the wrong read, but in truth, the blocking was not there and the play was doomed at the handoff.
On offense, Ohio State continued to punish Michigan’s season-long weakness – between the ends. Unfortunately, the players with the greatest girth – senior tackle Will Campbell (6-5, 308) and junior nose tackle Quinton Washington (6-4, 300) – were also the most vulnerable to straight-ahead blocking and running.
OSU halfback Carlos Hyde, who did his best Beanie Wells impression, did not venture outside the ends to gain most of his 146 yards. His longest run was 17 yards, but he also had five other efforts over 10 yards … and he was NOT tackle for a single yard of loss!
Quarterback Braxton Miller was fairly effective as a passer (going 14-of-18 for 189 yards) but, for the most part, was no Denard Robinson as a rusher – getting just 57 net yards (and sacked for 51 yards lost). In fact, subtract a 42-yard scamper, Miller only had 15 net yards on the other 19 tries.
NO, it was Hyde who did the damage; only two other Buckeyes even touched the football (one was a flanker reverse) – time after time after time …
So, Ohio State, on its probation (“rebuilding”) year went 12-0. No one on the roster was due to Meyer’s brilliance as a recruiter; he inherited talent and thanks to a mostly soft schedule, the Buckeyes went unblemished.
And for this, apparently OSU is going to celebrate as if NOTHING happened in the prior 12 months. The team received a trophy for winning the Leaders Division, although ineligible to play in Saturday’s Big Ten title contest, and word has it each player will get championship rings (for a division title? How much is that worth in tattoo prices?).
If a school is on probation for major infractions, it should be grateful it was allowed to play – forget trophies and rings and other baubles for breaking the rules. Shame on the conference for being any part of that!
The most irritating thing about the entire contest on Saturday was the repeated discussion (in that TV booth) that the Buckeyes, despite volumes of NCAA rules infractions heaped upon the program, forcing the myriad of penalties (including the 2012-13 bowl ban and nullification of its chance to win the Big Ten title this season), are STILL under some far-fetched consideration for a national championship by the voters in the Associated Press poll.
People need to take heed: ANY journalist who actually casts a single vote for this team – IN ANY CAPACITY (1 to 25) – should be themselves banned from print or airwaves! And sports fans need to tell their employers exactly how they feel.
All that talk and action does is to “justify” cheating, and the kind of arrogant rule-breaking and cover-up conducted by the Ohio State hierarchy, led by ex-coach Jim Tressel. And it was a sad sight to honesty and the other schools who do NOT condone such behavior to see Tressel given a standing ovation by the Ohio Stadium crowd between quarters in the first half and a ride on ex-players’ shoulders.
The team honored was the 2002 national title squad, which included a running back named Maurice Clarett, who broke almost fistfuls of NCAA rules, and enough laws to end up in jail … and he was Tressel’s special recruit that season.
Just for a moment, let us review the case of one Mr. Clarett: According to Wikipedia, com, “In December 2002, he publicly maligned OSU officials for not paying for him to fly home for the funeral of a friend and accused administrators of lying when they said he had not filed the necessary paperwork. In July 2003, Clarett became the center of an academic scandal when a teaching assistant told the New York Times that Clarett had received preferential treatment from a professor; the investigation did not find sufficient evidence of academic misconduct.”
He then was “suspended for the 2003 athletic year after he was charged with filing a false police report. Clarett had filed a false claim that more than $10,000 in clothing, CDs, cash and stereo equipment were stolen from a car he borrowed from a local dealership in September 2003. Athletic Director Andy Geiger stated that Clarett also took in special benefits totaling approximately $20,000, and repeatedly misled investigators. Clarett later pleaded guilty to a lesser criminal charge (failure to aid a law enforcement official) in that incident.”
On January 1, 2006, police went searching for Clarett in relation to two armed robbery outside the Opium Lounge dance club in Columbus. “Allegedly, with a .45-caliber handgun, Clarett robbed two people and then escaped in a white SUV with two unidentified persons. Clarett reportedly made off with only a cell phone, valued at $150, belonging to one of the victims.”
Then on Aug. 9, 2006, he was arrested, again, in Columbus, after a traffic violation and subsequent chase. Police found an assortment of weapons, including a loaded AK-47 variant and two handguns.
Clarett became verbally and physically abusive during the arrest, forcing the police to mace and use a taser to subdue Clarett, who was wearing kevlar body armor at the time.
On Sept. 18, 2006, Clarett filed a guilty plea bargain to the charges that involved the Jan. 1 and Aug. 9 events and was sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison.
And for his part, the man that brought Clarett to Columbus, sheepishly said, “I hope it’s not true, but beyond that, I don’t know much, but my reaction is, I was sad.”
Clarett was finally released to a halfway house in 2010; there is no word if he was among the returnees at Ohio Stadium to hoist Tressel for adulation.
That might be everything anyone needs to know about the participants in this rivalry.

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