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Saturday, November 22, 2008
Michigan not in panic mode despite 3-9 season

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
 Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez wore the disappointment of a season on his face Saturday as the Wolverines were crushed, 42-7, by Ohio State.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Brandon Minor was among the last Michigan players to leave the field Saturday, and as he walked off he looked toward the south grandstand.

Cascades of Ohio State students streamed down the staircases to party with their team on the field. Above them read the scoreboard: Ohio State 42, Michigan 7.

It marked Michigan's worst loss to its archrival since a 50-14 setback in 1968 and the third worst ever. It also marked Michigan's fifth consecutive loss to the Buckeyes, a first in the 105-year series.

"I'm going to prepare myself so that this doesn't happen again," said Minor, one of few bright spots for Michigan with 67 rushing yards and a touchdown on Saturday. "I'm going to bust my tail and hope that others follow.

"I promise it won't be like this next year."

A different P-word might be sweeping through Wolverine Nation right now: Panic.

Their team lost a school-record nine games this year, finished 10th out of 11 teams in the Big Ten and showed few noticeable signs of progress. Michigan missed a bowl for the first time since 1974 and suffered its first losing season since 1967.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez's celebrated spread offense generated a season-low seven points Saturday and eclipsed 25 points in just three games.

Much like this year, the Wolverines will be using a lot of young players next year, particularly at the quarterback position, where incoming recruits Tate Forcier and Shavodrick Beaver will be in the mix for a starting spot right away.

Time to panic? No way, Rodriguez said.

"It's disappointing to not be as successful as we would have liked with our record," Rodriguez said, "but there is no panic with it being the first year. We have a lot of things to overcome, and I'm confident that the work we do Sunday through Friday will show up on Saturdays soon."

Most of that work begins with the offense, which committed a league-high 30 turnovers this season. Michigan struggled in the red zone and couldn't generate big plays on a consistent basis despite some dynamic young players.

Several season-long warts came out Saturday, as Michigan couldn't convert a first-quarter interception into points despite being set up in the red zone. The Wolverines had seven possessions end in Ohio State territory but converted only one into points.

"The missed opportunities are a big thing we've dealt with all year," Rodriguez said. "We are not good enough to win ballgames without taking advantage of those opportunities."

The criticism for Rodriguez will only intensify during the next few weeks, though the coach has a track record of turning things around in his second year. West Virginia went 9-4 in his second season after a 3-8 campaign. Clemson went 9-3 in Rodriguez's second season as offensive coordinator, and Tulane went 12-0 in his second season there.

Michigan needs to replace three starting defensive linemen but returns most of its core, for better or for worse.

"Coach is going to reevaluate," senior defensive end Tim Jamison said. "Rodriguez is going to build a foundation, and the young guys are going to turn the team around."

* For more on the first season of Rich Rodgriguez, check out this interview. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (33) is part of a senior class that never lost to Michigan, including a 42-7 win Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's senior class always will be viewed through two different prisms.

Within Buckeye Nation, they will forever remain conquering heroes, a group that dominated the Big Ten Conference and archrival Michigan like none before. Ohio State won outright Big Ten titles (2006, 2007) or shared the championship (2005, 2008) in all four seasons that they played.

Ever since the fifth-year seniors set foot on campus back in 2004, Ohio State hasn't lost to Michigan. The Buckeyes' 42-7 victory against Michigan on Saturday ensured the seniors their own chapter in team history.

"I don't think we really realize it now," senior linebacker and co-captain James Laurinaitis said, "but as we get older, we'll look back on our career and stuff and realize to be a part of the first team to win five times in a row is something that is very special."

Backup quarterback and co-captain Todd Boeckman will always remember Ohio State's dominance of Michigan.

"When you get five pairs of gold pants, that's something you never forget," said Boeckman, referring to players' reward for beating Michigan.

Seen through the first prism, the Buckeyes shine through in all their Scarlet and Gray glory.

But there's another prism, one that takes a broader view of the Ohio State seniors from outside the Buckeye State.

National observers acknowledge the group's dominance in the Big Ten and against Michigan, but they can't ignore back-to-back flops in the national title game. They can't ignore a 35-3 loss to USC on Sept. 13. They can't ignore the fact that the Big Ten has lost some luster in recent years.

The second prism shows a mix of bright spots and blotches, a mixed legacy.

"It could be different," defensive end Nader Abdallah said of the seniors' dual legacies. "In Columbus and in Ohio, they take this game very highly. Michigan versus Ohio State, that's a big game. When you win against them, it's always a successful season.

"We'll see when we play our bowl game, how we come out to play. And then people will be able to remember us by a bowl game, seeing us nationally."

With Penn State headed to the Rose Bowl, Ohio State is hoping for an at-large BCS berth, most likely to the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes likely need Oregon State to lose one of its last two games, which probably would limit the Pac-10 to only on BCS entry (USC).

It likely will take a BCS bowl win on the national stage against an elite team, preferably one from the SEC, to solidify the broader legacy of Ohio State's seniors.

But here in Ohio, they'll always be known as local heroes, especially after going 5-0 against Michigan.

"It's hard to believe because it's so difficult," said head coach Jim Tressel, who improved to 7-1 against the Wolverines. "I remember lookin
g up the statistic about three or four years ago of what the winning streaks were, because you've always got to have something in the back of your mind that you're shooting for and just the fact that it was done in the '30s four in a row and done in the '60s four in a row."

Tressel had former Ohio State All-America linebacker Ike Kelley address the team before the game. Kelley played on teams that beat Michigan in every year but 1964, when the Wolverines won 10-0 and claimed the Big Ten championship as well.

Former Buckeyes safety Jack Tatum also spoke to the team about walking through an airport recently as seeing a replay of the only game he lost to Michigan (1969).

"We're blessed to be in a position where we don't have to say that, we don't have to live with that the rest of our lives," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "We can always say we beat that team."

Tressel praised the seniors for their dedication and unselfishness, and Laurinaitis recalled how many of the front men -- himself, Jenkins, wide receiver Brian Robiskie, weren't highly regarded recruits coming into the program.

Laurinaitis often chides Jenkins, a future first-round NFL draft pick, about how Jenkins was listed as a two-star prospect before his senior year of high school.

"We were all underrated coming in," Laurinaitis said.

They leave with a few more stars next to their names, a fact not lost on Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the nation's No. 1 recruit last season.

"I love 'em," Pryor said. "Love is a strong word. I love 'em."

But for the rest of the country to share the love, Ohio State needs to step up in January.

"We would love to win a bowl game, definitely," Laurinaitis said. "[Saturday's win] doesn't wrap up everything."