Saturday, November 27, 2010
Status quo for Buckeyes and Wolverines
By Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Justin Boren is a 6-foot-3, 320-pound monster known as one of the Big Ten's best and nastiest offensive lineman.
But back in 2008, at that moment, Boren was absolutely terrified.
He had made the seemingly unthinkable transition from Michigan to archrival Ohio State, and he had no idea how he'd be received.
Coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes have outscored Michigan 79-14 in the past two games at Ohio Stadium.
"I was so scared when I walked in for the first time," Boren recalled Saturday. "I had played 'em five months ago and I was coming in here like the new kid. I was more scared than when I went up to Michigan as a freshman. But they [welcomed] me with open arms. They've been awesome."
Boren didn't begin his career as part of one of the most successful classes in Ohio State history. But he's finishing it that way, and he couldn't be happier.
"I didn't want to look back and have any regrets," Boren said. "I didn't want to second-guess myself. And I can honestly say I've never done that. ... It's the greatest choice ever made."
It's hard to argue after Boren and his fellow seniors led Ohio State to its seventh consecutive win against Michigan, a 37-7 triumph that was essentially over by halftime. Ohio State claimed a share of the Big Ten title for a record-tying sixth consecutive season.
The Buckeyes' seniors improved to 43-8 in their careers. A bowl victory next month will tie them with their predecessors in 2009 for the most wins in team history. But perhaps most important, the class made it through without ever losing to Michigan.
"Five Big Ten rings and five pairs of gold pants," coach Jim Tressel said, referring to the large group of fifth-year seniors in the class. "That's a big deal."
Ohio State's seniors have contributed to The Game losing some serious luster in recent years. The Buckeyes have won each of the past four meetings by double digits, including the past two at Ohio Stadium by a combined score of 79-14.
Imagine what it would be like to be on the other side.
"I really can't," senior wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said. "It's got to be tough, but we work all year for this game, and we want to come out and execute. We can't really worry about what it would be like on the other end because we don't ever want to be on the other end."
Neither does Michigan, but the Wolverines had to endure another beating at the hands of their archrivals.
The buzz before and after the game centered on Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez, who continued to struggle against top-tier Big Ten opponents. Rodriguez fell to 0-6 against Michigan's two conference rivals -- Ohio State and Michigan State.
Rich Rodriguez is 0-6 as Michigan's coach against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.
"I'm ticked," Rodriguez said. "Do you want me to go jump out there with all the Buckeye fans and sing 'Kumbaya?' I wish we'd played better. Our guys, they played hard, and that's to be expected, but I wish we'd executed better and as coaches, we've got to try and put them in positions so they can make some plays.
"I'm going to be mad for a while, and then we'll move on to the next one."
The next one likely will take place Dec. 28 at the Insight Bowl in Arizona. But will Rodriguez still be around to coach the Wolverines?
Speculation has mounted in recent days about Rodriguez's job security. Athletic director Dave Brandon on Saturday reiterated his stance that he'll evaluate the program at the end of the season.
"I'm going to work tomorrow as always," Rodriguez said. "I worry about my future every day. Before I took the job, after I took the job.
"But nothing's going to change how we work."
While Michigan stews in the midst of its slide, Ohio State's seniors emphasized the importance of keeping their streaks alive. They stepped in after an Oct. 16 loss to Wisconsin, which linebacker Brian Rolle said "bonded the team together even more."
Ohio State hasn't lost since, and several seniors finished the regular season playing their best football.
Rolle and fellow linebacker Ross Homan combined for 16 tackles, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble Saturday. Senior safety Jermale Hines broke up three passes. Sanzenbacher, without question the Big Ten's top receiver this season, caught three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The result: Ohio State's seniors maintained the status quo.
"I think people will look back and say we were a tight-knit group, a class with class and character," Rolle said. "When we come back for a reunion, I want guys to say, 'Man, those guys were great.' "
So what's left for Ohio State's seniors?
The Buckeyes continue to fight the negative perception stemming from their back-to-back blowout losses in the BCS title game. They should get a chance in January for a second consecutive BCS bowl victory, quite possibly against an SEC team (LSU or Arkansas) in SEC territory (New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl).
Not a bad way to go out.
"Getting a win this year in whatever game we go to would be great," Rolle said. "It'll show that this senior class, guys fought hard to bring tradition back to Ohio State."