NCF Nation: Columbus 0813

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.

(Read full post)

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."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 All eyes were focused on Ohio State's Chris Wells Saturday. In what may have been his final college home game, Wells ran for 134 yards against Michigan.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At his absolute best, Chris "Beanie" Wells was 80 percent healthy this fall. And he finished the regular season with 1,091 rushing yards in only nine games played.

Against Michigan on Saturday, Wells topped out at 75 percent. And the Ohio State junior running back still finished with 134 rushing yards in only three quarters.

"There's no words that can explain how good Beanie is," quarterback Terrelle Pryor said. "He's a beast."

How good can Wells be at 100 percent?

NFL general managers and scouting directors will ponder that question for the next few weeks. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez already knows his answer, calling Wells a sure-fire first-round draft pick if he chooses to leave Ohio State a year early.

Saturday was all about the 28 Ohio State seniors who finished their careers without ever losing to Michigan. But it also could have been the final home game for Wells, who moved into fourth place on the school's all-time rushing list (3,276) and became just the sixth player in team history to record consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Was this Wells' goodbye at The Shoe?

"It didn't go through my mind at all," he said. "I didn't think about it."

Wells on Saturday reaggravated a right hamstring injury that he originally sustained while hurdling an Illinois defender last week. He said the hamstring "hurts pretty bad" but fully expects to be ready for Ohio State's bowl game in January.

"You never know if they're really healthy," head coach Jim Tressel said. "We'll just have to get him ready for the next one."

It's just the latest injury setback for Wells, who missed three games with a right foot/toe injury. But the ailments haven't slowed him down, and he made arguably the biggest play in Saturday's game early in the third quarter with Ohio State up by only seven points.

Michigan was moving the ball on offense and had pinned Ohio State at its own 9-yard line, but on first down Wells scooted through a hole on the left side and raced 42 yards. Backup Dan "Boom" Herron followed with a 49-yard touchdown on the next play.

Neither player was touched by a Michigan defender.

"Every year, we know it's going to take big plays to win football games," said Wells, who put Ohio State on the board with a 59-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. "The offensive line knows it and the rest of the skill guys know it. It was just hard work."

Despite a large senior class filled with multiyear starters, Wells has served as Ohio State's emotional leader this season. So it was no surprise that he addressed the team before Saturday's game.

"I told them we had to fight for those who were no longer going to be here," Wells said.

Whether he's one of them remains to be seen. If he is, Wells will cherish Saturday.

"It's incredible," he said. "It's such an honor and a blessing to be able to say I'm a part of something. I'm a part of a team that beat Michigan five years in a row. It's kind of like unreal to me.

"It's something that's never been done before. To finally be a part of something that happens, it's great."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Michigan tried to mask its season-long blemishes for a half, but eventually all the warts came out.

Ohio State has capitalized on Michigan miscues, and the rout is on at The Shoe with 7:32 left. Senior quarterback Todd Boeckman entered the game early in the quarter and fired a touchdown pass to Brian Hartline, giving Boeckman a nice final memory from a difficult season.

Buckeyes running back Chris "Beanie" Wells also left the game with an apparent leg injury, though we'll find out more after the game.

Ohio State will beat Michigan for the fifth consecutive time, a first in the historic rivalry. The Buckeyes also will clinch a share of the Big Ten title for the fourth straight year.

Michigan's misery ends with a 3-9 season. Ouch. Notre Dame of 2007? A lot of similarities there.

I'm heading down to the field for interviews, but check back later for more updates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Coaches always talk about the 5-10 plays that decide a football game. It doesn't take a genius to pick out the ones that decided this contest.

Ohio State's ability to generate big plays on both offense and special teams blew the game open in the third quarter. This hasn't been a game of methodical offense and sustained drives for the Buckeyes. They sputter at times, but when they strike, they strike for big yards.

Michigan appeared to carry over some momentum from the second quarter, notching three first downs before pinning Ohio State at its own 9-yard line. But "Beanie" and "Boom" -- also known as Chris Wells and Dan Herron -- responded with runs of 40-plus yards on back-to-back plays. Wells surged for a 42-yard gain, and Herron followed with a 49-yard touchdown. The most amazing thing? Neither man was touched. So much for that Michigan defensive line.

Though Michigan continues to have some success moving the ball, it can't get into scoring position and has missed several chances to attack the Buckeyes down the field. Special teams continue to haunt the Wolverines, and recently suspended Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small broke off an incredible 80-yard return down the sideline to set up a Terrelle Pryor touchdown pass. Welcome back, Ray.

There was more bad news for Michigan at the end of the quarter, as quarterback Nick Sheridan left the game with a sprained ankle. Freshman Justin Feagin is now taking snaps for Michigan.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's amazing what a first down can do for a team.

After looking totally uncompetitive for a quarter and a half, Michigan's offense finally showed life midway through the second quarter. Martavious Odoms' second effort notched Michigan's first first down, and quarterback Nick Sheridan and the offense seemed to gain confidence from there. I liked Rich Rodriguez's decisions to go for two fourth downs -- Michigan might not have many scoring chances left -- and Brandon Minor converted on fourth-and-goal to put his team on the board.

For Michigan to hang around, Minor needs to get the ball more. He has been by far the Wolverines' most consistent offensive performer this season. Michigan also appears to have survived some woeful special-teams play (muffed punt, missed field goal, shanked punt) early on.

Ohio State remains in the lead and somewhat in control, but Jim Tressel might be a little concerned about his offense. Aside from the two scoring plays -- Chris "Beanie" Wells' 59-yard run and a 53-yard pass from Terrelle Pryor to Brian Hartline -- Ohio State hasn't done much (52 total yards). After a dominant two weeks, Pryor looks a bit like the guy who took snaps in Week 5, holding the ball too long and taking three sacks.

Michigan's defensive line won't make it easy, and Ohio State needs to find ways to sustain drives. Wells likely has another big run in him today. The junior eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season and became just the sixth Ohio State back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns.

Players on both sides are definitely amped for this one. There have been several mini-skirmishes, though officials did a nice job of preventing anything at halftime. By the way, Rodriguez has five security guards surrounding him today. It's not quite the Nick Saban treatment, but pretty close.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Michigan's defense came to play. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, so did Chris "Beanie" Wells.

For the first 10 minutes, Michigan totally shut down Wells, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense. The Wolverines registered an interception, three tackles for loss and sacks by Brandon Graham and Brandon Harrison. But with absolutely no help from the offense or the special teams, Michigan could only hold on for so long.

Eventually, Beanie broke through with a scintillating 59-yard touchdown run. This guy is clutch in November, and he'll likely continue to wear down Michigan's defense.

The Wolverines offense is horrendous. No other word can describe it. Quarterback Nick Sheridan can't get anything going, and a change seems imminent. Michigan finished the quarter with no first downs and minus-1 total yards. After a Stevie Brown interception set them up in the Ohio State red zone, the Wolverines went six yards backwards before missing a field goal. There won't be many more chances to seize momentum in this game.

Pryor looks shaky so far, but it probably won't matter. After completing his first pass, he threw the interception and three more incompletions.

Ohio State junior wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small is back in action after a two-game suspension for repeated team rules violations.

The teams had a little dustup at midfield before exiting pregame warmups. No penalties were assessed.

It's game day at Ohio Stadium

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
11:04
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They say The Game has lost its flavor this year, with Michigan slipping to historic lows and Ohio State getting closer to another Big Ten title. But to the folks who make an annual pilgrimage to see college football's greatest rivalry, it still means plenty.

  

The parking lots were packed this morning, and tailgating was in full swing around The Shoe, despite frigid temperatures. My flight from Chicago was full of Ohio State fans, and there were a decent amount of Michigan fans in my hotel and around the stadium. That's dedication. Some interesting T-shirts around here. One Ohio State tailgate displayed the shirt "Michigan Still Sucks" like a flag. And I saw several fans wearing the less subtle version of the "Muck Fichigan" shirts I've seen before.

Ohio State enters its 105th meeting against Michigan with a 9-2 record and ranked 10th in the BCS standings. The Buckeyes can clinch a share of the Big Ten title with a victory, and they'll head to the Rose Bowl with a win and a Penn State loss to Michigan State. After a drama-filled September, Ohio State finally seems to have found its identity, particularly on the offensive side with Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells. Michigan's top priority today will be containing Wells, who is flat-out dominant in cold-weather games.

Michigan sustained its school-record eighth loss last week and will end its season with The Game for the first time since 1974. It has been a struggle in every sense for first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, who didn't help himself with some comments earlier this week. The Wolverines are 20.5-point underdogs today, the largest spread in the history of The Game. To have any chance, they'll need to avoid any turnovers on offense and find a way to stop Pryor and Wells. Sophomore Nick Sheridan makes his third consecutive start at quarterback.

It won't be easy for Rodriguez to watch Pryor, who picked Ohio State over Michigan despite a chance to start right away for the Wolverines. Michigan's defense is decent against the run, but it will need to be more than decent today.

The weather calls for temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s, light winds and no snow. They won't be so lucky in State College.

As always, I'll be tracking the other Big Ten games today, particularly No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). We also will have coverage from that game.

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