On a cold November night in Columbus, Ohio, the national title and Heisman Trophy were both wrapped up. Ohio State and Michigan played one for the ages in their 103rd meeting, and perhaps they also locked up a 104th meeting in January at Glendale. The 42-39 score was not typical of these defensive powerhouses, but if there is one truism in college football, it is “expect the unexpected.” As one of the lucky 105,708 in Ohio Stadium, I have decided to give all my readers a taste of the glory, pictures and all.
Almost as much of a tradition as college football in Columbus, towing the forgetful drivers who leave their cars on Neil Avenue north of campus is a sight to behold. The picture below shows just another tow, but the funny part was the students on the front porch behind the car drinking beer and waving at us as we take pictures of the towing. They just stand there and drink while occasionally throwing in insults about cops and towing companies. It's a great way to get pumped up 5 hours before a football game. Next to that picture is another of the gas station on Neil and Lane that sells the most beer and snacks before the game while also providing a nice coffee stop for all the cops that wish to stand around.
While we did not get into the packed St. John Arena to see the OSU band warm-up event called the Skull Session, the scene outside that building and north of the Horseshoe was crazy four and a half hours before gametime. This picture is of the Coca-Cola sponsored tailgating games and fun they bring to every home game.
What would a college football showdown be without the most famous two hours of pre-game? This is how packed the College Gameday background was, and you can see all the signs up in the air. The shouts when Fowler, Herbstreit, Corso, and Howard went on-air were deafening, despite being outside in a parking lot. Also pictured is the view looking in the opposite direction of the beautiful north end of the stadium.
There’s nothing quite like tailgating, and I have a big group of friends from this tailgate I met 5 years ago as a freshman at Ohio State. Games are not the same without a little food, a little beverage, and a lot of discussion of the Buckeyes in this lot south of the Towers. The second picture features the photographer of all these photos and my wife on the left, me in the middle, and one of my close friends on the right.
Finally inside the Horseshoe, the teams are warming up and getting ready to do battle. The OSU Band then warms the crowd up with another rousing Script Ohio. The pre-game festivities conclude with the introduction of the 19 seniors on the Buckeye squad as they ran through the Tunnel of Pride (made up of previous Buckeye football players) and welcome their family. I did not think the stadium could get louder than 2002, but Troy Smith’s welcome was one for the ages.
And the game is underway! As shown by this picture of the first play, Michigan wishes to establish Mike Hart and the running game. The first drive seems too easy, as Michigan scores a TD in just under 3 minutes. Ohio State, though, comes right back down the field in a long drive featuring mostly passes and great play by Troy Smith, especially on 3 third down conversions. Notice in the second picture just how wide open Roy Hall (#8) is when he catches the ball, and then his nice footwork in the third picture to get the TD. Even though Michigan appears to be outplaying both Buckeye lines, perhaps the teams will settle down now. Indeed they do as both teams punt on the next possessions. Quarter ends at 7-7.
Michigan is forced to punt again, and it is starting to look like both defenses showed up to play. All of a sudden the Buckeyes bust out the big play - surprisingly in the running game as Chris Wells goes for a 52-yard score after making a beautiful spin move to evade the first tackler behind the line of scrimmage. Michigan has only given up 30 yards per game on the ground and one 20+ yard play all season, so this is a big deal.
Then Michigan got one heck of a gift after going three-and-out as the Buckeyes ran over the center on the punt and gave Michigan a new set of downs. I swear one mistake will change this game. Not this one though, as the Silver Bullets step up and get another three-and-out and force the punt to the Buckeye 7 yard line. Long field for OSU. This next drive started down on my end of the stadium, but the Buckeyes are keeping the momentum. Another TD catch for Ginn and it is 21-7 only 4 plays later. Just when it seems Michigan is about to be blown out, they respond with a nice drive to cut the lead to 7. Unfortunately for them, they leave over 2 minutes on the clock and Smith leads another nice drive to put the Buckeyes up 28-14 at half.
I really cannot see Michigan winning if OSU does not turn the ball over in the second half. On one last sidenote, it appears our ROTC Army guys are going to get a workout today doing pushups for every point OSU scores (see picture below).
The one thing I am certain is coming out over the TV is just how loud Ohio Stadium is tonight. This is by far the loudest I have ever heard it, and it seems like the team is thriving off the energy. Again Michigan starts the half rolling, getting a three-and-out and then an interception which leads to 10 quick points, making it 28-24 OSU. The first picture is the beginning of the interception play, and notice how Michigan is getting a good pass rush right off the snap. All of a sudden the Buckeyes do not look so good, as those 3 points are the first given up off a turnover all season. Like I said, Michigan can only win if OSU makes mistakes. OSU then breaks off another 50+ yard run, this time from Antonio Pittman. Michigan’s defense looks terrible up the middle, as both big runs have come with 8 or 9 guys in the box and yet they still do not stop OSU up the middle. A few more tense drives end in punts, and the quarter ends 35-24 in favor of the Bucks.
Right at the end of the third quarter, OSU gift-wraps another score for Michigan by messing up the shotgun center-QB exchange and fumbling on their own 10. Michigan takes it in at the beginning of the fourth quarter as shown in the first picture below. Ohio State seems unfazed and they drive down the field, almost breaking away before another fumble on a shotgun exchange at the UM 33. Michigan, though, calls terrible plays and punts it right back. OSU drives but gets stopped around the 40 yard line, making it 3rd and 15. The Wolverines stop OSU but a late helmet-to-helmet hit on Troy Smith by Shawn Crable is a personal foul and an automatic first down. This is the kind of mistake I was talking about. Yep, OSU shoves it down the throat of Michigan and gets another TD pass. Troy has really spread the wealth, as this is the 4th TD to someone new.
Michigan drives slowly down the field, but I think they are running out of time. Then a terrible pass interference call saves the Wolverines on a 4th and 16 from midfield. It could be the penalty, as UM goes in for another TD and a nice two-point conversion (second picture below). Onside kick time, but Ginn makes his most important catch of the day and OSU should be able to run the clock out. State closes out a wild one 42-39.
Let the celebration begin in Columbus! The troopers should be ready after 2002 and 2004 field rushes. Watch the progression from a small group of people as the Wolverines run off the field to a full field in the third picture. And here's one final look at Jim Tressel singing the alma mater Carmen Ohio and the scoreboard that says it all.
Although Troy Smith more than locked up the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, the national championship picture is not completely clear just yet. Cincinnati eliminated Rutgers (the last Big East team in contention), leaving a top 6 of teams who play each other in the last three weeks of the season (Michigan at Ohio State, Notre Dame at USC, Florida v. Arkansas). Given Michigan’s close loss, they stayed number two in a lot of polls and in the BCS, but USC will overtake them with wins against ND and UCLA.
I personally think this is correct as the SEC has not been impressive (Florida looks awful and Arkansas got beat 50-14 by USC while having their own share of close calls). Notre Dame has not played well enough either, and their 47-21 loss to Michigan at home eliminates them as well. This leaves USC and Michigan, and USC deserves the bid if they run through the tough November gauntlet. They have impressive wins against Oregon and Cal so far, but the Trojans still need two good games to escape the month. As much as I like to see BCS chaos, I think the system got lucky this season and OSU-USC or the rematch of OSU-UM will be acceptable. Just don’t expect as many points if it is the rematch!
There’s still enough football to feast on in the regular season even though the Big Ten is done, and this week’s third best game is Wake Forest at Maryland. Two days earlier, Miami hosts Boston College with a lot on the line (Miami is 5-6 and needs a win to redeem a poor season while BC needs a win to stay in contention for the ACC Atlantic division title). If Miami wins, then WF and UM play for the division title; however if Boston College wins, then only Wake Forest can win the division by winning this game as BC owns the tiebreaker with Maryland. Both the Demon Deacons and Terrapins were exposed last weekend in big losses, and both teams need to start this game well to get the ship righted. I think Wake Forest got caught looking ahead last week and will take care of business, as Maryland really has not been impressive at all offensively. Expect Wake Forest to capitalize on a Maryland turnover or two and win by 14, claiming a shocking division title.
Any game testing a national title contender usually gets top billing, and there are two this weekend. The second best one is LSU at Arkansas. Many assumed Arkansas would not make it past South Carolina and Tennessee after beating Auburn, but the Razorbacks did and this game means nothing as far as the SEC West is concerned. Arkansas has played very good defense after giving up 50 to USC in the opener, and they will need to again this week as JaMarcus Russell brings the Tiger offense to Arkansas. Do not be fooled by LSU’s struggles with Mississippi, as the Tigers were probably looking ahead to this game. LSU has (amazingly) struggled to put up the points this season, and I think Arkansas has enough defense to do it again. UA has a mediocre offense, but it will be enough to win this game by 10.
The game of the week is the final major hurdle for USC holding the Trojans from a third straight title game appearance. Notre Dame came as close as you could come to beating the Trojans last season before falling at home, and the Golden Domers have been waiting since then for revenge. Charlie Weis has a little more defense this season, and USC does not have Leinart, Bush, and White anymore. The key to this game is not USC QB John David Booty, but instead Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn. The Heisman and the national title may be out of reach for Quinn, but an 11-1 season and being selected first in next year’s draft is still on the line. Both of these teams matchup well on paper, so it all comes down to execution. I think Charlie Weis has had a few weeks to rest up the troops and prepare for this game, but that will not be enough. USC has too much on the line and the Trojans know how to win the big games, so I’ll take USC by 4.
GOTW 2006 Record to Date: 25-11
Fitzy’s Top 10 – Week 13
After witnessing the game of the season, I have to tip my hat to both Michigan and Ohio State for one great battle. Also to all the fans, who made Ohio Stadium the loudest stadium in all the land Saturday (and also partied responsibly before and after the game by all accounts). I am planning a trip to Glendale, and quite frankly I am cheering for USC to win out and play the Buckeyes. Have a great long weekend and don’t eat too much turkey!