It was the same old story for Michigan on Saturday, and with some odd symmetry, too. The Wolverines lost to Ohio State in the Big House in 2015 — Jim Harbaugh’s first season — by 29, and they lost to Ohio State in the Big House on Saturday by 29. And in between, it’s been more of the same. An occasional close call, but mostly Ohio State domination. Not much has changed.
One of college football’s greatest rivalries is in a slump. It’s hard to argue against that. Is a rivalry even a rivalry when one team wins every time? Ohio State’s 56-27 win made it eight straight over Michigan and 15 of 16. And it’s not like this game is producing much drama, either, as only five of those Michigan losses have been by single digits.
The Game isn’t a game right now, as this is the most lopsided rivalry in college football. You’d think Michigan could get one of these at some point, right? I mean, Georgia Tech and Oregon State beat their vastly superior rivals, Georgia and Oregon, in 2016. Texas, for all its struggles, manages to beat Oklahoma every few years. Auburn’s chief rival, Alabama, has been ranked ninth or better in their last 12 meetings (including being either No. 1 or No. 2 in 10 times), and the Tigers have won four times (including Saturday).
This isn’t Harbaugh’s fault, either. He has recruited well — just not as well as Ohio State. If Michigan wins its bowl game, it will have four 10-win seasons in five years under Harbaugh. That’s on par with Michigan historically. Llyod Carr won 10 games or more in six of his 13 seasons. Gary Moeller did it once in five seasons. Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke combined for one in seven seasons. So in the 25 seasons before Harbaugh took over, Michigan won 10 games or more eight times. At this rate, Harbaugh could accomplish that in just 10 years.
You have to ask when the media starts chirping about Harbaugh, what standard is he trying to live up to here? College football is so much different than when Bo Schembechler coached in the 1970s and 1980s. Heck, it’s even different than when Carr coached in the 1990s and 2000s. To make matters worse, Jim Tressell and Urban Meyer turned Ohio State into a juggernaut, with 15 double-digit win seasons in 17 years. That’d be tough for any coach to compete with, outside of Nick Saban.
Michigan came in to this game playing its best ball of the season. It beat a 10-win Notre Dame team by 31, it beat a nine-win Indiana team by 25. And against an Ohio State defense that hadn’t allowed more than 287 yards in an entire game this season, Michigan accumulated 285 in the first half. If not this year — when Ohio State had a first-year coach and a transfer quarterback — then when? Certainly not next year, with Justin Fields back at quarterback and the game in Columbus.
Ohio State is simply far better than Michigan, and it’s going to take a much more serious injury to Fields for that to change. Michigan’s best hope was that Ohio State would fall off like the last time Urban Meyer left a program. Florida seems to finally have gotten it going again, but it took three coaches in 10 years. Ohio State seems to have a coach that not only understands the importance of this rivalry, but also possesses the recruiting and coaching acumen to keep this juggernaut — built by Meyer — going strong. That’s the perk of promoting from within, as Ohio State chose to do.
The question will be whether Ryan Day can continue to recruit at the level of Meyer, who basically turned Ohio State into an SEC-level team in a conference that previously didn’t have that caliber of athletes. The early returns are good; with the help of Brian Hartline and Jeff Hafley, Ohio State’s 2020 class is ranked fourth nationally. Michigan isn’t too far behind at No. 12, but look closer: Michigan’s top commit, who is ranked 90th overall, would be Ohio State’s ninth-best recruit. That’s a stunning talent gap, and saying Ohio State’s class is eight spots ahead of Michigan’s class doesn’t really do it justice.
This game is going to continue to be a mismatch, and unfortunately for Michigan, Ohio State actually cares about this game. The Buckeyes will never, ever overlook Michigan like they did Purdue last year or Iowa two years ago.
You had to feel a little bit bad for Harbaugh in the post-game press conference when a reporter asked whether it was a talent gap, a preparation gap or a coaching gap that separates Michigan from Ohio State. He angrily snapped, “I’ll answer your questions, not your insults.” What is he supposed to say? That the players he has recruited the last four years aren’t any good? That the coaches he has hired aren’t any good? That he isn’t any good? He chose his words wisely, saying that Ohio State played better on Saturday.
Jim Harbaugh feels insulted by question after loss to Ohio State. pic.twitter.com/o3Oe0J8lz8
— Brandon Brown (@BSB_Wolverine) November 30, 2019
And that was undoubtedly true. Ohio State didn’t fumble a snap in the red zone, jump offsides on a punt, drop a touchdown pass or hit the quarterback late out of bounds. Michigan did those things, and the Buckeyes pounded after every miscue. It’s fair to criticize Harbaugh’s game management, as he chose to settle for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 5 at the end of the first half to take Michigan from trailing by two touchdowns to… still trailing by two touchdowns. Michigan surely knew that kicking field goals wasn’t going to beat Ohio State.
Here are my closing thoughts. A few things can be true at once:
- Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach who has done a poor job in this rivalry.
- Michigan should not sever ties with Jim Harbaugh because there is probably only one coach out there who could beat Ohio State, and I don’t think Urban Meyer is interested.
A look around the Big Ten.
College Football Playoff rankings
Ohio State probably locked up a spot in the CFP. Even with a loss in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, the one-loss Buckeyes are probably still in ahead of the two-loss Badgers, one-loss Oklahoma and one-loss Utah. That’s how dominant Ohio State has been this season in winning every game by double digits. That said, it’s hard to envision Wisconsin winning this game. Ohio State won the first meeting 38-7, and it would take quite the turnaround from Wisconsin to get it done.
The only remaining question is whether Ohio State can hold onto the No. 1 seed into the CFP. A No. 1 seed has never won the CFP, but it would seem to be particularly advantageous to hold the top seed considering Clemson could be the third seed. If No. 2 LSU beats No. 4 Georgia, the Tigers could vault ahead to No. 1. Clemson is unlikely to claim the top seed, unless Ohio State and LSU both lose.
If Georgia beats LSU, both are likely in. But would the committee pit those two against one another in a CFP semifinal? Probably not. Georgia would probably be No. 3 and LSU No. 4. I don’t see a path to them playing again in the semifinals.
Wisconsin, with that win over Minnesota, is in position to go to the Rose Bowl, but it’ll have to be the highest ranked Big Ten team (aside from Ohio State) one week from now. The Badgers surely will be the Big Ten’s second-highest after this week, but it needs to not get blown out by the Buckeyes again. In that scenario, it’s conceivable for Penn State to leap Wisconsin and play in the Rose Bowl.
What Ohio State can take away from The Game
Should Ohio State — which could potentially meet high-powered offenses from LSU and Clemson in the CFP — be concerned about its defense on Saturday? Yes and no.
As mentioned above, Shea Patterson’s first half was as good as any quarterback has played against Ohio State this season. He was 14 of 19 at halftime for 250 yards and a touchdown. And it should’ve been two, but Donovan Peoples-Jones dropped the pass in the end zone.
For one, the Buckeyes were without nickel cornerback Shaun Wade, a former 5-star recruit who is now a sophomore. Wade was a game-time decision but didn’t play — and the Buckeyes really missed him. Urban Meyer pointed it out on the halftime show.
Damon Arnette playing where Shaun Wade would normally be playing. Miscommunication between Arnette and Fuller on motion. DPJ breaks wide open. pic.twitter.com/VmPbkjjlAE
— Bill Landis (@BillLandis25) November 30, 2019
But look at how Ohio State adjusted at halftime: Patterson was 4 of 23 passing in the second half for 55 yards.
There is plenty for potential CFP opponents to learn from the way Michigan was able to neutralize superstar edge rusher Chase Young, who did not have a sack or a tackle and finished with two QB hurries. To be fair, it looked like Young was held on the touchdown pass shown above. Ohio State will be tough to beat if Young has a four-sack game, like he did earlier this year against Wisconsin, so he should be the first name brought up in any offensive meeting.
Offensively, this game reaffirmed what we already knew: Ohio State has stars in Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins, alone with a talented and capable supporting cast in Chris Olave, K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Garrett Wilson (more on him later).
Dobbins’ line of 31 carries for 211 yards and four touchdowns was noteworthy in that it showcased how far he’s come. Remember last year when he faded down the stretch, starting in the Michigan game when he had 12 carries for 46 yards? In fact, he had just 36 carries for 138 yards in those final three games. Dobbins had just three 100-yard games as a sophomore, a big step down from his productive freshman season. This season, he has just four games with less than 100 yards — and they were in Ohio State’s four least important games (Florida Atlantic, Miami Ohio, Rutgers and Maryland). That tells you when it matters most, Ohio State is riding Dobbins. And with good reason, as the junior has been terrific.
Fields is undoubtedly the team’s most important player (check the pulse of every Ohio State fan when he went down with the knee injury) and is the one player the Buckeyes absolutely need to win a title. But let’s not overlook Dobbins. He set the tone Saturday, especially with Fields struggling early on with a few misfires. Dobbins deserves to be mentioned in these Heisman conversations.
How the West was won
If you had told P.J. Fleck that Minnesota would limit Jonathan Taylor to 76 rushing yards, he would’ve taken that in a heartbeat. Wisconsin, realizing that it couldn’t get the run going, adjusted and dialed up a deep passing game — all the while snow covered the field.
If you’re the Golden Gophers, you tip your cap to Jack Coan. Who could’ve foreseen the Badgers having their best passing game in Big Ten play during a near blizzard (at least by football standards)? Coan was 15 of 22 for 280 yards, and Quintez Cephus reminded everyone why his reinstatement in the preseason after a year off was such a big deal for the Badgers.
Jack Coan throwing 47-yard touchdown passes to Quintez Cephus inside of a snow globe
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 30, 2019
Wisconsin will need to dial up some deep balls if it is going to beat Ohio State. As we saw in the first meeting, you can’t be one-dimensional and beat the Buckeyes. They are too good.
This has to be sweet for Paul Chryst and the Badgers, who failed to live up to lofty expectations last year and actually lost to Minnesota for the first time since 2003 in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. And after many probably wrote Wisconsin off after losses to Illinois and Ohio State this season, the Badgers are going back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game for the sixth time in nine years.
Indiana’s best season since 1993 is in the books
Indiana wrapped up its most memorable regular season in nearly three decades in memorable fashion — a 44-41 double-overtime win over rival Purdue. Oddly enough, the Hoosiers didn’t trail until double overtime, but they got it done.
I was impressed with the offense’s poise on that final drive. When Peyton Ramsey found Peyton Hendershot for 14 yards on third-and-10 to get to the 1, the Hoosiers hurried to the line and Ramsey quickly sneaked it in for the win. To me, that shows a team that is well-coached and prepared for that moment.
And that’s on brand for the Hoosiers this season, who have been using their backup quarterback most of this season and got 118 yards on 22 carries from true freshman running back Sampson James in place of workhorse back Stevie Scott.
Indiana probably isn’t getting enough love nationally for what it has done this season, and Tom Allen should be in the conversation for these coaching awards and coaching openings. It’s hard to believe Indiana hadn’t won eight games since 1993, but it’s true. It’ll have a bowl game for a chance to get nine wins for the first time since 1969 — the only time Indiana has done so since joining the Big Ten in 1953.
Three Up, Three Down
Looking at the best and worst of the rest of the Big Ten from the weekend.
1. The historic year of kicking in the B1G
Iowa’s Keith Duncan had a memorable Thanksgiving (or day after). The redshirt junior kicker nailed a 48-yard field goal with one second left to give the Hawkeyes a dramatic win over Nebraska. And he let them the Cornhuskers know about it.
Iowa kicker Keith Duncan says no bowl for you pic.twitter.com/MNJkZ7ZXy1
— Max Olson (@max_olson) November 29, 2019
After the game, Duncan got a well-deserved scholarship. This guy has carried Iowa this season. While the Hawkeyes have moved the ball, they can’t score touchdowns. And Duncan is there to clean it up. You know how many college teams would kill for a kicker like Duncan? Alabama would probably have three more national titles if it had a kicker like Duncan.
Duncan can set the single-season record for field goals with three of them in the bowl game.
Meanwhile, Maryland narrowly avoided setting the record for fewest field goals in a season. Instead, the Terrapins just tied the record. Joseph Petrino’s 33-yard field goal in the third quarter was Maryland’s second field goal this season. When you contrast that with Iowa, that’s just crazy.
2. Rutgers gets its guy
Greg Schiano is back. The former Rutgers coach is now the current Rutgers coach. Rutgers had reportedly moved on after it was unable to agree with Schiano, but they appear to have settled their differences and found a way to make this work. That’s great for this program. It’s a tough place to win, and Schiano has shown he can recruit New Jersey.
And on the field Saturday, Rutgers was competitive with Penn State, trailing just 13-6 in the fourth quarter before the Nittany Lions scored twice late.
So, all in all, probably the best weekend of the year for Rutgers.
3. Michigan State senior’s emotional moment
This is the best thing you’ll see today. Heartbreaking and beautiful.
Both of Michigan State corner Josh Butler’s parents died while he was in college so they let him come out for senior day with his two dogs, Roxy and Remi 😭😭pic.twitter.com/5F6yGtECNR
— Luke Zimmermann (@lukezim) December 1, 2019
1. Nebraska’s worst three-year stretch of football in 60 years is in the books
Nebraska’s 27-24 loss to Iowa means Scott Frost and the Cornhuskers will end their season at 5-7 and miss a bowl game for the third straight season. The last time Nebraska didn’t make a bowl game in three straight years was 1959-61.
Frost is now 9-15 in two seasons, hardly the homecoming anyone envisioned when he left UCF to coach his alma mater. Does it get better from here? Of course it can. Since you can read up on all of Nebraska’s issues and offseason decisions here, let me be a little optimistic and show you some coaches who have struggled in their first two seasons but rebounded to a successful tenure.
And I didn’t even include two current Big Ten coaches in this list, Indiana’s Tom Allen and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. Each went 10-14 in their first two seasons at programs with not a ton of winning tradition. Fitzgerald has gone 89-65 since and Allen is 8-4 this season.
So, yes, there is hope for Frost.
2. Petty football players
We like to think of football players as these tough, macho guys. And we whine every time a soccer player flops, as if it is some indictment of the entire sport. Well, football players are doing the same sort of flopping. Most of the time, it’s in order to slow down some of these fast-paced offenses. This was to try to get an encroachment call. I can’t say I blame him, but it just looks… bad.
Oh my god I hope he’s ok pic.twitter.com/S2qBl0fKPj
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) November 29, 2019
And how about Michigan players trying to pull of the shoe of J.K. Dobbins? Sheesh.
The rivalry is real. 👀
Two Michigan players come together to untie J.K. Dobbins’ shoe and pull it off his foot. 😅 🏈
— theScore (@theScore) November 30, 2019
3. Michigan State’s season continues
I thought this dreadful Michigan State season was going to come to an end, and it would’ve been so fitting. Trailing in the fourth quarter against a Maryland team that was 1-8 the last two and a half months, the Spartans got two fourth-quarter field goals to win and improve to 6-6.
Isn’t it strange how Michigan State seems to bottom out? Maybe it’s recency bias with that three-win season in 2016 still in my mind, but for a program that wins so much, it seems like they are never just a solid team in a given year like Iowa or Wisconsin. It’s an odd way to finish a decade in which the Spartans won double-digit games six times.