Anger versus Apathy. It’s a struggle many Buckeye fans were worried about heading into the premier rivalry in all of sports. It’s a tough question to answer. How would elite college players respond after a gut wrenching loss that all but eliminated their hopes of a second straight national title?
— Bobby Carpenter (@Bcarp3) November 28, 2015
No one knew the answer. National pundits talked all week long about how some of the players were more focused on personal achievements than team success. The star running back and Heisman trophy candidate chose to air his feeling about offensive preparation immediately after the defeat. In a show of solidarity, other key players chose to back his statements (which may or may not have been a positive depending on how you looked at it). Could Urban Meyer develop an aggressive game plan that would reengage his wounded team?
Nick Saban spoke in the past of how difficult it has been for him to have his elite players focus near the end of the season. Especially when there is no national championship on the line. It is the balance that Ohio State has tried to strike. Recruit elite level talent from Ohio and the rest of the nation. Develop those players into NFL worthy talent, but then make sure they are fully invested in every collegiate game. It is easier said then done, but ultimately it is reduced down to team culture and the character of the players on the team.
The game will hinge on the Slobs up front. They open the holes for Zeke and move the line of scrimmage #CLtheSilverBullet
— Bobby Carpenter (@Bcarp3) November 28, 2015
Ohio State found out what type of culture it had against Michigan. Buckeye Nation found out the character of guys like Joey Bosa and Zeke Elliot, two players who are destined for the NFL. Both guys have given enough to Ohio State to take a pass in what likely was their final regular season game wearing the scarlet and gray. Both decided to show up and save their best for last. Zeke called his shot after the MSU game and answered the call while on his way to becoming the second most accomplished running back in Ohio State history. The Elliot and Bosa impact was only part of the equation. A senior class as successful as the 2015 seniors showed the world there was no conceivable way they were going to leave on a sour note. Their passion permeated the field and bled into the rest of the team
Offensively, the game plan was terrific; the offensive line changed the line of scrimmage and the play calling was unpredictable. After a 132 yard output against the Spartans, Ohio State responded with a 482 yard performance against their greatest rival. Many of the drives were started with the 3-step passing game. The opening drive of the 2nd half was up-tempo and exhausted the Wolverine defense. JT Barrett not only ran the read option, but also some speed option in a variety of ways. Lastly they used a bevy of two tight end sets, which was a personal grouping that has been a strength of Ohio State all season, but rarely deployed.
It was the two tight end grouping that allowed Elliot to rip down the sideline with his signature explosive gain. Marcus Baugh was able to get the seal block and senior Nick Vannett kicked out the force defender to create an alley that Urban himself could’ve run though. The play blew the game open. It had been a few weeks since Zeke had ripped off a run such as that.
Defensively, the Silver Bullets came up big. They heard all year long how “Harbaugh had instilled toughness back into the program” and how “the rivalry was back.” Michigan rushed for a paltry 57 yards on 25 carries. OSU’s back 7 was able to close down any potential running lanes that were occasionally opened by the like of Bosa & Co. The defensive line was able to dominate up front with their pass rush as well. QB Jake Rudock was sacked twice and pressured countless times. It was a suffocating performance against a team who pulled out all of the stops. On the opening drive UM called an audible to attack OSU in man coverage, then ran boots and screens while lining up 2-way star Jabril Peppers all over the field. The Bullets answered by forcing a punt and it set the tone for the entire day. It was day where OSU demonstrated they are still the toughest team in the Big Ten.
After the 42-13 win by the Buckeyes fans were loving the win but perplexed, “How could this be the same team who looked average on Senior Day against Michigan State?” It is a fair question to be asked and I’m not sure if there is good answer, but it’s why we love sports. The unpredictable can happen at anytime and often does when it is least expected. This season could possibly end up in the “what might have been” section of history. Along with the Cooper teams of the mid 90’s or the defending champs in 2003, this will be remembered for their successes and talent, but also the epic disappointment.
But just as “anything” happened in the Horseshoe on Senior Day, “anything” can happen on Championship weekend.