It was earlier in the week, when Urban Meyer took the podium to address the fallout from Ohio State’s 17-14 loss to Michigan State last Saturday, that I became concerned about my belief, held for several weeks, that the Buckeyes were going to lose in Ann Arbor. Meyer did something few head coaches will do—he took full responsibility at a point when throwing a player under the bus was a viable and understandable option.
Most head football coaches come off as arrogant in the extreme. I don’t know if they actually are, but they certainly present themselves as such. The example I’ll take to my grave will be Mike Shanahan forever refusing to admit he bears any responsibility for the handling of Robert Griffin III with the Redskins. In this case, Meyer had been publicly questioned by his star running back, Ezekiel Elliot, for the play-calling in the Michigan State loss.
Elliot said he should have gotten the ball more, and that in either case he was going to the NFL. Even people who agreed with his strategic analysis—which included pretty much anybody who watched the football game or has even a modest familiarity with how Ohio State’s offense has thrived the last two years, said he spoke out in the wrong venue and it was symptomatic of an Ohio State team whose individuality at the expense of team, has given a negative connotation to the phrase “dotting the I”, the school’s fabled halftime band tradition.
Meyer took the podium and said that while yes, Elliot should have approached the coaches privately, the running back was also dead-on in his analysis. The head coach took the novel approach that says the 51-year-old adult ought to take on a greater burden than the 20-year-old kid and the media storyline switched from Elliot’s comments to Meyer’s acknowledgement that he had screwed up. It’s further noteworthy that Meyer also didn’t try to subtly shift blame downward to the offensive coordinator, though my guess is that also would have been accurate.
I’m not an Urban Meyer fan, and that is putting it mildly. But his handling of this situation was dead on the money. He stood up publicly and essentially told everyone in his program “I got your back.” And on Saturday in Ann Arbor they had his, to the tune of opening a 42-13 can on Michigan. Here’s hoping Mike Shanahan and a few others took notice.
As for Michigan, while I got nervous about my prediction in the days leading up to Saturday, I was by no means expecting them to be physically whipped the way they were. This was not a case of superior Ohio State athletes making plays on the edges, though that did happen. This was about old-fashioned football in the trenches and the Buckeyes simply being tougher. The Wolverines have ran the ball well all year, but did nothing on Saturday.
I wasn’t alive during Ohio State’s 50-14 win over Michigan in 1968, as the Buckeyes rolled to a national title, but I was thinking about that score and the aftermath as the game wound down and it looked like OSU might have the chance to drop half a hundred if Meyer was so inclined to run it up. He didn’t, which was probably smart.
Following that ’68 game, Michigan hired a new head coach in Bo Schembecler, who used the “50” as a motivator all year and in 1969 he upset what Woody Hayes, to his dying day, considered the best team he ever coached. I’m sure Jim Harbaugh will use this humiliation for motivational purposes, but he won’t have the powerful visual of “50” in his tool box. In any case, the gap between the Wolverines and the national elite got exposed in a big way yesterday afternoon.
Notre Dame almost used some goal-line controversy to beat Stanford for the second time in four years. In 2012, a disputed call on the goal line preserved a 20-13 win and the Irish reached the national championship game. Last night in Palo Alto, they played for a possible spot in the College Football Playoff and with less than thirty seconds left, DeShone Kizer was ruled in the end zone on a bootleg.
Replay clearly showed Kizer’s knee down before the ball crossed the plain, but replay officials continued their season-long pattern of overturning debatable plays (see Wisconsin-Northwestern) while upholding obvious mistakes, such as last night’s. Notre Dame only had one timeout left, so while it’s probable they would have scored anyway, it’s far from certain.
The bad call turned around to bite Notre Dame, because it gave Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan the chance to complete a couple big throws and get his team in position for the winning field goal in a 38-36 thriller. Stanford, with two losses and a Pac-12 Championship Game ahead of them, still has an outside shot at the Playoff and could end up playing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
Notre Dame feels the heartache this morning undoubtedly, but 10-2 is still a terrific season for this team and they’ll get a spot in one of the six premium bowl games, “The New Year’s Six” to be played over December 31-January 1. In the meantime, this ND-Stanford rivalry is becoming one of the nation’s best, with three dramatic endings—last night, 2012 and last season when Everett Golson won it for ND on a 4th-and-long touchdown pass in the closing seconds.