|Wolverines out to salvage sorry season|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 21 November 2008 09:58|
It's a reminder - in the chill of winter or the heat of August - that ``The Big Game'' is never far away.
On his first day as coach at Michigan, somebody gave Rich Rodriguez an Ohio State button. It sits by the phone in his office. He sees it every day.
A year of pretending not to be thinking about it is over. The 105th meeting between the archrivals is at hand.
This season's edition of Michigan-Ohio State (or Ohio State-Michigan, if you prefer) has two new central figures and something rarely seen when these two perennial powers get together: a losing team.
While No. 10 Ohio State (9-2, 6-1) has much to play for, it's only about pride for Michigan (3-8, 2-5).
The Buckeyes don't see that as much of an advantage, however.
``I don't want us to get complacent or comfortable,'' Ohio State defensive lineman Nader Abdallah said. ``We only have one more game in the Horseshoe and then hopefully a bowl game but right now the No. 1 thing is OSU vs. Michigan. If we go out and we don't take care of business then people will remember you for the last thing you did and not what you did before.''
Michigan is a three-touchdown underdog playing out the string in a dreadful season, hoping to end on a good note while deflating the Buckeyes' hopes. Rodriguez first season in Ann Arbor after taking over for the retired Lloyd Carr has produced the most losses in any of the storied program's 129 seasons, the first losing season in 41 years and the first season without a bowl trip in 34 years.
But this series is marked by major upsets. The biggest took place in 1969, when a rookie coach named Bo Schembechler led the Wolverines to a 24-12 upset of the top-ranked and defending national champion Buckeyes, ending a 22-game winning streak.
Woody Hayes, Schembechler's friend and former boss, would say later that those Buckeyes were ``probably the best team that ever played college football.''
They say they got the message.
``There's plenty of history of people saying there's no way this team could lose this game in the rivalry, and the other team ends up winning,'' linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
Michigan has also had former players come in this week and they, too, have discussed that '69 stunner.
Would an upset make up for all of Michigan's miseries?
``If you had a win over Ohio State, that's what you'd try to remember the most,'' quarterback Nick Sheridan said. ``To say that it will block out all the other bad memories that you have from this year, I don't think that's the case. Yeah, it would be big for us to beat Ohio State. But that's how it is every year.''
The mantra in Columbus is that Michigan's 3-8 record is either misleading or irrelevant.
``Their record means nothing in the grand scale of things, because what are they going to be remembered for at Michigan: Did they beat Ohio State? And the same goes for us: Did we beat Michigan?'' said Ohio State kicker Ryan Pretorius, a native of South Africa who equates the magnitude of the game with the World Cup of rugby back home.
The game is significant also because it marks a debut on either side.
Rodriguez swears he has an appreciation for the history of The Big Game. His only regret is that he's taking a team with so many disadvantages.
ive veteran receivers running 4.4s, and two or three tailbacks and experienced quarterbacks and a bunch of defensive guys who will be first-round picks,'' he said. ``But, you know, we've got guys that can compete. Do I get nervous when I watch the film? Sure I do. I watched last year's game. We had five (current) NFL players on offense - and we got less than 100 yards against them.''
The Buckeyes won that game 14-3 on a dreary day at The Big House. It was Carr's final regular-season game after coaching the Wolverines since 1995. Ohio State's Chris ``Beanie'' Wells ran for 222 yards (most ever by a Buckeyes back against Michigan) on 39 carries and scored both touchdowns.
Wells is back, and will go against a Michigan defense that is OK against the run (128 yards a game) but often spend too much time on the field because of the Wolverines' unproductive offense.
``It's a daunting challenge,'' Rodriguez said. Then, he channeled the late Schembechler, growling, ``But if you're not a competitor as a coach or player and don't appreciate it ... hell, I've got guys that can play. These guys can go in this environment and compete their tails off. Who knows what happens? We're not going to go down there and forfeit.''
Playing in his first game in the rivalry will be Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The Buckeyes are 7-1 since Pryor, who chose Ohio State over Michigan, took over as the starter.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound speedster can turn a broken play into an end-to-end touchdown. But this is a long way from the Pennsylvania High School playoffs he was competing in a year ago.
``I don't know, but I just keep getting it pounded in my ears, 'This is why you came here, for Michigan,''' he said after last week's victory at Illinois. ``I can't wait to find out.''