|Everything else pales as Michigan game approaches|
|Sunday, November 24, 2013 9:00 PM|
By RUSTY MILLER
COLUMBUS — Ohio State defensive lineman Noah Spence is from Harrisburg, Pa.
He wasn’t steeped in the enmity that grips fans of the Buckeyes and Wolverines about this time every year.
But now in his second season in the heart of Ohio, he has a good grasp of it now.
“It’s a huge rivalry even if you’re a guy from out of state like me,” he said.
Then he added, “It’s everything.”
Ohio State and Michigan clash for the 110th time on Saturday, at Michigan Stadium. It’s already been a long, grueling season. But, as it should be, the best and biggest game has been saved for last.
Ohio State (11-0, 7-0), which moved up to No. 3 in all major rankings on Sunday, won its school-record 23rd straight game and also earned a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a 42-14 win over Indiana in snow-globe conditions at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Almost immediately, the Buckeyes’ thoughts turned to the opponent that — like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter books — no one in Ohio refers to by name. Instead, they follow the lead of late coach/curmudgeon Woody Hayes and call it “That School (or Team) Up North.”
From a distance, it might look like a trap game: The Buckeyes have little to play for beyond holding on to what they’ve already got — an unbeaten season and conference and national title aspirations.
On top of that, the Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) have lost four of their last six games and have had major problems running the ball and scoring points.
But in a rivalry the size of “The Game,” it’s almost impossible for one team to look past another even though the Buckeyes have another major showdown a week later when they face No. 11 Michigan State in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis.
“There’s no chance of us overlooking a team from here on out,” Buckeyes defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “You’ve got That Team Up North, the Big Ten championship and whatever comes after that.
“Every week from here on out is a bowl week.”
Urban Meyer won his first Michigan-Ohio State game as a head coach a year ago, 26-21, by shutting out the Wolverines in the second half and edging past them on two field goals by Drew Basil.
Moments after his team beat Indiana, Meyer said there was not time to waste to get ready for Michigan (although, of course, he did not speak that word).
“I have great respect for this rivalry — it almost makes me in awe,” he added. “The respect we have comes with incredible responsibility that sometimes can be overwhelming (when it comes) to what we have to do next week. So we take it very seriously. We’re working on the game as we speak. We’re all going to go home, see our families and then we’re coming back (Sunday) to get ready to go.”
Michigan, ranked as high as 11th in the nation during a 5-0 start to the season, has had its hopes dashed. The latest punch to the gut was blowing a 14-point, second-half lead at Iowa on Saturday in a 24-21 defeat.
Afterward, coach Brady Hoke — like Meyer an Ohio native — was asked what objectives remained for his team.
“We play for our seniors. That’s been the first thing we always play for,” he replied. “And we’ve got a pretty big rivalry game next week. … And we’ve got one more opportunity for our seniors in that stadium.”
Nothing would please the Wolverines more than to ruin Ohio State’s perfect season and shot at a national title. That’s what happened back in 1969, when Hayes’ Buckeyes defending national champions had won 22 in a row and were ranked No. 1 but lost to rookie coach Bo Schembechler 24-12 in Ann Arbor, Mich. That game touched off the tense and tempestuous “Ten-Year War” between the furiously competitive head coaches.
This year, the Buckeyes remain behind Alabama and Florida State in the BCS rankings, which determine the two teams headed for the national championship game. They need to win out and get some help to play in the title game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had 20 tackles including five for negative yardage in the snow against Indiana, said the Buckeyes can’t be distracted by winning streaks, the BCS and everything else which will have the opposing fan bases crowing at each other this week.
“The best thing we can do is keep winning and stay focused on what we’re doing,” he added. “And don’t think what’s going on in the outside world.”
BUCKEYES BUZZ: Make no mistake about it: It’s big that the Buckeyes are playing in their first Big Ten championship game.
As winners of the Leaders Division, they’ll face off against Legends Division winner Michigan State in their first conference title game on Dec. 7 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Still, no Ohio State player is pointing for that when Michigan is standing in the way.
The Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0) play the Wolverines (7-4, 3-4) at Michigan Stadium on Saturday at noon.
So, sure, it’s a big deal to be playing for Big Ten bragging rights. But before that, there’s the bragging rights in “The Game,” considered one of if not the most hotly contested rivalries in all of college football.
“We’re not looking forward to the championship game. We have a huge game coming up this week,” TB Carlos Hyde said after running for 117 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s 42-14 win over Indiana on senior day at Ohio Stadium. “We want to focus on that. Try to get the win in that, THEN focus on the next one.”
Occasionally, it takes time to get into the rhythms of the rivalry.
RB Dontre Wilson was a senior in high school in DeSoto, Texas, a year ago, far removed from the hub-bub of the grudge match.
“I watched the game on TV last year but to be honest I don’t really know that much about it,” he said. “I’m sure going to find out soon, though.”
Yes, Dontre, you surely will.
NEXT FOR THE BIG TWO: This is, of course, the craziest of weeks in college football in Ohio and Michigan. It promises to be a wild week around the nation as well.
The pick of the litter of games involving the top teams is The Iron Bowl game with No. 1 Alabama playing at fourth-ranked Auburn.
In the other game of particular interest to Ohio State fans, No. 2 Florida State puts its perfect season on the line at rival Florida.
Now, most Buckeyes fans were talking about ex-No. 3 Baylor’s stunning 49-17 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State on Saturday night, which moved Ohio State up to No. 3 in all of the polls and gave it some breathing room for a change over its closest pursuers.
But maybe the most shocking score of the weekend came on Florida’s home field where FCS-level Georgia Southern hung a 26-20 shiner on the Gators. It was Florida’s sixth loss in a row, dooming it to a losing season (4-7).
Amazingly, Georgia Southern didn’t have to complete a single pass to win, either.
THE WEEK AHEAD: In other marquee games involving two AP-ranked teams this week: No. 8 Stanford plays at No. 25 Notre Dame, No. 6 Clemson is at No. 10 South Carolina and No. 22 UCLA plays at No. 23 Southern California.
B1G GAMES: Even though the division champs have already been decided, it’s still rivalry week in the Big Ten, too.
On Friday, Iowa plays at Nebraska in The Heroes Game. Saturday’s contests include Purdue playing at Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket, Minnesota at No. 11 Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois decide the Land of Lincoln Trophy and Penn State is at No. 14 Wisconsin.
HOKE ON OFFENSE: After Michigan kicked away a 21-7 halftime lead to lose at Iowa 24-21 on Saturday, Hoke was asked what the big problem was with his ineffective and inconsistent offense.
“It’s a combination of all 11 guys who are out there,” he replied. “At times we hit on all 11 cylinders, then its 10, then it’s nine. But it seems to be rotating through.”
Michigan has lost four of its last six games by a set of scores that point to Jekyll and Hyde running the offense. The Wolverines have won by scores of 63-47 against Indiana and 27-19 in three overtimes at Northwestern and have lost 43-40 at Penn State, 29-6 at Michigan State, 17-13 against Nebraska at home and then at Iowa in a game in which it was shut out in the second half.