COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State beat Michigan in a way that could come back to haunt the Buckeyes. Not this year, of course. In the present tense, nothing bad could possibly come of Ohio State's 37-7 blowout on Saturday, a game that clinched for the Buckeyes a share of their sixth consecutive Big Ten title and strengthened their hopes of getting invited to a BCS game.
But for the future? Yeah, for the future, this game was problematic for Ohio State. Because this game could be -- and definitely should be -- the final humiliation that costs Rich Rodriguez his job as coach of Michigan.
|While Jim Tressel walks off with another win over Michigan, Rich Rodriguez falls to 0-3 vs. Ohio State. (US Presswire)|
For Ohio State, Rodriguez has been the gift that gives the whole year 'round. If he's not getting caught breaking NCAA rules against practice-time limits, Rodriguez is losing to every good team in the Big Ten -- and to lots of mediocre ones. And when he plays Ohio State, he's getting drilled. Rodriguez is 0-3 against Ohio State, and his teams have been outscored 100-24 in those three games.
After this one, Rodriguez was testy when asked about his prospects of returning next season. I started the questioning by asking him, "Do you know you'll be back next year, or do you hope you'll be back next year?"
To which Rodriguez pretended to be deaf.
"What's that?" he said.
I repeated the question. Rodriguez sighed, then said, "I'm going to work tomorrow, as always."
There was blood in the water, and more sharks arrived. Over and over the media asked Rodriguez about his tenure, about his job security, about his feelings and three times he lowered his guard and bared his frustration for all to see.
First he said, "I'm ticked. You want me to go out there and hold hands with Buckeye fans and sing Kumbaya?"
Then he said, "We've made progress [but] not as much progress as I'd like. Are you kidding me? I'm not used to this, either. The coaches ... we're used to playing in BCS bowls. But I'm not deterred."
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And finally, when a school official tried to get the questioning back to a more pleasant topic -- a 37-7 loss to Ohio State is a more pleasant topic -- Rodriguez concurred.
"Any about the game?" Rodriguez asked. "The game? The game?"
Sure. Why not? Hilarity ensues whenever Rodriguez brings a Michigan team to Ohio Stadium. Two years ago the Buckeyes won 42-7. Saturday could have been worse. The Buckeyes played most of the fourth quarter with backups, they ended the game by taking a knee at the Michigan 7 and before that the referees had been, shall we say, curious -- throwing a flag almost every time an OSU ball carrier stepped into the end zone.
Which was all the time.
Twice the officials penalized the Buckeyes with reactionary celebration penalties, forcing Ohio State to kick off from its 20. Against a good team, that sort of field-position slippage would be crippling. Against Michigan, it was amusing. It created a situation like the one in the third quarter, when the field-position game -- the only game Michigan was going to win -- saw the Buckeyes backed up to their 2.
First play from scrimmage, Daniel Herron ran 98 yards for a touchdown.
Near the end zone, 89 yards down the field, Herron picked up a block from receiver Dane Sanzenbacher against a Michigan safety who responded by yanking Sanzenbacher's facemask. A flag flew. Against Ohio State, naturally. Holding, presumably. No touchdown, and the Buckeyes eventually had to settle for a field goal.
And still they won by 30.
Michigan was out of its league Saturday, but that's familiar territory for a program that, under Rodriguez, has gone an astonishing 1-13 against the top five programs in the Big Ten: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State. Not that Michigan has been all that good against the rest of the Big Ten, going 5-5 vs. the murder's row of Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois.
That's the big picture. The details as they came Saturday were just as damning. Michigan couldn't tackle Ohio State runners, allowing Herron to run for 175 yards on 22 carries. Michigan couldn't cover Ohio State receivers, allowing Terrelle Pryor to throw for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Michigan couldn't punt, shanking two kicks out of bounds. Michigan couldn't kick -- didn't even try to kick -- treating every possession past midfield as four-down territory thanks to a place-kicking game that has missed nine of 13 field goals this season, with a long make of 37.
At 7-5, Michigan is bowl eligible for the first time under Rodriguez -- but that's a mirage. Don't believe it. This is quite possibly his worst team at Michigan yet, propped up by the abysmal Big Ten and held afloat by the magical one-man show of quarterback Denard Robinson, who became the first player in NCAA history to run and throw for more than 1,500 yards in the same season. The Wolverines are worse in almost every defensive area this season than they were a year ago, including total yards (from 82nd in 2009 to 112th this season) and points (from 77th to 99th). Michigan is better on offense, thanks to Robinson, but it is 101st nationally in turnover margin.
Michigan players didn't rush to Rodriguez's aid after the game, either. Asked what the players think about their coach's job prospects, safety Jordan Kovacs said, "We play for each other. We don't worry about that." And defensive end Ryan Van Bergen interjected, unasked, "That's out of our control."
True. It's up to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. Rodriguez thinks the whole thing is silly, of course. Earlier this week he chided anyone calling for his dismissal by saying, "We didn't get stupid overnight."
Nobody's suggesting it happened overnight.
But I will suggest this:
Jim Harbaugh would look awfully imposing on the Michigan sideline.