It's been 2,926 days since Buckeye Nation has felt this feeling. While we all knew the streak would come to the end, possibly even this year, it still is awful to watch it come to fruition.
In many ways this game embodied what we have seen this team be all season. A mix of poor coaching moments and failed execution in critical situations plagued the Buckeyes yet again, who have not really been able to put a complete game together this season. In fact, that was the reason many saw the Buckeyes falling short going into Saturday.
The 40-34 loss isn't how most people saw this one playing out though. This game saw 816 total yards of offense and 74 points in an effort that looked like something you would see in the Pac-12 or Big 12, not in this heralded rivalry. In fact, it was the Buckeye defense that was the biggest storyline in the game. They struggled all afternoon to stop Denard Robinson, who amassed 167 yards on 14/17 passing and three touchdowns to go with 170 yards on the ground with 2 touchdowns. Some of the issues can be chalked up to the mounting injuries on that side of the ball, more even happening during the game, but at the end of the day this defense is just plain bad. Not since the Tim Biakabutuka debacle have the Buckeyes looked so sorry on defense in this game.
Honestly, if I were to assess the whole season I would have to start with the defense. While Bollman's play calling has been like that of high school coach in 1934, the Buckeyes have been a contender for a decade now with questionable offenses. The big difference this season has been the defense, or lack thereof. They looked bad in Miami, they let Nebraska come back, the tried to let Wisconsin come back, and they made Michigan look like a top five team. They say defense wins championships, and the 6-6 record this year backs up that statement.
So let's take a deeper look into some of what I saw in this game. It's with the defense I want to start.
As to the execution on defense, it also was sub-par. After forcing the quick three and out to start the game, I hoped the Buckeyes had scouted Michigan and were ready for them, an idea which quickly got crushed. Instead, the defense struggled with the same issues as in past weeks. They failed to consistently tackle, they had a hard time with assignment football in the running game, and looked lost in coverage far too often. I'm also amazed at how these guys can look so confused while defending the QB read. The past few years in taking on Michigan and Oregon the Buckeyes shut this formation down, and have been gashed with it this season.
Even when the guys on defense did find themselves in the right position, they were getting pushed around. This whole unit looked gassed and beat up from the onset and didn't play the typical type of physical football we are used to seeing from the Silver Bullets.
2) The refs played far too big of a role in this game. I hate when officials are the difference in a game, and they were in this one. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying they lost the game for the Buckeyes, but they killed them in the first half. It was a series of questionable calls that set up the safety for Michigan in the first quarter and helped setup their next touchdown. First they called Zach Boren for a hold, which, if it was a hold, was far less than what I was seeing on Hankins and Simon all afternoon. They followed this call with a false start penalty on Mewhort, that should have been offsides on the Wolverines. Those calls pushed the Buckeyes in the shadow of their own endzone, where Adams would get called for a hold and a safety. Calls that helped give Michigan a 16-7 lead.
As previously mentioned, the lack of calls for holding on Michigan was absolutely crazy. I can't tell you how many times I saw Hankins or Simon get tackled, yes tackled, without a flag. I was laughing at future recruit Najee Murray even commenting on this fact on Twitter during the game. It was way too obvious and I refuse to understand why they swallowed the whistle.
Now with that said, I actually think the overturned touchdown at the end was very questionable as well, which benefited the Buckeyes. I thought the angle shown on television was an illusion as it was not directly on the goalline, and the call could have easily stood. So there's that.
3) Where have these calls been all season Walrus? For one of the few times all season, we can't really blame Bollman or an anemic offense for the loss. It was clear from the opening drive that Bollman was ready for Braxton to sling the ball around and go out in this game guns a blazing. While there were still some head scratching calls and a lack of balance on certain drives, 372 yards of offense and 34 points should be enough to win every time with any help from your defense.
Maybe most refreshing was the use of Braxton as a passer, especially in the short and intermediate passing game. Bollman dialed up screens, passes for the backs out of the backfield, and finally got the ball to the tight ends again. For the most part Braxton shined in this new scheme, throwing for a career high 235 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He did have has struggles though, especially throwing deep. The Wolverine secondary was as porous as any OSU has seen this season, and while Braxton did make some big throws, he had some killer overthrows. Execution on those throws, especially the deep ball to Posey on the final drive, could have been the difference in this game.
With that said, for the most part Braxton looked like a stud. One has to wonder where this play calling had been all season long. In fact, I remember thinking the same thing after the first half of the Wisconsin game. Any use of creativity like in these big games throughout the season, and Ohio State could have at least two more wins this season. Thanks a lot Walrus; don't let the door hit you on the way out!
4) Questionable coaching decisions also marked this game. There were multiple decisions by Fickell and company in this game that can really be debated. The first was the choice to punt on 4th and 6 on Michigan's 36 yard line in the middle of the third quarter. There were three choices in that moment, 1) punt, 2) kick the long field goal, or 3) go for it. Fickell chose the first, which is statistically the worst option of the three inside the 40, but showed further evidence of his Tressel-like conservative nature. Michigan did gash the Buckeyes before being slowed down at the 50, and were going to at least flip the field. Luckily for the Buckeyes punter Will Hagerup could not handle the snap, and they got the ball back. Fickell got bailed out, but I hated the call.
The second was on that next drive in the 4th quarter. On 4th and goal Fickell decided to kick the field goal. On paper it seems like a perfectly good decision. Your down six points with 13 minutes left, so bring the game within one field goal. The problem was that the OSU defense was not stopping the Wolverines at all. That's a defense and special teams decision, which makes sense if those units are winning you the game. They weren't. I also take an issue with the decision because it further shows a mentality of playing not to lose. This was possibility Fickell's only game as a head coach in The Game and he had a 6-5 team, what was there to lose? Nothing. Go for it.
Finally, everyone I'm sure is still angry about the spike from Braxton on 3rd down on the final drive. The Buckeyes had already been looking poor in their two minute offense, and seemed to be taking too much time getting plays in. On that down they wasted 15 valuable seconds and then Braxton spiked it. Fickell said it was Braxton's doing, Braxton said he got the call to do that from a coach on the sideline. Regardless, poor preparation and game planning in the two minute offense killed.
5) Other observations:
**It was very clear Spielman didn't care for Bollman or Sabino as he commentated this game. It's not hard to argue with either of those judgments, especially Sabino. I really do feel bad for the young man ashe has been a major disappointment after his high profile recruiting status. This game was further proof of his lack of understanding and execution as a linebacker.
**Orhian Johnson may have played his best game of the season. I've been hard on him all season long, but he came to play and was one of the few Buckeye defenders coming up and putting a hat on someone.
**How sorry is the linebacker depth when Ryan Shazier on one leg is better than anyone else? It's very clear Curtis Grant needs to step up next year and that Urban needs to bring some guys in before signing day.
**Braxton is maybe the best runner I've ever seen at quarterback. Denard has a scheme that helps him out a lot more than Braxton, who has to create a lot of his own. His juke moves and vision are truly special. Urban is going to have some fun.