College football: 7 thoughts on Ohio State-Michigan and beyond

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Why did JT Barrett have to leave Ohio State's win over Michigan? He and coach Urban Meyer had a surprising explanation.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

As the last seconds ticked off the clock, the first conclusion I came to about Ohio State's win over Michigan was this: The Game kind of ended up about the way I expected.

But then of course the revelation J.T. Barrett took a knock in the knee early in the game kind of hijacked the postgame interviews, so I had to put off analysis.

Here are seven thoughts from the last weekend of college football’s regular season:

1. Ultimately, Ohio State beat Michigan this time thanks to better offensive line play, better receivers and better quarterbacks. 

Both J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber at times made extra yards that weren’t there based on the way it was blocked, proving again sometimes they should probably get the ball even in less-than-ideal situations just to see what happens. The same could be said of Michigan’s tailbacks, too. They are by far Michigan’s best players on offense.

K.J. Hill and Austin Mack made crucial catches, and then…

2. The Ohio State defense settled down after another shaky start, aided of course by some bad quarterback play from Michigan. 

Let there be no doubt: Things could have been a lot worse for the Buckeyes if John O’Korn hadn’t struggled so much.

But, hey, you’ve got to get some breaks to win six in a row in this series.

Ohio State got similar performances from Stanley Jackson and Steve Bellisari during the nightmarish ‘90s, so don’t feel the need to apologize.

3. Jim Harbaugh has proven from the start back in Ann Arbor he knows what he’s doing in terms of drawing schemes that maximize his talents, whatever those might be. 

The quarterbacks other than O’Korn have done a pretty good job of executing, too, even though they’ve all had some limitations.

I love the different ways Michigan goes about running the ball. Iso. Counter. Toss. Buck sweep. “Wham” play (form of trap). Fullback dives. Leads for the fullback. Play-action galore to go with it. All glorious if you love Xs and Os and power football.

I mean, they started the game in Woody Hayes’ beloved T formation — a truly “robust” look with three fullbacks and two tight ends.

But if Harbaugh was trying to signal the Wolverines were going to bully the Buckeyes, they failed. Overall they managed just 100 yards on the ground and weren’t effective enough. But then considering tailbacks Karan Higdon and Chris Evans averaged 5.0 and 6.1 yards per carry, respectively, maybe they didn’t get the ball enough.

4. People significantly disappointed in what Harbaugh has done so far in Ann Arbor are unrealistic. 

He’s got some significant black marks on his record, but almost all of them are a result, quite simply, of having an inferior roster.

That doesn’t mean he’s above criticism — for sure it’s fair to wonder why he has had to make due with flawed quarterbacks (Brandon Peters is young enough to wait and see how he develops, but his physical tools don’t really stand out) and why the offensive line isn’t better - but when you get to game day, the more talented team almost always wins.

Next year he’ll have a roster full of his players, including multiple classes who have been around for multiple years, so Harbaugh will have to own every aspect of what goes on.

And yet… if he can’t win big at Michigan, I have no idea who can anymore.

5. There’s no doubting J.T. Barrett’s toughness. 

He ran it a lot but also a lot smarter than at times earlier in the season. He seemed out of sorts early and was bailed out big time by a dropped interception right before Ohio State’s first touchdown.

I didn’t hate this game plan as much as some previous ones because Michigan’s defense has to be hard to game plan for. I wonder if the coaching staff should have trusted the offensive line more early, but trying to throw some to loosen the Wolverines up made some sense.

Michigan’s defense really gets after it, especially up front. They play hard, fast and physical.

Passing is still an adventure for Ohio State, but you really can’t just run it right at a loaded box all day.

Then what can you say about Dwayne Haskins? He came into a tough situation and not only survived but thrived.

He had to sit back there and wait out a a couple of long routes then delivered strikes against men who were not exactly wide open.

He showed he can run enough to be dangerous, too, but I am hoping the presence of less of a running threat will inspire Ohio State to get more creative in the running game down the line.

6. Maybe the Ohio State defense wasn’t so bad. 

Michigan had three scoring drives. The first was impressive, mixing in a little bit of everything on the ground and through the air to move it down the field and score the first touchdown of the game. The Wolverines benefited from Buckeye mistakes along the way, but those were encouraged by the scheme.

The other two combined to cover 56 yards, and 47 of them came on one play, a screen pass with an unfortunately timed missed tackle.

Otherwise, the Wolverines were extremely inefficient. How much of that was O’Korn? Maybe a lot, but if they had been able to run the ball better less of the game would have fallen on his shoulders.

7. Ohio State has been something of a tease all season.

The Buckeyes were beaten soundly by Oklahoma and Iowa and playing a couple of terrible quarters against Penn State and Michigan before rallying to win.

They completely embarrassed a decent Michigan State team, but everyone else on the schedule was terrible.

Does this team really feel like one of the four best in the country? It’s hard to say they do, but four teams have to make the playoff. No more, no less.

Once you get in, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Ohio State has completely exceeded expectations and completely underwhelmed in its two appearances so far.

Maybe we’re too harsh a critic when we spend so much time looking at everything they do and see just parts of what everyone else does.

That 2014 Ohio State example is tempting, no doubt. There are a lot of parallels — right down to Barrett getting hurt in the Michigan game.

Those Buckeyes were fairly mistake-prone for most of the season, too — even early in their biggest regular season test at Michigan State.

They also had more trouble than expected with a bad Michigan offense.

They lost by double digits at home in the nonconference (to a much worse team), but they ran the Big Ten table (this team did not).

Three years ago, the combination of losing their quarterback to injury and a teammate to suicide gave that team an unparalleled inspiration.

For that and other reasons, I don’t think that three-game run can ever be duplicated.

This time around, Ohio State could prove no one in the country is unbeatable if they stop Wisconsin, but I’m not sure what that’s worth because Wisconsin isn’t really proven either.

Who knows?

I guess that’s a big part of the appeal in college football.

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