The critics were at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this week to praise Greg Schiano, not to bury him — whether he cared or not.
“No disrespect to the experts, but after 31 years of doing this, some years you’re a genius, some years you’re a doofus, right?” Schiano said Tuesday. “I don’t believe either of them. I believe you work hard, you do your job, God’s got a plan for all of us. That’s what we do around here. We’ve got great kids and we try to put them in position to do their best.”
Michigan ended last Saturday with 39 points and 401 total yards, but the then-fourth-ranked Wolverines received a gift touchdown after a special teams mishap and tacked on three touchdowns in the fourth quarter after falling behind 41-19.
While the game was still competitive, the Ohio State defense twice forced field goals in the red zone and forced a turnover that led to a touchdown drive of only 22 yards.
Michigan’s methodical offense wasn’t able to create big plays at the rate many of Ohio State’s 2018 opponents have, and the Wolverines ended up averaging 5.1 yards per play.
That is not an impressive mark by itself, but it is fifth among Ohio State opponents and nearly 3.5 yards less than the school-record 8.6 yards per play the Buckeyes yielded a week earlier at Maryland.
“I think the guys really owned every part of their job, and they did a heck of a job executing the plan,” Schiano said. “We changed a few things that I think may have benefited, but it really comes down to them doing their job and doing it at a high level. They tackled well.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go, but against a very good opponent they were able to make a lot of plays. That’s the key.”
With rare exceptions (including hapless Rutgers early in the season and fading Michigan State late), the Buckeyes had problems stopping people every week of the regular season.
If the secondary wasn’t missing tackles, allowing long catches or being flagged for pass interference, the linebackers were in the wrong gap. The defensive line, expected to be a strength, was inconsistent as well because of injuries and youth.
Then the Wolverines came to town and the line dominated, the linebackers capitalized and the secondary, well, it wasn’t as bad as usual.
“It wasn’t schematic changes,” Schiano said. “It was probably just a little different distribution of the calls. We were a little more aggressive probably but they gave us an opportunity to be aggressive. They ran a lot of two-tight end sets, which allows you do do some different things, but again it wasn’t sets. It was guys playing hard and doing their job and really focusing against a good football team.”
Next up is a challenge from a Northwestern offense for which “pedestrian” would be a compliment. The Wildcats were No. 12 in the Big Ten in scoring (23.7 points per game) and total yards (351.8) during the regular season, but they have flashed both a dangerous passing game and a rugged running game at times.
While senior quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for a combined 828 yards in wins over Michigan State and Nebraska that began the Wildcats’ bounce back from a 1-3 start, he was able to dump some of the load onto the Northwestern running game in the second half of the season.
That was thanks in large part to Isaiah Bowser, a freshman from Sidney who ran for all but two of his 736 yards in the last six weeks.
Rather than get complacent after a huge victory, Schiano would like to see his players make the Michigan game the start of finally finding some consistency on that side of the ball.
“I hope our players feel they went up against a very good team and performed well,” he said. “That doesn’t mean anything Saturday, but the momentum, I believe in momentum, and guys’ confidence is a big thing.”