Wolverines converge on Craig Krenzel
It may sound like ancient history, but Michigan's last victory over Ohio State came way back in 2003. John Navarre, Chris Perry, Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston were the primary participants in the 35-21 triumph.
Since then, Chad Henne, Steven Threet and Tate Forcier have all tried and failed to beat the Buckeyes.
To say that Michigan is due for a win is a huge understatement.
Conversations around Ann Arbor this spring have actually been optimistic. Wolverine fans and past players-alike, already believe in new coach Brady Hoke.
Michigan's expected improvement, coupled with Ohio State's problems with the NCAA, are closing the gap between the two teams.
Some Ohio State fans are in denial concerning the influence Hoke has already had. They're also in denial about the mess Ohio State currently finds itself in. Sure, interim coach Luke Fickell can break in a new quarterback and keep dissension to a minimum, all while the NCAA is raking the Buckeyes over the coals.
Fickell may eventually be a good coach, but he's never had a head job on any level. That being said, let's take a look at why Michigan will this November.
This year's senior class has at least one thing in common: It's never beaten Ohio State.
Imagine telling your grandchildren how you've never tasted victory over the dreaded Buckeyes. All season long Brady Hoke will be reminding his seniors that losing again to Ohio State would be no fun at all.
Just in case you run into any of the following seniors, let them know how great it would be to finally beat Ohio State:
- Troy Woolfolk
- Ryan Van Bergen
- Tony Anderson
- Mike Martin
- David Molk
- Mark Huyge
- Kevin Koger
- Martavious Odoms
- John McColgan
- Tom Pomarico
- Jared Van Slyke
- Junior Hemingway
With the absence of Terrelle Pryor, Denard Robinson will undoubtedly be the most electrifying player on the field. Robinson thrilled the college football world in 2010, running and passing for a combined 4,272 total yards.
His showing against the Buckeyes last year was mediocre at best. Robinson passed for 87 yards and rushed for 105, far below his average in both categories. Many blamed Robinson's late-season troubles to nagging injuries, but mostly it was blamed on the demoralizing defense.
In hopes of keeping Robinson healthy, and keeping the ball away from Michigan's defense, Hoke is switching from a read-option offense to a more balanced attack.
At the same time, this year's defense should be significantly improved.
Let's face it: Jim Tressel had Michigan's number.
His 9-1 record along with his recruiting dominance made life miserable for the Wolverines. What's worse, Tressel did all of it in an underhanded method. The trouble with the NCAA will reach a whole lot further than the "practice" problems Rich Rodriguez encountered.
The Michigan family is not exactly thrilled with the behavior at the school down south. Tressel, however, may have put the icing on the cake when he addressed a group of supporters at his home in suburban Columbus soon after his resignation.
The former coach shared some choice words with his fans: "After a crowd of some 200 people had sung a song disparaging the arch-rival Wolverines, Tressel said, 'Don't forget: Nov. 26th we're going to kick their ass!'"
Like Bo Schembechler, first-year coach Brady Hoke also points to the importance of beating Ohio State and winning the Big 10 championship. The upcoming season could be very similar to 1969 when Michigan used the revenge card to upset the Buckeyes 24-12.
Back in 1968, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was chastised by Wolverine fans for running up the score in a 50-14 victory. Hayes was asked why he went for a two-point conversion during the game. "Because I couldn't go for three," he quipped.
Schembechler posted little number 50s all over the locker room and constantly reminded his players of the importance of the game.
When Hoke was an assistant under Gary Moeller and later Lloyd Carr, Schembechler had an office down the hall. At the time, Hoke was willing to soak up just about anything from the living legend.
Now, when you hear the new coach speak about Michigan and its traditions, there's a bit of Bo speaking too.
Just about every Michigan fan who was around in 1969 could probably recite a pretty good play-by-play. No doubt it was one of the biggest upsets in Michigan history.
Certainly, Hoke will draw on the '69 game, as he will help his team recall the current seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes.
More often than not, Michigan-Ohio State is a hard-fought defensive game. Field position is of utmost importance.
Sophomore Will Hagerup is the top returning punter in the Big 10. As a freshman, he averaged 43.6 yards per kick, while dropping 11 inside the 20.
Like former Wolverine punter Zoltan Mesko, supporters see an All-Big 10 or All-American season in the future.
Hagerup has already handled kickoffs, and he could possibly get involved in the place-kicking sweepstakes this fall.
On May 30, Luke Fickell made the move from co-defensive coordinator to interim head coach.
He inherits a situation where the NCAA is investigating the athletic department for a variety of reasons, including improper distribution of memorabilia and questionable automobile purchasing. Four of his players will miss the first five games.
Fickell has no head coaching experience, not even on the high school level.
You would think he'd be no match for Hoke, but remember he'll have 11 games under his belt before Michigan and Ohio State get together Nov. 26.
Several past Buckeye players have spoken highly of Tressel's replacement. A.J. Hawk, a standout linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, has one of the more interesting quotes (www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com):
"Luke Fickell is the perfect combination that makes a great coach. He earns your respect immediately with his knowledge of the game, the fact that he was a great player himself, his endless dedication, his personal interest in each of us and the fact that he wants to win more than anyone."
In Ohio State's current environment, "wanting to win more than anyone" could be dangerous.
With Terrelle Pryor in the lineup, Michigan never had a chance. He could run around the pocket and rarely get touched. At 6'6" and 235 pounds, Pryor could use his deceptive speed to outrun even Michigan's speedy defenders. And he threw well enough to hurt you in the air, too.
Many argue that Pryor was hindered by conservative play calling and a possible rift between him and his coaching staff.
This is all for naught, however, since Pryor has made a beeline for the National Football League.
Yes, Michigan definitely has an advantage at quarterback, regardless of who ends up calling the signals. Neither Braxton Miller, Joe Bauserman, Taylor Graham or Ken Guiton has any appreciable experience.
Brady Hoke definitely "gets it" when it comes to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry . He already has his countdown clock to The Game, he refuses to say "Ohio State," and he's already been anointed a "Michigan Man."
Forget about the fact that Hoke has already won a few major recruiting battles.
There's no doubt Hoke's team will be competitive this fall. Sure, the defense has a long way to go from the current state of disrepair. But the staff is ready for the challenge. Like the last few years, Michigan might have to depend on the offense to outscore some foes.
Without Terrelle Pryor in Columbus, Michigan could certainly do that Nov. 26.
The game plan is set.
Brady Hoke brought in defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to rebuild a defense which has been near rock-bottom the last three seasons. If there's any thought of knocking off the Buckeyes, these relatively young defenders will have to be schooled—and schooled quick.
Mattison takes over a defense that was one of the worst in the NCAA last season. Michigan allowed 35.23 points per game, which placed them 108th out of 120 FBS teams. In the total defense category, Michigan allowed 450.46 yards per game, or 110th of 120 FBS teams.
Numbers, of course, can be deceiving, but—no kidding—Michigan really was that bad.
There is, however, room for optimism. Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd could be the lock-down corners Mattison needs. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen should anchor the defensive line. Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan could be outstanding linebackers.
There should be significant improvement, but the offense will still need to carry the defense.
Like the defense, Michigan's kicking game was in shambles. Michigan connected on just four of 14 field goals last season.
Fortunately, a pretty good freshman kicker was headed to San Diego State. When Hoke took the Michigan job, he convinced Matt Wile to come also.
It didn't hurt that Wile's dad attended medical school in Ann Arbor.
Now that Lloyd Carr is back with the Michigan family, he can remind everyone of the treatment his team received before the 2004 game. It seemed far-fetched at the time, but Ohio State's athletic department was thought to be squeaky clean.
The Wolverines were gathering up their equipment before entering the stadium, but they were stopped by stadium security and their bags were given a thorough search. Buckeye officials even used dogs in the stunt for who-knows-what. Carr was understandably hot since the ordeal delayed the team's entrance nearly 15 minutes.
The Toledo Blade got the story.