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Instant Analysis: Ohio State 42 Michigan 39

I can't imagine Morgan Trent is terribly popular in Ann Arbor right now...

What a great game for college football fans to watch. You certainly have to credit both teams, and both coaches, for a game well played, but Ohio State was just a little bit better today. And they had to be - Michigan came to play. Save those two long touchdown runs by Wells and Pittman (devastating, each of them), you could argue that Michigan was the better team. But those two runs did happen, Ohio State did make the big plays on offense, and they've earned their way into a chance to play for it all.

For Michigan, they have to feel disappointed they didn't come away with a win. Mike Hart was outstanding, Chad Henne was very solid, and both Arrington and Manningham were finding plenty of space to maneuver. The difference was on defense, where Michigan suffered the same fate that Texas has all season - Big Play-itis. You can nail the entire game on four huge plays.

  1. 52 yard Chris Wells touchdown run on a missed tackle.
  2. 56 yard Antonio Pittman touchdown run on a blown assignment.
  3. A disorganized defense on a 39 yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn.
  4. A stupid personal foul penalty on Shawn Crable that assisted Ohio State's final, game-winning touchdown.
Even so, while Michigan can look at those four plays and wonder what could have been, in the end the credit must go to Ohio State. Jim Tressel had an outstanding offensive game plan, and Troy Smith most certainly did his part in carrying it out. Great teams make great plays, and as much as we can fault Michigan for their mistakes, you can't do so without nodding to the Buckeyes for their performance.

Particularly impressive was Ohio State's spread pass attack, which turned to be every bit as devastating as Michigan fans feared it could be. Troy Smith did exactly what he does so well, using his mobility to create open passing lanes, then delivering rockets on the money to sure-handed receivers.

At the end of the day, though, as great as Smith was (and he was very, very good), the difference in the game was the two long touchdown runs. Michigan proved itself capable of moving and scoring on Ohio State. The Wolverine defense, though, could not survive the balanced offensive onslaught that the Buckeyes brought. The lethal spread pass attack was the reason Michigan gave up two devastating, uncharacteristic touchdown runs. In the end, even the two key plays that belonged to others get back to Troy Smith and what he brought to the game.

If there was one thing I'd guess Lloyd Carr would do over if he could, I'd bet it would be running Mike Hart just a little bit more. Hart was near-unstoppable on Saturday, but only finished with 23 carries. It's almost an unfair criticism, because the Michigan offense was plenty successful against Ohio State. Still, one wonders whether Michigan would have benefited by keeping that explosive Ohio State offensive attack off the field a little more. And, more to the point, Ohio State's run defense was positively average. Texas fans know this well, and looking back on the Ohio State game, that was our biggest question: why did we not keep pounding a run game that Ohio State couldn't stop? In our case, we only managed 7 points and had no credible passing threat. Michigan racked up 39, but it's not clear that the Wolverines wouldn't have benefited from a more run-heavy game.

6.2 yards per carry was impressive. 23 carries may not have been enough.

Buckeye backers must be more than a little bit concerned by the soft defense that they saw today. I'll say right now that I thought James Laurinaitis was terrible Saturday. I've never seen a middle linebacker so hyped that just chased plays without actually making any. If he wasn't running himself into blocks, he was taking awful routes to the play. Of course, Worst Buckeye Defender honors have to go to Antonio Smith, who was abused so badly that the police were asking questions after the game. My goodness the Buckeyes need to find a better player out there for the title game.

And there's the rub: as impressive as Ohio State's offense was today - very, very impressive - the defense was a source of major concern. They could not stop the run or the pass. The 2005 Ohio State defense was leagues better than the one we've seen this year, and anyone who tries to argue otherwise is either a liar or an idiot. Probably the latter.

The good news for Ohio State is that it may not matter, because the offense is clearly the best in college football. The balance they can bring, with a quarterback that can execute the way Smith does, is virtually impossible to stop. And that's why Michigan, if they could do it again, might just try a gameplan that was a little bit more run-focused. Keeping Ohio State's offense off the field might just be the way to play it. As is, Michigan still almost won, and I came away from that game thinking that we probably just saw college football's two best teams of 2006 play it out.

A heartfelt congratulations to both teams and their fans for a great Saturday of football. It was a treat for all of us.