Last season, Chris Wells broke off a 52-yard touchdown run on his first-ever carry against Michigan. This season, he shreds the Wolverine defense for 222 yards, the greatest rushing day any Buckeye has ever had against the Maize and Blue.
Can’t wait to see what he does next year.
All of the offensive fireworks from the titanic 2006 edition of "THE Game" weren’t needed this time around. C-Dub carried the load on a cold, sloppy day in Ann Arbor as Ohio State bagged the Wolves for the fourth straight season 14-3. It was the third time in OSU annals that the Scarlet and Gray had run off four consecutive wins over TBGUN, and also the third time (1916-17, 1954-55 and 2006-07) they could claim back-to-back outright conference championships.
As expected, UM coach Lloyd Carr announced his retirement on Monday. After compiling a 5-1 record in the series against John Cooper, Carr stumbled to a 6-7 lifetime record against OSU after dropping 6 of 7 to "The Vest". Carr joins Harry Kipke (3-6 from 1929-37) as the only Michigan coaches to post losing ledgers in the rivalry.
OSU got its first dose of good karma on the coin toss. The specially made coin, featuring Woody Hayes on one side and "Bo" Schembechler on the other, came up Woody, meaning the Buckeyes had won the flip. The captains elected to take the ball, leading ABC analyst Kirk Herbstreit to joke that the Bucks were probably eager to get the football since they had seen precious little of it in the fourth quarter against Illinois.
Offensively, Ohio State got off to a promising start. Ray Small’s kickoff return was good for 29 yards to the OSU 34, and although the "O" quickly faced a 3rd-and-6, Todd Boeckman got it done with his feet, juking linebacker Obi Ezeh for 8 yards and a first down. Chris Wells’ strong running moved the ball into enemy territory, but on 3rd-and-4 from the UM 37, Brian Hartline was flat knocked over by corner Morgan Trent with no flag thrown. For the second game in a row, the Bucks were victims of an early screw job by the zebras and had to punt it away.
Michigan quickly went three-and-out as two Chad Henne passes sailed off target, and back came the Buckeyes. Ray Small converted a first down with his first catch of the day, but then the November elements began to take a toll. Boeckman dropped a shotgun snap, corralled it, then fumbled again before Alex Boone finally pounced on the slippery pigskin. With 2nd-and-long, Boeckman held on to the ball as he dropped back but his feet came right out from under him and he splashed down for another loss. Chris Wells got the third-down call and tried to cut back after finding the left side all piled up, but he too took a pratfall, bringing up 4th-and-28. The three-play sequence brought to mind the 1950 "Snow Bowl", where both teams looked like they were playing on an ice rink.
The Wolverines responded with their only scoring march of the afternoon. Four Mike Hart carries for 32 yards, mixed with 3 Chad Henne aerials for 19, gave UM a first down at the Ohio State 13. The Buckeye defense, which had unfortunately been saddled in the Illinois loss with Jim Heacock’s idiotic Florida gameplan, rose to the challenge. Anderson Russell lassoed Hart for a loss of 1, then Vernon Gholston launched a monster afternoon with a 6-yard sack of Henne. A short toss to Carson Butler only gained four, so K.C. Lopata, who was 8-of-8 on field goals coming into the game, was called on. Lopata’s boot was perfect and for the second year in a row the Wolverines had drawn first blood at 3-0.
The officials must have remembered what pass interference was during Michigan’s drive. Brian Robiskie burned freshman corner Donovan Warren, drawing laundry on OSU’s first play of the ensuing drive. But after two Chris Wells carries, Boeckman again couldn’t get a grip on the football and had to cover it, losing 6 as the quarter ended.
Ohio State’s defense continued to tighten the screws on UM’s next series. Vernon Gholston halted Hart for a two-yard loss, then Malcolm Jenkins had an interception in his hands and dropped it as Henne went for Mario Manningham. Dexter Larimore split two defenders on third down and pulled Henne down by the ankles. The Bucks took over following Zoltan Mesko’s punt with good field position at the Wolverine 44.
OSU worked its way to the UM 17, where Chris Wells got the rock on the "Power O". Steve Rehring pulled right and cleared a path for Wells, who danced by Brandont Englemon and slid to the Michigan 5. Boeckman ran on first down out of five-wide and pushed to the 1, where it was time for the beef. Tyler Whaley, Dionte Johnson and Chris Wells all entered the game. From his "H-back" position on the left wing, Whaley pulled right and crushed Obi Ezeh. Alex Boone screened off two blue shirts as Wells ran over Englemon for the score, putting the Bucks in the lead at 7-3.
The Maize and Blue converted a first down on a fine, diving catch by Mario Manningham, but back upfield Mike Hart was jawing with Chimdi Chekwa after knocking him down with a tough block. Had OSU picked off the pass, Hart wouldn’t even have noticed since he was too busy running his mouth. The diarrhea-of-the-trap continued with Malcolm Jenkins on the next play even though Carson Butler was whistled for holding. The Wolves couldn’t overcome the lost yardage and punted.
The teams exchanged punts on their next respective series, with Zoltan Mesko getting off a 68-yard bomb to bury the Bucks at their own 4. OSU ended up kicking away and two bobbles by Manningham contributed to another three-and-out for Michigan. OSU got the ball back at their own 20, and two Wells runs gained 11 and a first down. With a little breathing room, Todd Boeckman kept the chains moving with a 15-yard strike to Brian Robiskie for a first down at the Buckeye 46. When Tim Jamison brought Boeckman down for a loss of two on the next snap, only 31 seconds remained and it seemed Ohio State might just take a knee and get out with the four-point lead. But Boeckman dropped to throw, and under pressure from Shawn Crable just threw one up for grabs. Brandont Englemon easily picked off the pass and the Wolves were in business at OSU’s 34.
After an incompletion, Chad Henne pumped once then threw to absolutely no one in the left flat. Henne hadn’t even left the pocket and Jim Tressel politicked to no avail for a grounding call, evidently a rule that was covered when this crew didn’t show up for class. Manningham caught a short pass on third down but danced around for only 3 as the clock ticked down to 4 seconds. K.C. Lopata was brought on for a 48-yard field goal try which had the accuracy but fell short as the half ended.
ABC’s halftime crew of John Saunders, Craig James and Doug Flutie were enjoying the throwback type of game they were watching- only 10 points- but were also growing tired (as everyone was) of seeing Mike Hart run his mouth. In addition to the Chekwa hit and the barking at Jenkins, when the two teams had come within a couple of yards of each other during pregame, Hart was seen being physically picked up and carried away from the fracas. His actions all day were what you expect of a petulant freshman, not a senior.
Lee Corso got out the old crystal ball at halftime-
"Now, if I’m Ohio State, I get in the I-formation, and ‘Beanie’ Wells and the offensive line take over ..." Corso, who I’m sure got a heavy dose of old school Big Ten smash mouth football from Woody and Bo, got it right for once in his life. During the break, Jim Tressel told the team that they were going to pound Wells exclusively in the second half, and the strategy worked just fine.
Needing a good series to spark "The Big House", Michigan actually drew boos from the home folks as Mike Hart lost a yard, Marcus Freeman almost intercepted a screen pass and Henne misfired for Adrian Arrington. Zoltan Mesko boomed a 52-yard punt but outkicked his coverage, giving Ray Small room to operate. Small sliced through the Wolverine punt coverage team for an apparent 65-yard punt return for a TD, but a block-in-the-back call on Brian Rolle brought the football back to the OSU 38. Not a problem- Wells used tremendous blocking from fullback Dionte Johnson and the left side of the O-line to bolt into the secondary. Slipping away from Brandont Englemon, Wells thundered 62 yards to paydirt on a career-long run to widen the margin to 14-3, Bucks.
The Wolves couldn’t get untracked, and when Mike Hart limped off it was clear UM’s offense was in shambles. Chris Wells opened OSU’s next drive with bursts of 6 and 12 yards, then Brandon Saine entered and carried 5 straight times down to the Michigan 34, but on third down Todd Boeckman had no one open and smartly threw it away. The teams exchanged punts and Ryan Mallett was called in from the bullpen by Lloyd Carr to relieve Chad Henne. After gaining one first down, Michigan got an interference call on Malcolm Jenkins, which put the ball at the UM 49. But then the wheels came off the wagon as Carson Butler was called for a hold, Hart hobbled off again and Vernon Gholston beat tackle Jake Long and sat on Mallett for a loss of 6. The Maize and Blue booted it away and as the third quarter expired, the Buckeyes still possessed the 14-3 advantage as Chris Wells had outrushed Mike Hart to the tune of 170 yards to 42.
Michigan looked to be in great shape on their opening drive of the fourth period as punt returner Greg Mathews brought an A.J. Trapasso kick back to OSU’s 34. But Tressel, for the first time in his career, challenged the spot, saying Mathews had stepped out of bounds. Indeed he had, and the football came back to the Buckeye 46. Not that it really mattered- the Wolverines weren’t going anywhere. Kurt Coleman broke up a deep toss for Mario Manningham, and then Mario lost a yard on a reverse. On third down, Chad Henne wasn’t ready for the shotgun snap and fumbled, recovering at the OSU 49.
On Michigan’s next series, Anderson Russell interfered with Manningham, giving the Wolves a first down at their own 45, but Hart was thrown for a yard loss and Henne continued his poor throwing afternoon with two more incompletions. Three more Chris Wells runs failed to move the chains but milked more clock, and on UM’s ensuing march Vernon Gholston barreled in and blasted Henne to the turf for a loss of 8.
The Maize and Blue had one final chance but Henne couldn’t connect on any of his four passes, including two that were dropped by Manningham as another wave of booing cascaded over Michigan Stadium. All that was left for Ohio State was to try and get Chris Wells over the 200-yard mark. C-Dub had already shattered the all-time rushing mark in a Michigan game set by David Francis in OSU’s 28-0 blowout in 1962. Now he carved out 12 yards on three carries to move the sticks and up his total to 199. The Wolverine defense gave 6 on his next carry, and Wells added the exclamation point with a 15-yard jaunt over the left side to finish with 222 yards on 39 carries.
Ohio State will now play the waiting game to see not only who their bowl opponent will be, but also where they’ll be playing. Don’t rule the Bayou out just yet, folks.
As for "That Team Up North", the Lloyd Carr era will officially come to a close after the Wolverines’ bowl game. LSU head man Les Miles, a Michigan alum, is the odds-on favorite to succeed LLLLLLloyd, but his Tigers are looking to position themselves in the BCS title game. Here’s hoping the speculation about Les’ future consumes his current team enough that they bite the dust again.
With the premium that the NFL places on left tackles, it’s a bit of a mystery why Jake Long came back. As one of my Buckeye brethren in Cleveland said the other night, if Long had come out after last season, the Browns may have drafted him instead of Joe Thomas. And speaking of the NFL, am I off base or is Chad Henne’s insistence on grinding that shoulder down the stretch going to cause teams to pass him by at the next level? I can understand Lloyd wanting to be loyal to his senior signal-caller, but I think the team would’ve been better served if Ryan Mallett had taken the majority of the snaps in practice and then in the game. I just don’t think Henne gave Michigan their best chance to win, although there was nothing Mallett or Henne could do to stop Chris Wells.
And as for poor Mike Hart, it’s too bad the only thing he’ll be remembered for in Ann Arbor is a big 0-fer against OSU. Serves him and his big mouth right. I laughed when ABC recalled his guarantee of a win over Notre Dame. Way to go out on a limb there, Mikey. I predict the sun will come up tomorrow- everywhere except Ann Arbor.