What would Bo
have said? One day. I leave you guys alone for one lousy day, and you forget
everything I taught you.
Bo Schembechler would not have expressed his displeasure to his Michigan
Wolverines, who rallied repeatedly and courageously last Saturday before bowing
to Ohio State for the third straight season and the fifth time in six years.
Rather, the former Michigan coach (page 46), who died the day before the
second-ranked Wolverines scored 39 points but gave up 42 to the top-ranked
Buckeyes, would have expressed incredulity to both teams, who combined for 900
yards of total offense.
This annual matchup, known in the heartland as The Game, was never more heated
than during the so-called Ten Year War (1969--78), when Bo clashed with Woody
Hayes, his Ohio State b�te noir. In that decade The Game featured all of eight
touchdown passes. On Saturday in the Horseshoe there were six--four by Buckeyes
quarterback Troy Smith, who should feel free to begin composing his Heisman
acceptance speech. Michigan, which came into the game boasting the nation's
stoutest run defense, was gashed for 187 rushing yards. Ohio State, which had
led the nation in scoring defense (7.8 points per game), gave up five
touchdowns and a field goal. Expecting a pitchers' duel, the 105,708 fans
jammed into Ohio Stadium got Boise State-- Hawaii instead.
This One versus Two matchup, which doubled as the Big Ten title game and a
play-in to the national championship game, was saturated with significance and
import before Schembechler's death. The loss of the single most beloved figure
in the 127-year history of Michigan football introduced an X factor to a
matchup that had already been exhaustively dissected and analyzed.
Having retired in
1990, Schembechler kept an office in the Wolverines' football complex, which
bears his name. His death, a day after delivering a pep talk to the players,
had to affect the team's equilibrium. "It affected me," said defensive
end LaMarr Woodley, a frequent visitor to the old coach's office. "He
coached me up Wednesday of this week," said the senior, "telling me how
I need to get the defense going."
Schembechler who hired the current Michigan coach, Lloyd Carr, as an assistant
in 1980. Carr, to his credit, declined to deliver a win-one-for-the-Gipper
speech--to use the death of his friend and mentor "as a motivational deal.
That would have been to dishonor him," said Carr, a notorious stoic who was
nearly overcome by emotion in his postgame press conference. Instead, he told
the Wolverines that the best way to honor Schembechler was "to play in a
way that would have made him proud."
They did that,
those ghastly defensive statistics notwithstanding. Despite trailing 21--7,
then 28--14, then 35--24, even 42--31, the visitors stubbornly refused to go
away. Like Schembechler, who had his first heart attack on the eve of his first
Rose Bowl 37 years ago and was fortunate, according to his physician, to have
made it to his 77th birthday, they would not go gentle into that good night.
This game was not decided until Ohio State wideout Ted Ginn Jr. gathered in
Michigan's onside kickoff with 2:16 left.
It took the
Buckeyes three snaps to drain the clock and begin a celebration so raucous that
it was easy to forget that they still need one more victory, on Jan. 8 in
Glendale, Ariz., to clinch the team's second national title in five seasons.
The question now becomes, Who takes the field against them?
Schembechler's death went public around noon eastern time. At 1:30 that
afternoon Ohio State coach Jim Tressel stood before his team, discussing the
sad news. "I wanted to emphasize to them that Bo was a Buckeye" before
he took the Michigan job, Tressel told SI. "He was born in this state,
coached here under Woody, got his master's degree here. I wanted them to fully
understand his ties" to OSU.
After a moment of
silence at the Horseshoe, the crowd on Saturday remained standing for a
gracious tribute. "The Big Ten has lost a legend and icon," intoned the
P.A. announcer. " Ohio State has lost an alumnus and friend."
The desire to pay
respects to this "icon" wrong-footed some Buckeyes fans, who are in the
habit of decanting anti-Wolverines bile at this time of year. They were also
quieted by the crisp, seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive directed by Michigan
quarterback Chad Henne on the game's opening possession. This was our first
clue that the Wolverines' game plan was not an homage to Bo: Henne passed on
four of his first six snaps.
Then, the deluge.
Using the pass to set up the run, Ohio State did what no team had done all
season, mulching the proud Michigan defense and scoring touchdowns on four of
its five first-half possessions.
study showed us that we might have our best chance if we spread them out,"
said Buckeyes wideout Anthony Gonzalez, whose eight-yard touchdown grab gave
his team its 28--14 lead just before halftime.