The Rivals, Part II: Vengeance

The 2014 season was already off to a questionable start when the Wolverines welcomed the Utah Utes to the Big House on September 20th. Sure, they were 2-1, but those two wins were against Appalachian State and Miami (OH). The loss, on the other hand, was a 31-0 shutout by Notre Dame, and fans were already dreading what that game signaled for their other upcoming rivalry matchups against Michigan State and Ohio State.

The Buckeyes weren’t in a great place themselves when the Hokies of Virginia Tech came calling on September 6th. A season-ending training camp injury to Heisman-hopeful QB Braxton Miller had fans on edge, and a lackluster win on the road against Navy the week before wasn’t easing their nerves. Ohio State had dropped three spots in the AP poll, which is pretty much unheard of following a Buckeye victory.

Michigan sputtered: dropping passes, taking sacks, turning the ball over and giving up a 66-yard punt return. The fan reaction was so negative that coach Brady Hoke was compelled to comment on the booing after the game. But the boos were only the beginning. Following a 90-minute lightning delay, the teams return to the soaked field in the middle of a nearly-empty stadium. Michigan’s fans had taken the universe’s hint and bailed out. Utah’s fans—many of whom likely traveled 1600 miles to the game—were suddenly the majority in the largest college football stadium in the country. They congregated behind their team’s bench and left the Wolverines bewildered as they cheered their team to a 26-10 win.

“That was the weirdest thing,” Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan noted after the game, “playing at home with no one in the stadium.”

It wasn’t the weather or fairweather fans that baffled the Buckeyes against Virginia Tech. It was a bear. Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster broke out a version of the 46 (or “Bear”) defense, an aggressive scheme that sacrifices deep pass support in favor of intense pocket pressure. Foster reasoned that Ohio State’s inexperience on the offensive line coupled with a young QB thrust into action would make the Buckeyes susceptible to such an attack. He was right. OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett completed just 9 of his 29 passes, threw 3 picks, and was sacked 7 times on the way to a 35-21 Virginia Tech victory.

Tonight, Michigan will step into Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City looking to start a new era off on the right foot. Monday night, Ohio State begins a campaign for a repeat national title at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg. The two teams’ expectations for the season couldn’t be more different: The Wolverines just want to see improvement, and maybe some flashes of brilliance from one of their favorite sons. A decent season will go a long to validating the Michigan Man philosophy. Meanwhile, anything less than that repeat is going to feel like a disappointment to Ohio State fans.
But first, both need a little taste of vengeance.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: