Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
It’s Michigan week in Columbus, and a historic one at that. First-year coach Urban Meyer will lead the No.4 Buckeyes against rival Michigan for the first time in his head-coaching career, as Ohio State fights for the sixth perfect season in program history.
“It’s a big week here,” said Meyer, who talked about “The Game,” the graduating senior class and sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller on Tuesday during the weekly Big Ten football coaches teleconference.
One for the history books
When the NCAA imposed a one-year bowl ban on OSU, this year’s senior class was given the opportunity to transfer and play immediately for another program, in what would be their final year as collegiate athletes.
With a brand new coaching staff arriving on campus on the heels of a tumultuous 6-7 campaign, Meyer said he was shocked that each and every rising-senior stayed.
“These are all highly-recruited players,” Meyer said. “You come to play in bowl games, you come to play in championships.
“They had a free pass to go anywhere in the country that they wanted to go. And, to a man they stayed, to a man they improved and to a man they had their best year of football.”
The 2012 senior class will be celebrated for their achievements prior to the Michigan game, and if they win, Meyer said that they should be recognized even more.
“It’s an incredible group,” Meyer said. “If they find a win this last game, they’ll go down in history books as one of the greatest senior classes of all time.”
Back to Miller time?
Miller struggled passing and running the ball last week against Wisconsin, throwing for 97 yards while rushing for an average of 2.1 yards per carry, both season lows.
Meyer said that he and the coaching staff take blame for those struggles, as they called a very conservative game. The first-year coach also added that he would rely on Miller more this week.
“We have to open it up a little bit and we’re going to do that this week,” Meyer said.
Meyer said that his goal is to transform Miller from an athlete playing quarterback into a quarterback who can run, which is still a work in progress.
It could be tough for Miller to get it going again with the aerial attack against a Michigan team that ranks first in the country in pass defense. But the Wolverine’s have struggled against the run at times this year, and Miller’s legs might be the Buckeyes’ best weapon.
“Maybe people are running the ball and feel more comfortable doing that,” Hoke said, crediting his team’s success against the pass to their rush defense, which he called horrendous. “I think I would run the ball too.”
Hoke also praised Miller for the progress he has made since the rivals met last November, saying the sophomore quarterback has improved tremendously as a decision maker.
If Miller can improve upon last year’s performance against Michigan, in which he threw for a season-high 235 yards, it will bode well for the Buckeyes.
Ready for Robinson
Game planning for Michigan’s Denard Robinson is not a new task for OSU, but it’s certainly a different challenge this year. The senior started at quarterback against OSU in the team’s previous two meetings, but his role this year remains unclear.
Robinson was injured against Nebraska on Oct. 27, and has not played at quarterback since. Junior quarterback Devin Gardner has started in his stead, and flourished in the role.
In fact, when Robinson was cleared to play last weekend, it was Gardner that started under center. Robinson still saw plenty of action and rushed for 98 yards while primarily playing alongside Gardner as a running back.
With two quarterbacks on the field, OSU will might need to ready themselves for trick plays. Robinson didn’t throw a pass in last weekend’s blowout win against Iowa, but perhaps Michigan is saving such a play for the Buckeyes. Meyer certainly seems to think so.
“Those coaches are very good, so they’re going to be creative,” Meyer said. “We know something’s coming with double passes. They’re dynamic with those two quarterbacks in there now. You have to be very careful with how you defend them.”
Some more special seniors
Penn State hosts Wisconsin on Saturday, in the final game of what seems to have been a very emotional season for the Nittany Lions.
Much like at OSU, PSU’s seniors were given the opportunity to abandon ship prior to the season. Although some of the class didn’t stay, coach Bill O’Brien said the ones that did were paramount to the future of the football program.
“They’ll always be remembered here for the leadership that they showed,” O’Brien said Tuesday.
“They were instrumental in keeping this football team together in the summer when the sanctions came out. They really helped the community move forward. These guys are a special group of guys.”