Paul Bunyan Returns to Ann Arbor

The scoreboard does not always tell the whole story, but there were two scoreboards that told the College Football world a lot about Michigan football. The first scoreboard was not at the Big House- it was hundreds of miles away in College Station. Penn State had just battled with Ohio State in what has to be considered a classic. Impossibly, the Nittany Lions took a 4th Quarter lead over the Buckeyes and looked to have all the momentum. Momentum is a fickle thing and quickly flipped to Ohio State, who would win by 13 points. The main takeaway from this game is that Penn State is a lot better than people believed, myself included; they overcame an awful start by Sean Clifford and thrived for over half the game.

The Michigan win against Penn State is looking a lot better, especially considering that the Lions running backs combined for over 120 yards. The Buckeyes run defense now has a lot of soul searching as the nightmare known as Blake Corum is coming to Columbus. Of course, Ohio State’s offense showcased an explosiveness that is as scary as anything in the country. It took awhile for things to work, but Marvin Harrison Jr is a problem. The Ohio State-Michigan game might just come down to a showdown between Corum and Harrison.

The second scoreboard was the one at the Big House. This scoreboard showed a ton. First, the Spartans got dominated in the second half. The run game of Michigan just wears teams down and eats up the clock. The biggest positive takeaway from this game for me was that Jesse Minter put on a coaching clinic. Early in the season, Michigan was not coming out with great adjustments after halftime, but this has changed the past few weeks and was worked to perfection this week. In the first half, Michigan had no answer the Spartan receivers, especially in 50-50 balls. Inexplicably, Mel Tucker and the Spartans did not make the Wolverine secondary continue to defend deep after the first couple of drives; after halftime, the Spartans did try to get the passing game going but to no avail. Minter’s adjustments took away Michigan State’s strengths and allowed one decent play after the break. We really have to giving credit to Minter for the defense this year- he might just be one of the best young defensive coordinators in the game.

Of course, the scoreboard also showcased the ineffectiveness of the Co-offensive Coordinators in the Red Zone. Michigan’s play calling all year has been very predictable, which has made scoring touchdowns an issue. Today, the Wolverines had to rely on five field goals from Jake Moody. I’ll grant that Michigan ran different plays in the Red Zone and tried to mix things up, but they tried fancy plays that were ill conceived. In the end, the defense did enough in the first half that Michigan wasn’t hurt by poor Red Zone production, but this is something that has to be fixed before going to Columbus. The coordinators have to figure out a way to start converting or another trip to the playoffs will be squandered.

The next most important tale that the scoreboard will tell comes when the first real CFP poll is put out. Voters this year have punished teams that struggle to win, see Clemson. How will voters view the scoreboard? Will they see the team that dominated the game in the second half by wearing Michigan State down just like it has done to every team this year, or will it see a team that can’t score touchdowns? Some people will claim that it doesn’t matter and that only the last poll matters, but they’re wrong. Michigan needs to prepare for the reality that the Ohio State game, in Columbus nonetheless, doesn’t have to be the deciding factor. The SEC has sent multiple teams to the CFP, and it is possible that the Big 10 could do the same. There is a possible timeline where Georgia destroys Tennessee next week and then defeats Alabama in the SEC Title Game. Such a scenario would prevent a second SEC team from going to the playoffs. Even if Michigan were to lose in Columbus, a close loss along with either Clemson or TCU losing somewhere along the line could still put Michigan in the Top Four at the end. Still, the Wolverines need to keep staying in the top in order to be considered-sitting at five going into the Ohio State game wouldn’t be helpful.

In the end, the scoreboard in Ann Arbor tells enough of a story for Wolverine fans today: Big Blue won. Harbaugh finally beat Mel Tucker and avenged last year’s defeat. The Paul Bunyan trophy has a new home this year, which will assuredly spark numerous tasteless memes directed at Spartan fans for the next calendar year.

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