The Wolverine

January 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2019 E leven years ago, Michi‑ gan went into the Capital One Bowl coming off a 14‑3 loss to Ohio State with an injured quarterback and no momentum. Practice reports were bleak as they approached the Jan. 1 game with Urban Meyer's Florida squad — some said there was no energy, others insisted that U‑M didn't have a chance against quarterback Tim Tebow and Co. The Wolverines, of course, put forth their best effort of the year in a 41‑35 win over the Gators, and the Michigan team carried head coach Lloyd Carr off on their shoulders (and into the sunset) in his last game as U‑M head coach. "Someday, when you're in this situation, your guys are going to play as hard for you as mine did for me today," Carr reportedly told Meyer during the postgame handshake — not a slap at the Gators, of course, but a testa‑ ment to how touched Carr was that his players wanted him to go out a winner and left it all out on the field for him. Fast‑forward a decade to this year's Michigan‑Ohio State show‑ down in Columbus. We received an email from an associate close to OSU offensive coordinator Ryan Day in early November that it was a "done deal" Urban Meyer would re‑ tire after the Buckeyes' home game with U‑M, and that Day would re‑ place him. After doing some digging on the source, it certainly seemed legit. It played out that way weeks later, ending with a 62‑39 drubbing in Columbus in which the Buckeyes played their best game of the year (by far). Meyer, of course, probably knew it was his last game against the Wol‑ verines, and he wasn't about to go out with a loss. If his players knew — and it seems logical that they did — they were going to do everything they could, too, to send their coach on his way with a seventh straight win over the Wolverines. OSU had struggled through off‑ field issues (what else is new?) with the handling of assistant coach Zach Smith and his alleged domestic vio‑ lence issues, got thrashed at Purdue and survived Maryland, pulling out a 52‑51 win a week before Michigan came to town. Against the Wolverines, though, they brought their best. "I'm extremely proud of our play‑ ers, the way they've fought through it," Meyer said. "… We had some adversity earlier in the year — not some, but big‑time adversity. "And to come back against your rival and play like that, that's a focused team that loves each other and cares about each other." And perhaps their coach, who is one of the best ever. Meyer has posted a record of 82‑9 in seven sea‑ sons at Ohio State heading into his final game at the Rose Bowl, and his overall career winning percentage of .853 (186‑32) ranks third in col‑ lege football history. He improved to 38‑5 against his biggest rivals at Ohio State (Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State), Florida (Geor‑ gia, Florida State and Tennessee) and Utah (BYU and Utah State). While many might question his methods, there's no denying his football mind, preparation and coaching ability. As for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, he'll leave U‑M someday having never beaten Meyer head to head. While Ann Arbor is not the place for moral victories, it's more than fair to point out that Harbaugh inher‑ ited a 5‑7 team, while Meyer had a loaded roster when he ar‑ rived at OSU in 2012. The Wolverines had the Buck‑ eyes beaten in Columbus in 2016, but the football gods had other ideas, and the game plan was outstanding a year ago in Ann Arbor. With better quarter‑ back play, Michigan might very well have won that one. It's still fair to believe Har‑ baugh's day will come. It's just a shame it won't ever be at Mey‑ er's expense. The Buckeyes sold their soul when they hired Jim Tressel in 2001, turning OSU into an appar‑ ent 'win at all costs' football factory. As Bleacher Report's Matt Hayes wrote days after Meyer's resignation, "Urban Meyer leaves another pro‑ gram disgraced — and it won't be his last." He pointed out how the admin‑ istration chose to slap Meyer on the wrist with a three‑game suspension this year rather than fire him, add‑ ing, "The old coaching adage is that a team is a reflection of its coach. Well, a university is, too. A three‑game sus‑ pension and back on the horse." It's tough to compete with em‑ pires without scruples, but it's pos‑ sible. Michigan basketball coach John Beilein has proven it. Harbaugh can, too. The program is still trending in a positive direc‑ tion, and while the Buckeyes aren't going away, 62‑39 isn't indicative of the gap between the two programs. It's just one more painful bump on the road back to restoring the rivalry. ✦ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS No Excuses, But Possible Explanations Urban Meyer's Ohio State squad played inspired football in its regular-season finale against Michigan to send him off into retirement with a seventh straight win over the Wolverines. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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