Former Buckeyes Weigh In



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Hooker, Line, and Sinker

I’ve been reading a lot of criticism regarding the beltway press and their coverage of the upcoming presidential election.

It’s made me think quite a bit about the ways that sports media might be coming up short in our coverage.

After floating this thought to my Twitter followers, I got a lot of good feedback.

People suggested that we need greater diversity, a greater willingness to dig for root causes, more impartiality, less sensationalism.

My personal pet peeve is that sports reporters, and I am not immune to this, tend to stick to established narratives.

I’ll give you an example from this week: After Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes beat Bowling Green 77-10 in the season opener, Meyer gushed about the performance of defensive back Malik Hooker. It was amazing, Meyer said, that Hooker had gone from a player who once floated the idea of leaving the program to the guy who intercepted two passes in his first collegiate start.

When Hooker himself sat down with the media, he confirmed that he had discussed transferring with his Mom, but she talked him down.

The narrative of this type of comeback is well worn by now, so we accepted it uncritically.

Was Hooker sincerely considering bolting? No, he eventually clarified.

He pointed out that he isn’t the type of man to quit, he’d never cleaned out his locker, never even discussed the idea with anybody but his Mom.

Meyer later conceded that 95-99 percent of young players blow off steam like this.

But, oh, the narrative.

The idea of a guy with one foot out the door turning things around is much more compelling than the story of a player who was simply a bit frustrated.

We talk about how the athletes we cover battle complacency. I’m going to try harder to do that myself. At the same time, I will admit, it’s sometimes hard not to fall for these types of stories Hooker, line, and sinker.

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The Heart Is A Compass

To the people of Orlando,

The heart is a compass, and LOVE is its True North. Those who live by this truth will never be defeated, even in death.

Now there are survivors today to whom these warm words will bring cold comfort, so I say this, too: Our tears flow for you; our prayers go with you; and–most importantly–our resolve to stand strong against those who would do this evil has never been stronger.

Throughout time there have been those who thought there was power in destruction. They have been wrong. Despite them, life ENDURES.

ISIS will someday learn they simply cannot murder everyone who disagrees with them.

They will also discover that:

You may be born to love whom you love, but it is always a choice to hate.

That being the equal of a woman does not make you less of a man.

That science is not the enemy of faith, rather it’s the magnifying glass God gives us to examine the mysteries of the universe.

And the world is big enough to share with those who don’t share your worldview.

To the people of Orlando, God bless you.

Today you are hurting. Tomorrow you’ll be standing on the right side of history.

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As Luck Would Have It

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Jarmo on Johansen for Jones

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen joins 97.1 The Fan to explain what went into the CBJ trading center Ryan Johansen to Nashville in exchange for defenseman Seth Jones.

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Ohio State vs. Michigan Preview

This Saturday will mark the 112th time that Ohio State (10-1) and Michigan (9-2) have met.

Almost just as importantly, this game is the first of the Urban Meyer/Jim Harbaugh era.

The two were born in the same hospital. They grew up in the 1960s about ten miles from each other. And while Meyer returned to the school where he earned his Master’s Degree, Harbaugh, the man once called “Captain Comeback,” would eventually come back to coach his alma mater.

RankESPN went so far as to call them “Natural Born Rivals.”

And just like the coaches in this rivalry, the teams coming into this Saturday’s clash, poetically mirror each other in certain ways.

Both play tough defense. Both have found enough offense to win, despite both teams struggling to win the turnover battle.

Both suffered heartbreaking losses to Michigan State on the last play of the game.

And, yes, both have excellent coaches. Meyer is 152-27 with two national championships. Harbaugh is 58-29 in the college ranks. Like Meyer he has won The Woody Hayes Trophy, a fact gleefully pointed out on Michigan’s website, six bullet points above a mention of his appearance on “Saved By the Bell.”

Interestingly, while few would question the credentials of the Michigan staff (they have a combined 85 years of coaching experience, including 36 in the NFL), the Wolverines have not excelled in some of the areas traditionally pointed to as indications of greatness in that area.

They take penalties, they have been gashed on special teams, and they’ve lost the ball 5 more times than they’ve managed to take it away from their opponent.

Where they’ve excelled is in developing their players and getting the most out of their talent. That’s especially true of graduate transfer quarterback Jake Rudock.

Rudock is completing 64.4 percent of his passes, which is more than 3 percentage points better than his best year at Iowa. He also has more yards than his previous high, even though he has fewer attempts to this point. He has 16 touchdown passes, 10 of which have come in the past three games. Although not the most graceful of runners, he has four rushing touchdowns.

Sure, it’s a stretch to compare him to some other signal callers Harbaugh has coached, a list that includes Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick when Kaepernick was at his most successful, but Rudock certainly has improved.

Of course, it helps to have such immense targets. If you take a look at the four players who lead Michigan in receiving yards, the shortest of them is 6’2″, and that happens to be leading receiver Amara Darboh.

Two of the Wolverines top pass catchers are tight ends out of the state of Ohio. Cincinnati’s AJ Williams has a dozen receptions. Jake Butt of Pickerington has 43 and 3 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, despite missing the Maryland game with an injury, De’Veon Smith paces the Michigan rushing attack with 621 yards on 145 carries. Just as they’ll throw to the tight ends, UM will use the running backs in the passing attack, and Smith has 15 receptions.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan has been unforgiving. They sack the opposing quarterback almost 3 times per game. They’ve allowed just two red zone touchdowns over the course of the last four games (17 possessions). They’re giving up an average of 14.9 points a contest.

They are led by players like 6’3″, 232 pound linebacker Joe Bolden, who has 67 tackles, and corner Jourdan Lewis, who has 19 pass breakups and two interceptions.

Defensive end Chris Wormley, all 6’5″ and 300 pounds of him, has crashed into the opponents’ backfields enough to rack up a dozen tackles for loss.

And Desmond Morgan and Jarrod Wilson each have 33 solo stops.

Then there is Jabrill Peppers. Peppers is not only 5th on the team in tackles, he’s 5th when it comes to all-purpose yards as well. The safety sometimes shows his youth in pass coverage, but still has 10 pass breakups. He has all 194 Michigan punt return yards, and returns kicks as well. Although he has yet to run one back for a touchdown on special teams, he’s still been in the end zone twice this year, as they use him on offense, too.

Ohio State has won four of the last five times they’ve traveled to Ann Arbor. Peppers and his teammates won’t make it easy for the Buckeyes to continue their run when they kick off Saturday at noon on 97.1 The Fan.

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Ohio State vs. Michigan State Preview

Michigan State  is 4-1 against teams in the Associated Press’s Top 1o since 2013. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2013 is when Hinckley, Ohio’s Connor Cook took over as the Spartans starting quarterback.

Cook has amassed an overall record of 32-4 as a starter, which makes him the winningest quarterback currently in the FBS. (He tied Stanford’s Kevin Hogan last week.) Cook is 21-2 against the Big Ten, and he’s just 230 yards shy of the Michigan State record for total offense. If he plays, he could break Kirk Cousin’s mark of 9,004 yards when he lines up versus Ohio State.

If he plays…

Cook hurt his shoulder in a 24-7 win over Maryland. Although he said he was only taken out of the game for precautionary reasons, he looked to be in quite a bit of pain. And the numbers he posted before he was pulled suggest something wasn’t right. He was just 6/20 passing for 77 yards and an interception.

Truth be told, Cook’s completion percentage was down this year, even before the injury. He’s gone from 58.7 percent in 2013, to 58.1 percent in 2014, to 56.3 percent so far during this campaign.

But Cook still leads the nation’s 37th ranked passing offense. He’s limited his turnovers, only throwing 4 picks while recording 21 touchdowns. At 14.18 yards per completion, he’s  17th nationally in that category. Plus, as his record against AP Top 10 teams suggests, he’s at his best in high-pressure situations.

Of his 21 touchdown passes this year, 9 have come on 3rd down. That’s also the down on which he has the highest quarterback rating. He has yet to throw a second-half pick this season.

And the 6’4″, 220 pound signal caller has a very impressive target in receiver Aaron Burbridge. Burbridge has four 100+ yard efforts in his past five games. He leads the Big Ten in receptions per game at 6.5. He has 6 touchdown catches.

Macgarrett Kings, Jr. has another 5 touchdown catches. Meanwhile of tight end Josiah Price’s 15 receptions, 5 have wound up in the end zone.

The numbers posted by the Spartans run game, on the other hand, have been lackluster. They might be 16th in the country in terms of time of possession, but Michigan State owns the 92nd rushing offense nationally, partly as the result of the team struggling to find a replacement for Jeremy Langford, partly because they have had to use six different starting offensive line combinations this season. The juggling might continue, because starting right tackle Kodi Kieler left the Maryland game late after hurting his right arm or shoulder.

As hard as injuries have hit the Michigan State offensive line, they have absolutely hammered the defense’s secondary. Already the Spartans have lost corner Vayante Copeland and safeties Jalen Watts-Jackson and RJ Williamson to season-ending or probable season-ending injuries.

Once dubbed the “no-fly zone,” the Spartans are now allowing 243 passing yards per game, worse than 85 other FBS teams.

The defense has been stopping the run, only giving up 121 yards per game and ranking them 18th nationally. The front seven is also getting to the quarterback to the tune of almost 3 sacks per game, which puts them 13th.

You’re probably familiar with the players who lead the Spartans in sacks: Shilique Calhoun, Malik McDowell, and linebacker Riley Bullough.

Bullough is also the team leader in tackles with 79, followed by fellow linebacker Darien Harris and his 65 stops.

Despite their struggles against the pass, the Spartans are 24th in interceptions with 12, and safety Montae Nicholson has 3 of them.

Michigan State is a team that starts fast. They have outscored opponents by a combined 84 points in the first half of games, and only 22 in the second half. But they are capable of late heroics, and have 14 fourth-quarter comebacks during coach Mark Dantonio’s tenure.

So keep it tuned from opening kick to final whistle when Ohio State clashes with the Spartans Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on 97.1 The Fan.

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