|"Dad" Rudock. It's like Dad Rock, but less Steely Dan, more Dan Fouts. (Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)|
I don't know that I would want the B1G to schedule like this forever, but the fun of the last two weeks of the B1G East have the Michigan/Ohio State/Michigan State/Penn State parallelogram of peril playing against each other (with the first leg having also been played on the same weekend back in October. Now let us not speak of it again.) As a fan, it was great knowing that I could watch a Michigan/Penn State road tilt at noon and then enjoy the Michigan State/Ohio State showdown at 3:30. It felt fantastic to know I could watch both. What ended up happening on Saturday became a tale of four coaches and their quarterbacks.
For Michigan, the progress that Jake Rudock has made since Week 1 has been nothing short of astonishing. Rudock has gone from a liability to an asset, becoming one of the singular reasons that Michigan has won the last two games. He is making good decisions (OK, the interception was suboptimal, he didn't look off his receiver and threw a laser right at the Nittany Lion defender.), he's making good use of the field position granted to him when the special teams unit breaks a return, and he has removed the sense of "waiting for the other shoe to drop" paranoia that has haunted Michigan's quarterbacks of recent vintage. Coach Harbaugh has proven his quarterback whisperer bonafides yet again. You hate to look ahead, especially with a season that has been so rewarding still in progress, but man, is it exciting. So exciting.
For Penn State, the devastation wrought upon Christian Hackenberg yesterday by Michigan's defense, though not as statistically present as it was physically and emotionally (Michigan got pressure on 65% of Hackenberg's dropbacks according to PFF), with Wormley and Charlton doing most of the dirty work. Hackenberg looks broken, and its understandable. He came to Penn State when he could have changed his mind, got coached up by Bill O'Brien and looked like an absolute world beater his Freshman year, only to see BOB head to Houston and James Franklin come in to Happy Valley and go anchor down on his draft status. Penn State is not a bad football team this year, all four of their losses are completely explicable, but I am sure that is cold comfort to the Nittany faithful. Franklin's utterly bizarre coaching decisions, though grateful as I am for them as a Michigan fan, have to just make Penn State wonder what they did to deserve...oh, right.
For Michigan State, the chicanery and legerdemain of whether Connor Cook would play this weekend was a handy bit of subterfuge by Mark Dantonio, one for which I do not blame him in the least. The only people who benefit from knowing injury information ahead of time are gamblers. Why in the world would you tip your hand before you absolutely had to do so. And this ignores the fact that Dantonio was hoping that things might get better before Saturday. He might have suspected, but didn't know for sure until Cook got out to warm ups. So you prepare like he can't go, but reserve hope that Cook might be able to pull a Willis Reed. In the end, the supreme irony is that Dantonio didn't need Cook. He took the chip on Michigan State's shoulder, drove it into the collective Trapezius of the Spartans and emerged from the Horseshoe with a win that put the Spartans in the driver's seat for the B1G East despite not having led for a single solitary second of either of their two most critical games, both played on the road. That is impressive, even if it is your rival and you hate to admit it.
For Ohio State, the tyranny of too many choices finally came home to roost at the most inopportune of times. It would be easy to say that Urban Meyer had the kind of problem you want to have, three excellent quarterbacks, all of whom had proven themselves in critical situations. But it wasn't the quarterback or the choices that was going to be the issue. It was the departure of Tom Herman to become Houston's head coach (true story: I had talked myself into Herman as my leading choice to replace Hoke if Harbaugh was not coming. I am obviously thrilled beyond belief with how it turned out, but I don't think Herman would have been a bad consolation prize. Well, you know, until he lost to UConn this week. But I digress.) that derailed Ohio State's machine. The warning signs had been there, we knew it, the playoff committee even gave you a sense that they knew it, but we don't want to discredit the defending champions until they lose. It's fair on some level, but completely different team, completely different circumstances, we should really start with a clean slate. But we don't, essentially, defending champion until proven otherwise. But now Michigan gets either an angry Ohio State team, or an unraveling Ohio State team. Either one is a wounded animal, but at least, for Michigan, it's not a wounded animal defending its home turf.
In the end, the stakes seem pretty straight forward to me, and absolutely downright thrilling. If Michigan wins, as every Michigan team has whose first year at Michigan coach has brought them into a season ending Ohio State game with a winning record has done in the past, then it is possible, verging on likely that a 10-2 Michigan gets picked to go to the Rose Bowl, potentially to face Stanford in what would be an easy and obvious storylines game for an NY6 bowl that wasn't a playoff game. If Michigan wins and Penn State wins, Michigan heads to Indy for the first time ever to face an Iowa team where the obvious storylines would be overflowing. It's been a strange college football season. Almost anything that can happen has happened. Michigan takes care of business at home, it puts the rest in the hands of other people. Control your controlables, make your free throws, beat Ohio State.
Happy Thanksgiving. Go Blue.