We are a mere five days away from the most important football game of the season. If you are a college football fan, this rings true for you no matter whom you support (although some teams do play earlier than Saturday). This is Rivalry Week, and there is no shortage of signature matchups with big stakes for the teams involved and beyond. To name a few, Auburn and Alabama once again face off with national title implications on the line; Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Florida-Florida State duke it out in cross-conference games; Northwestern-Illinois, Indiana-Purdue, Mississippi-Mississippi State, Washington-Washington State, and Oregon-Oregon State all battle for their respective states. All across the USA there are major meetings where the records are thrown out the window and the lofty goals of championships are set aside; these teams involved in rivalry games are focused only on winning the game that matters most and claiming whatever trophy and bragging rights they can earn with such a victory.
For the greatest of these games, the individual aspirations of each team are cast to the wind for a showdown at high noon this Saturday. For Ohio State and Michigan, the fiercest rivalry in the sport, the number of wins and losses do not matter. Year to year for each team, there is but one game in the entire season that matters – the remaining 11-14 are just bonuses if you win them. When Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoff in the 2014 season, they played some incredible games including major wins over Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon to round out the season that also featured critical wins like a shootout at Michigan State and a double overtime survival at Penn State. These are all awesome games for Buckeye fans, but compared to the one that took place on the fourth Saturday of November, they do not mean much. Even though the Wolverines were an uncharacteristically lackluster 5-6 coming into that game and Ohio State was a 10-1 juggernaut cruising along with their sights on the big prize they would eventually win, this was not a game either side took lightly, and despite the final score, was a game that was decided in the fourth quarter.
Such has been the case for so many of the games in the lengthy series that began in 1897. From the first competitive contests in the 1910s, through the heralded Woody versus Bo Ten Year War, and to last year’s amazing game of the year double overtime thriller, the Ohio State-Michigan series has been the most compelling rivalry series for over a century. The past two years, I have discussed the games that were celebrating their 10 year anniversary, with the fourth quarter comeback that the Buckeyes mounted in 2005, and the #1 versus #2 Game of the Century in 2006, standing front and center on this webpage. Today, I continue that trend with a look at the less outwardly thrilling but individually amazing effort put forth by Chris “Beanie” Wells in 2007.
A few days ago, Ohio State demolished their other historical rival Illinois, as has been the case for the greater part of the past few decades. The last time the Illini scored a win against the Buckeyes was in 2007, when they came to Columbus and eeked out a 28-21 win in an impressively upstart year for them. That was the first defeat the Buckeyes suffered that year, and coming in the critical eleventh game of the season, it seemed to knock the Bucks out of the National Championship running – they would go on to not only make it to that game for the second year in a row, but thanks to a smattering of chaos in the final week of the season, they made it in as #1! Aaaand that was worse for them than if they had been #2, but again, the other games don’t matter compared to the The Game. The Buckeyes went into The Game in 2007 with a 10-1 record, that “and one” still water-droplet-covered fresh. Michigan was 8-3, powering through a season bookended by dual losses. After the shocking starter where they lost to Appalachian State, followed by an annihilation from Oregon (both in Ann Arbor, Michigan), the Wolverines did not look great. Nevetheless, they were pretty good, and rattled off 8 straight wins, before falling once more to the other Big Ten weasels , the Wisconsin Badgers at always tough to play Camp Randall Stadium. In spite of all this, entering the game against Ohio State, Michigan hardly looked like the lesser team, and the matchup appeared to be fairly even.
And so it was. The game itself was classic Midwestern sports, with weather dictating the flow for all four quarters. Thanks to playing to his team’s strengths, Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel got the better of Michigan man Lloyd Carr for the final time before the great head coach retired. Chiefly, the team’s strength in lead running back Chris Wells. “Beanie” beat up the Wolverines on their soggy home turf by churning up 222 rushing yards in a rain-soaked contest that, like all football games, was truly determined by the battle between the offensive and defensive lines. The Buckeyes bested the blue weasels by keeping stars like Chad Henne and Mike Hart in check (along with the winds and water), holding Michigan to a field goal and grinding down the clock when the Ohio State offense had the ball. Some Tressel-typical tricky formations helped confuse Michigan’s defense and set up Chris Wells’ first touchdown of the day to send Ohio State to halftime with a 7-3 lead.
Shortly after halftime, Michigan was forced to punt once again, and the Buckeyes took the ball back all the way for the score… because of help from a block in the back penalty (the first of the game on Ohio State). Fortunately, Beanie was glad to be back from the half and didn’t make us wait too long to get the score anyway. Check it out here.
Such was The Game for 2007, Tressel topped the Wolverines for the sixth time (he would add three more wins in as many contests with the team up North) thanks very much to his inventive schemes, strong players, and of course, Beanie Wells. the Buckeyes seemed bound for Pasadena to face off against a Pac-10 team in their first Rose Bowl in 11 years, but the aforementioned chaos sent them back to the BCS Championship.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy Rivalry Week even though only half of us football fans actually will. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, send them along to email@example.com.
I also want to add well wishes for the family of Terry Glenn who died in a car crash early this morning. He was a former NFL Pro-Bowler who played wide receiver for the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Dallas Cowboys, and The Ohio State University Buckeyes before that. A Columbus, Ohio native, Glenn had some shining moments in his professional career, but he led a frequently troubled life. Hopefully he is at peace now and his family and friends can find some.