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Ohio State is thorn in Michigan's side

November 18, 2007|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- They waved roses and spoke glowingly of Pasadena in wintertime. They talked about the rich tradition of the Rose Bowl.

But when it came to accepting a spot in the annual game, the Ohio State players said they might have other plans. Can they get back to you later?

The seventh-ranked Buckeyes earned an invitation by defeating Michigan, 14-3, on an ugly, rainy day at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. The thing is, given the right combination of upsets, they still have a slim chance to sneak into the Bowl Championship Series title game.

"Hopefully, it's the national championship," safety Jamario O'Neal said. "If it's the Rose Bowl, it is what it is."

Hardly a ringing endorsement for "The Granddaddy of Them All," but Tournament of Roses executives have grown accustomed to playing second fiddle to BCS machinations.

They aren't the only ones waiting for an answer.

In this part of the country, the big game was shadowed by speculation that Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr would retire after 13 seasons. One rumor had him making a postgame announcement, but that did not come to pass.

Instead, a news conference has been scheduled for Monday morning.

This wasn't the sort of game that Carr -- or any coach -- would want for a going-away party.

Play figured to be sloppy with temperatures in the mid-40s and a steady downpour. Neither team looked eager to take chances on offense.

Near the end of the first quarter, Michigan mounted just enough of a drive to kick a 33-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. A few minutes later, Ohio State took advantage of good field position, mixing runs with short passes, and running back Chris Wells scored over left tackle on a one-yard run.

It was the start of a big day for the 235-pound sophomore known as "Beanie."

Just before halftime, Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman spotted man-to-man coverage and tried to throw deep. His fluttering pass was intercepted and Michigan missed on a long field-goal attempt that might have turned the momentum.

Coach Jim Tressel had seen enough. He told his players, "We're going to try to run it down their throats."

That meant only two pass attempts in the second half and a whole lot more of Wells, who spent the afternoon battling what he described as almost unbearable pain from a lingering ankle sprain.

The injury did not seem to slow him down on Ohio State's first snap of the third quarter, when he burst through the line, broke a tackle and raced 62 yards to give his team a 14-3 lead.

Michigan had hoped to stop the run and force first-year starter Boeckman to throw often, but Wells took control of the game.

Time and again, he bulled into the line, finishing with 222 yards in 39 carries. There would be no more big plays, but his punishing runs helped to keep the clock moving.

"We didn't play good enough," Michigan safety Jamar Adams said. "We didn't get the job done."

On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines were hobbled by injury. Quarterback Chad Henne, nursing a sore throwing shoulder, completed only 11 of 34 passes for 68 yards.

"You could tell in warm-ups he was not throwing the ball like he was two weeks ago," Carr said.

Henne got little help from his receivers, who dropped several passes, or from running back Mike Hart. Having missed part of the season because of a sprained ankle, Hart was held to 44 yards in 18 carries.

"We didn't think we were going to be this bad off," Hart said.

The Wolverines gained only 91 yards against one of the top defenses in the nation. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis was a constant presence, finishing with six tackles. Defensive lineman Vernon Gholston sacked Henne three times and hurried him on other occasions.

"It was a physical game," Tressel said. "A lot of hitting. There will be a lot of sore kids."

The outcome settled a couple of things. It showed that Ohio State, which slipped from No. 1 in the rankings after a loss to Illinois last week, could bounce back. It also gave the Buckeyes their second consecutive Big Ten Conference title outright.

But so much has yet to be decided.

Surrounded by reporters outside the stadium, Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin said he has talked to Carr about the coach's retirement but declined to say if that might occur in the near future.

Carr has come under fire for losing to Ohio State six of the last seven seasons.

"He's going to retire when he decides to retire," Martin said. "That's the bottom line."

And Tournament of Roses executives, who came bearing flowers, went home with no firm commitment.

Tressel put it like this: "We're going to Pasadena . . . unless it shakes out the other way."

--

david.wharton@latimes.com

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