LBJ: Three times the MVP.It was when LeBron James was a kid that he developed the mindset of team.”I was always taught it’s team first,” James told the AP on Friday. ”My first time playing basketball, we went undefeated and won a championship and Frank Walker Sr. gave everyone on the team a MVP trophy. Right then and there, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to see my teammates reap the benefits as well.”He has maintained that disposition, but his individual talent has been overwhelming, so much that he will for the third time be named the NBA’s most valuable player, putting him in rarefied air.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the MVP six times, Michael Jordan and Bill Russell five times each and Wilt Chamberlain four times. They are the only players with more than James. Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone also have been so honored three times.James likely will receive the trophy in Miami Sunday before Game 1 of the Miami Heat’s second-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers.James said last week that while another MVP award ”would be amazing and would be humbling,” it’s not what drives him. In his ninth year in the NBA, he is determined to win a championship.”I think he’s probably as committed as he’s ever been in his career,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said this week, asked to summarize James’ season. ”And he’s always been committed. … We all respond to his energy on the court.”James averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists – making him only the fourth player with those totals in at least two different seasons, according to STATS LLC, joining Oscar Robertson (five times), John Havlicek (twice) and Bird (twice).
When you’re Tiger Woods, you live for this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. From the beginning, he placed his focus on winning major championships. With 14 to his credit, second-most in history, Woods has established himself among golfing greats. But that is not enough.That is why he looks at the U.S. Open that begins Thursday with so much hope, so much optimism. Having won two weeks ago at The Memorial helps, too, especially since it was a come-from-behind win. He is seeking to move closer to Jack Nicklaus, who holds the record for major championships with 18.Woods has been stuck four majors behind Nicklaus for the last four years. He last conquered a major in 2008 — the U.S. Open over Rocco Mediate at Torry Pines. To take this U.S. Open will require length, skill and patience, which is just how Woods likes it.“I’ve always preferred it to be more difficult, there’s no doubt,” he said. “And I’ve always preferred it to be fast. I just like a fast golf course, because then you have to shape shots. You have to think.”Woods will play the first round Thursday with the popular Bubba Watson, winner of this year’s Masters, and long-time rival Phil Mickelson, making for must-see golf.The Olympic Club is a long and difficult course, protected by water and bunkers. Most experts insist a score of even round after four days could be enough to claim victory. For Woods, he said a win this week would do little to deter his detractors from doubting him.“I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, ‘You’re not to 18 yet’, or ‘When will you get to 19,’ ” Woods said. “I’ve dealt with that my entire career, ever since I was an amateur and playing all the way through and to professional golf. It hasn’t changed.”Woods has won twice this year and insists he’s close to regaining the excellence that dominated the sport for several years prior to injuries plagued him — and his well-documented personal troubles that led to a divorce from wife, Elin. At 36, no matter what happens at the Olympic Club, Woods said he still has time to topple Nicklaus mark.“Well, Jack did it at 46, right?” Woods said of the age Nicklaus was when he won his last major. “So I’ve got 10 (years).Tom Watson almost pulled it off at 59. It can be done. We can play for a very long time. And that’s the great thing about staying in shape and lifting weights and being fit is that the playing careers have extended.”
The Miami Heat have been here before. . . just last year. They had two victories in the NBA Finals, but the Dallas Mavericks ran off four straight wins to send LeBron James and Co. into a long, disappointing summer.After leading the Heat to a 91-85 Game 3 victory in Miami Sunday for a 2-1 series lead over Oklahoma City, James said it is different this year.”It’s all about chemistry,” James said. ”Last year I didn’t make enough game-changing plays in the Finals. I’m just trying to make game-changing plays.”James had 29 points and 14 rebounds and Dwyane Wade 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead the Heat, who host Game 4 Tuesday. It is a must-win game for the Thunder, whose late-game execution Sunday was awful. Kevin Durant scored 25 points, but he had to be benched late in the third quarter, when OKC had built a 10-point lead.With Durant sitting, Miami mounted a run, retook the lead and used strong defense to thwart a Thunder comeback. Still, it took two late turnovers and a missed Russell Westbrook open three-pointer that would have tied the game.James’ poor performance was part of the problem in last year’s NBA Finals, but he seems on top of his game this time. His 3-pointer sent the Heat to the fourth quarter with the lead, and he scored five straight Miami points when the Heat were building just enough cushion to hold off another late flurry by the Thunder.“We carry that pain with us (from last year),” the Heat’s Chris Bosh said. “We think about it every day and that really helps us to succeed in this series.”“I just feel like we’re a more experienced team,” Wade said. “I’m not saying we want it more. But we understand the situation better.”
Williams, BOS194236137.356 PlayerYearHRRBIAVG F. Robinson, BAL196649122.316 Klein, PHI193328120.368 Hornsby, STL192242152.401 “I am glad that he accomplished this while leading his team to the American League Central title,” Yastrzemski said in a statement, pointing out that his Boston Red Sox advanced all the way to the World Series when he won one of baseball’s most coveted titles.The Tigers will have that chance when they open the postseason Saturday against Oakland.“It was hard the last two days because everybody talked about it. I just had to focus, I had to go out there and do the job,” Cabrera said. “The hardest part was to go out there and focus and win games. I said, ‘If we win the division, everything would take care of itself.’”Commissioner Bud Selig also offered his congratulations, calling the Triple Crown “a remarkable achievement that places him amongst an elite few in all of baseball history.” Hornsby, STL192539143.403 — The Associated Press Yastrzemski, BOS196744121.326 Mantle, NYY195652130.353 Gehrig, NYY193449165.363 Foxx, PHI193348163.356 Medwick, STL193731154.374 Cabrera, DET201244139.330 Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers won Major League Baseball’s Triple Crown Wednesday night, a feat not accomplished since Carl Yaztrzemski in 1967. That’s how difficult is to achieve.Further, Cabrera became just the 10th different player to lead the league in batting, home runs and runs batted in in the same season, joining an elite list that includes Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Cabrera’s numbers: .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs, tops in the American League in all categories.“It was like, everybody said to me it was unbelievable,” Cabrera said. “They were excited to see this, enjoy this, be a part of something big, and winning, I feel better.“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I can’t describe the feeling right now.”Cabrera’s achievement wasn’t assured until the Yankees pinch hit for Curtis Granderson in their 14-2 rout of the Boston Red Sox. Granderson had homered twice to reach 43 for the year, tied with the Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton and just one short of CabreraCabrera went 0 for 2 in his last game of the regular season in Kansas CIty against the Royals before leaving in the fourth inning to a standing ovation. He finished the regular season hitting four points higher than Angels rookie Mike Trout, his toughest competition for AL MVP. Cabrera was the runaway leader in RBIs. Here are other Triple Crown winners and their statistics for that year: Williams, BOS194732114.343
Colin Kaepernick’s #10for10 challenge serves to wrap up his Million Dollar Pledge. (kaepernick7.com)Colin Kaepernick has completed his $1 million pledge. The former pro footballer vowed back in 2017 to donate $1 million and all proceeds from his 2016 NFL season jersey sales to organizations working in oppressed communities. And when he got to his last $100,000, he asked several celebrity pals to join in.By Wednesday, Jan. 31, Kaepernick had completed his 10 for 10 challenge, which was launched to round out the end of his $1 million pledge. Celebs like 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and rapper Meek Mill all contributed to the effort. On days seven and eight two donors contributed — Chris Brown with Jhené Aiko and Joey Bada$$ with Nick Cannon.During the process, celebrities chose the organization they wanted the political athlete to donate to, offered a donation of at least $10,000, and Kaep matched them each day in $10,000 increments.The final round went to Usher’s H.O.M.E organization to benefit single mothers in Lithonia, Ga.“Thank you, brother,” Kaepernick says in a Twitter video. “We love you.”“You did it, you have raised a $1 million,” Usher says in the video. “I’m happy to be a part of the completion of that $1 million. Everyone that has done something around this is amazing. This is a collaborative effort. As a result of us helping each other, we all become stronger.”I am happy to announce I have completed my #MillionDollarPledge. For the final #10for10 joining me is my brother @usher! He is donating $10k to match my $10k for $20k for H.O.M.E from Lithonia, GA. Head to https://t.co/aK6dK9NZZA for a complete list of my Million Dollar Pledge! pic.twitter.com/WiSAJePPcB— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) January 31, 2018
The Lakers showcased one of the most dominant teams ever in their 1972 championship victory over the Knicks. And New York successfully secured its revenge over LA in the 1973 title series. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they were unable to retool after losing the core of those great early-’70s teams, and soon Celtics-Lakers would supplant Knicks-Lakers as the league’s premier cross-coastal rivalry.But if we count the New Jersey Nets as a “New York team” — at the time, they played at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 7 miles west of Midtown Manhattan — then the 2002 NBA Finals did feature a New York-Los Angeles battle. (Granted, it was something of a lopsided one; the powerhouse Lakers swept Jason Kidd’s Nets in four games.)If we define “New York” and “Los Angeles” as their metropolitan statistical areas, then the NHL won’t be seeing its first N.Y.-LA championship battle this season. Although the Rangers and Kings have never faced each other for a Stanley Cup before, Los Angeles won its first hockey crown over the New Jersey Devils — who play in Newark, New Jersey (a part of the New York metropolitan area) — in 2012. And in 2003, the Devils beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the Stanley Cup in seven games.Unfortunately, no such technicalities can produce a New York-Los Angeles championship clash in football.The Los Angeles Rams appeared in four pre-merger NFL Championship Games, but none were against New York teams (three came against Cleveland and one against Philadelphia). And by the time they left for St. Louis in 1995, the Rams had only one Super Bowl appearance to their credit — the same total as the New York Jets. The two cities’ more successful franchises never got on the same wavelength, either: Like the New York Giants, the Raiders have appeared in five Super Bowls, but only one as a Los Angeles-based squad (against the Washington Redskins in 1984).The timing was off when both cities had teams, and Los Angeles hasn’t been home to an NFL franchise since the 1994 season. The dream of a New York-vs.-Los Angeles Super Bowl will continue to be on hold.In the 10 championship matchups that have taken place between the two cities over the years, five have gone to Los Angeles and five to New York. The Rangers are hoping to break the tie in their favor over the next week or so, although the opening odds are about 3-to-2 against that happening. Then again, the Kings have kept things interesting throughout the playoffs, despite arguably being the league’s best team on paper. If that trend continues, look for a long, entertaining Stanley Cup Final. The Los Angeles Kings prevailed in typically dramatic style Sunday night, beating the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime in Game 7 to end the Western Conference finals. With the New York Rangers having clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final last Thursday, the Kings’ victory sets up what is a surprisingly rare occurrence in professional sports: a championship matchup between the two biggest cities in the United States, LA and New York.New York City, of course, has been home to major pro sports since the very beginning and hosted the first “World’s Series” in 1884. Los Angeles was a relative latecomer to the professional scene; it wasn’t until 1946 that the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and the All-America Football Conference’s Los Angeles Dons became the first LA-based major pro sports teams. Since then, the two cities have faced each other with hardware on the line just 11 times, including the coming Rangers-Kings tilt: four times in MLB, four times in the NBA and three times in the NHL (these matchups have also provided a few “Where were you when … ?” moments).The first came in 1963, five years after the Dodgers uprooted themselves from, coincidentally enough, Brooklyn and put down roots in Los Angeles. Facing the heavily favored two-time defending World Series champion New York Yankees, the Dodgers put together one of the more surprising routs in sports history, sweeping the Yankees in four games. The two franchises would go on to meet in three more World Series, all between 1977 and 1981; the Yankees won in 1977 and 1978, and the Dodgers won in 1981. Of course, the 1977 World Series gave us: There have been a few close calls since. In 1986, the Anaheim-based California Angels would have faced the New York Mets in the World Series if not for a heartbreaking loss to the Boston Red Sox in the AL championship series. And in 2009, the Dodgers could have met the Yankees in the World Series again, but LA lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in a five-game NL championship series.In the NBA, it seems like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks should have a marquee rivalry. But aside from a brief period in the early 1970s, things have been one-sided in favor of the Lakers. LA has won 10 NBA titles since 1974; New York has zero. What a rivalry it was during its halcyon days, though. Willis Reed hobbled onto the court against LA in 1970 NBA finals:
OSU sophomore forward Matthew Weis (16) tries to corral the puck during a face-off in a game against Michigan on Jan. 15. OSU won in a shootout. Credit: Kevin Stankiewicz | Asst. Sports EditorThe Ohio State men’s hockey team (9-17-2, 4-8-2) is preparing for its final homestand of the season at the Schottenstein Center and is looking to take advantage of a struggling Wisconsin (6-15-7, 1-10-3) team.The last-place Badgers arrive in Columbus on a four-game winless streak; their last win was back on Jan. 30 in Madison, Wisconsin, against Alaska. Their lone Big Ten victory was a 3-0 result against Michigan State in December.The Buckeyes are undefeated against the Badgers this season. In their two games at the Kohl Center in early January, the Scarlet and Gray grabbed a win and a tie.“We’ve got a ton of respect for Wisconsin. They’re as good as anybody. Their record doesn’t show it, neither does ours, but at times people like as us say, ‘Jeez, they play some really quality games,’” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “Wisconsin’s kind of in that same boat. Watching the video over last weekend, they probably deserved to win two games and ended up not winning either one.”Rohlik played for Wisconsin from 1987 to 1990, where he was a two-time captain and hoisted the 1990 NCAA championship trophy with the “C” on his jersey. He was also an assistant coach for the Badgers during the 1990-91 season.Senior forward Tyler Lundey, a Wisconsin native, said he is hoping to carry the momentum from last Saturday’s victory over Penn State and look past the blowout loss the night before.“It was definitely a big win Saturday night at Penn State. We learned our lesson Friday night. Wisconsin is one of those teams that are always going to come at you. They’re going to work hard,” Lundey said. “It’s kind of our game plan too. Work hard, stick together, play as a team, and get ready to play some playoff hockey.”Tale of two goaliesRohlik might have a bit of a decision to make between the pipes this weekend. His junior goaltenders, Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins, started Friday’s and Saturday’s games, respectively, against Penn State. While Tomkins fared much better against the Nittany Lions, Rohlik said he remains confident in both of his netminders heading into the series.“We always talk as a staff like today here after practice and kind of put our whole lineup together for the games. (Pulling Frey) I did more or less that just to get our team spark going there on Friday night. Wasn’t really necessarily his fault,” Rohlik said. “I just figured (Tomkins) has been practicing hard and deserved a chance to get in there and play, so we’ll evaluate and see what happens here.”Frey leads the Buckeyes’ shot stoppers in save percentage with .920 in 17 games played, while Tomkins has posted a .892 percentage in 13 games.“We score a lot of goals”The Buckeye offense will have to pile on the shots against a determined Badgers defense. Coach Mike Eaves’ men continue to be one of the top teams in the nations in blocked shots. Wisconsin ranks 16th in the country with 14.07 blocks per outing. Senior defensemen Eddie Wittchow and Kevin Schulze are ranked nationally at sixth and 13th, respectively.“They do a really good job blocking shots,” Lundey said. “We score a lot of goals from the hash marks and ends, so our goal is to score relatively close. A big part is getting shots on net initially, getting pucks through, and then cleaning them up.” Senior defenseman and co-captain Craig Dalrymple said he isn’t too worried about the defense having to contribute more on offense, but rather playing to each position’s strengths.“As a defenseman, and all the other defensemen on the team, we kind of always want to chip in on the scoresheet at the end of the day, which is always nice. I don’t think we’re really going to change our type of play,” Dalrymple said. “When there are chances, the defensemen are going to jump up into the play. If we kind of go out of our element, we can run into trouble.”The Scarlet and Gray will look to junior forward and co-captain Nick Schilkey to continue his fine form. Schilkey was named the Big Ten Second Star of the Week on Tuesday after a conference-best five-point performance last week, with a goal and four assists against Penn State.The Buckeyes will also face another staunch penalty-killing opponent in the Badgers. Wisconsin sits 14th in the nation with a kill ratio of .849. OSU, on the other hand, is one of the country’s best power-play converters, coming in at 12th nationally with a .214 conversion rate.Senior night at the SchottWith the team entering the final homestand of the season at the Schottenstein Center, Saturday’s game will mark its senior night. Dalrymple, Lundey and forward and co-captain Anthony Greco will be recognized prior to the matchup.“Every year, you know it’s coming. It’ll be fun. It’ll be important to enjoy it and have fun and hopefully get the win,” Greco said.Rohlik hailed his senior members and said he hopes the rest of the squad can follow their examples.“Find me anybody in that locker room, you want to play for each other, but you also want to give a little extra for those three guys,” Rohlik said. “Someday, some of those other guys will be sitting in those same shoes, and you want everybody to give their best effort.”Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday and at 7 p.m. the following evening.
When Thad Matta was coaching at Xavier in 2004, the Musketeers had a three-game stretch against Mississippi State, Texas and Duke. Each of those teams was ranked in the top 11 of the Associated Press poll, with MSU (No. 4) and Duke (No. 5) placed in the top five. Those contests came in the NCAA Tournament, as Matta led Xavier to its first-ever appearance in the Elite Eight before losing a close one to the Blue Devils, 66-63. “It was crazy,” Matta said Monday, who left Xavier after that season to coach Ohio State. As treacherous a task as that was for Matta and his team, his current Buckeyes squad is staring down a two-game trek that might be even tougher than the one Xavier faced in 2004. OSU will play two top-three teams in a six-day span this week. And these upcoming bouts will come in the regular season, not in March when consecutive battles against elite programs are commonplace. OSU, ranked No. 10 in the most recent AP poll, is set to take on No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor Tuesday night. After squaring off against the Wolverines, the Buckeyes return home Sunday to play the No. 1 team in the country, Indiana. “It’s another week,” Matta said so sarcastically he cracked a smile before finishing the sentence. Matta’s players weren’t as light-hearted in talking about the venture ahead. “It’s why you come to Ohio State and play in a conference like the Big Ten, for weeks like this,” said junior guard Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes’ leading scorer, Deshaun Thomas, agreed, saying he “loves a challenge.” “I’m hyped,” the junior forward said, who leads the conference in scoring at 20 points per game. At 7-2 in the Big Ten, OSU is a game back of the Hoosiers, who are all alone in first place. The Buckeyes share a tie of second with Michigan and Michigan State. OSU is 1-1 against those teams this season, beating Michigan at home but losing to the Spartans on the road. Every team in the Big Ten plays 18 conference games, so no two-game stretch at the midway point is going to decide the league champion. But if OSU wants to stay alive and well in the race for a fourth consecutive regular season title, winning at least one game this week might be necessary. Thomas would love to win both. “It’s going to mean a lot for this team, especially if we get two wins against Michigan, they’re highly ranked. If we get a win against IU, we know we got to go down there and it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be big if we can get these two wins,” he said. This week also represents a turning point in the season for the Buckeyes. OSU (17-4) is exactly halfway through its conference schedule, and they’ll likely be tested much more in the second half of the year than they were in the first. During their first nine Big Ten games, the Buckeyes played five of the worst six teams in the league, and only three of the six best. OSU’s second half includes two games against No. 1 Indiana (20-2), trips to No. 3 Michigan (20-2) and unranked Wisconsin (15-7), and home games against No. 12 Michigan State (18-4) and No. 18 Minnesota (17-5). In his ninth year coaching in the Big Ten, Matta said the league is as competitive as he’s seen it. “I think that probably from top to bottom it’s as good – and we haven’t seen everybody yet – but seeing on tape, seeing scores, seeing the standings, I would probably agree (it’s as good as ever),” Matta said. For now, though, OSU is just focusing on the Wolverines. The Buckeyes gave Michigan its first loss on Jan. 13 with a 56-53 win, also preventing the Maize and Blue from ascending to a No. 1 national ranking. “To be honest, we haven’t even talked about Sunday’s game,” Matta said. “Obviously the mindset is on tomorrow night’s game, knowing that they have a great team.” Michigan, ranked No. 1 last week, dropped in the polls after losing at Indiana Saturday night. Add in the fact that OSU beat the Wolverines the first time around in Columbus, and Michigan will be ready Tuesday night, Craft said. “There is no way we can try to look past this game in any way,” Craft said. Getting out to a fast start in Ann Arbor will be crucial for the Buckeyes, Craft said. In Michigan’s two losses this season, they fell in a big hole early and couldn’t recover. OSU, 3-3 on the road this season, probably needs to at least stay even with the Wolverines (undefeated at home) early to have a chance for an upset. Doing that will require solid defense, something OSU has relied on all season. “Defensively I think we’re pretty sound,” Matta said. “We’re trying to get our guys to have a prideful mentality in terms of getting stops. We want to continue to get them to understand we have to have that for 40 minutes.” That won’t be easy against the Wolverines, who are led by a National Player of the Year candidate and Columbus native Trey Burke. The sophomore point guard has potentially the country’s best sidekick in junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who averages 15.6 points per game. Two freshmen, guard Nik Stauskas and forward Glenn Robinson III, also average double figures in points. OSU has played three teams this season currently ranked in the top 12 by the AP in No. 4 Duke, No. 5 Kansas and No. 12 MSU, not including Michigan. The Wolverines are likely the toughest team the Buckeyes have had to defend. “With the number of people they can put out there, the number of people that can score the ball, it’s really tough to play normal defense when you’re worried about the number of shooters they have,” Craft said. Defending Michigan’s shooters is just one of the many challenges OSU is facing in the week ahead. Matta said his team is as close to being ready for the daunting task as he’d like them to be. “We had two good practices. I’ve never had a team exactly where I wanted it. I do think we’re making strides. We just have to continue to find that consistency and every night we take the floor, we need our guys to play the best that we can,” the 45-year-old coach said. OSU and Michigan are scheduled to tipoff at 9 p.m. Tuesday night in the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes then take on Indiana at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Schottenstein Center.
Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock throws the ball away under pressure from Michigan State’s Chris Frey (23). Credit: Courtesy of TNSLocation: East Lansing, Michigan2016 season: 3-9 (1-8)Head coach: Mark Dantonio2017 record: 2-0All time record vs. OSU: 15-30What has happened thus far in 2017:This is a do-or-die season for Michigan State and coach Mark Dantonio, who might be on the hot seat following his worst season since he became head coach in 2007 and the preseason dismissal of four of the program’s highest-rated recruits in its 2016 class due to a sexual assault investigation. To have the type of season the Spartans need to have in the Big Ten East Division — with Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and a rising Maryland program — is a difficult task.But so far, the Spartans have done something they couldn’t do last season — defeat the teams they’re supposed to. Michigan State has wins against Bowling Green and Western Michigan under its belt with Notre Dame, Iowa and a road game at Michigan on deck after a bye week in Week 3.Impact Player:Senior linebacker Chris Frey from Upper Arlington is the latest edition in a line of All-Big Ten linebackers at Michigan State. After leading the team in tackles (96) in 2016, Frey returns as one of two captains for the Spartans, leading a defense that would be the reason Michigan State makes any noise in the conference this season. The central Ohio native leads the nation’s 11th-best defense with 1.5 sacks, ranks second with 12 total tackles and tied for second with 1.5 tackles for loss.Strengths:Michigan State is a young team at every position, but its front seven is the centerpiece of what can keep the Spartans relevant in the Big Ten. From 2015 to 2016, Michigan State’s sack total decreased from 37 to 11. So far this season, the Spartans have tallied five sacks this season, albeit against two Mid-American Conference teams.A formidable secondary and a menacing front seven made Michigan State Big Ten champions in 2013 and 2015. With just one returning starter in the secondary, ability to pressure the quarterback is paramount to the defense’s success.Weaknesses:The Spartans’ offensive line struggled in Week 2 against Western Michigan, despite paving the way for 296 rushing yards from Michigan State’s three tailbacks and redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke. The O-line has yet to face a strong defensive front and already has allowed 14 tackles for loss, 97th in the country. Michigan State is searching for a permanent answer at running back and a go-to receiver, so the offensive line will be a major storyline moving forward.
Ohio State redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber (25) runs the ball in the first half in the game against Illinois on Nov. 18. Ohio State won 52-14. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorOhio State shouldn’t have needed a 30-point loss to a team that just lost at home to Purdue to know it needed to run the ball more.The Buckeyes have two of the best running backs in the Big Ten, and for some reason it took an embarrassing loss at Iowa for head coach Urban Meyer to figure out that J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber should touch the ball 30-plus times combined each game.It wasn’t surprising the Buckeyes went back to the ground game after being trounced against an inferior opponent, but Weber’s play has been surprising, and it’s what makes Ohio State’s offense even more dangerous moving forward.“If you can get the running game going, put a guy on a guy and execute pretty highly,” center Billy Price said, “then our running backs are lights-out speed, get out in open space, then good things happen.”Weber started the scoring against Michigan State with a 47-yard touchdown run, then topped that with an 82-yarder. The thought was: Maybe Weber is finally healthy and this is a running back that can hit long runs for scores.He scored twice Saturday in a 52-14 drubbing of Illinois. One was another long touchdown run of more than 40 yards.That thought of “Is this a new Mike Weber?” has additional supporting evidence, which would give Ohio State two legitimate homerun threats at running back.So why wasn’t he running like this before?“Weber is just 100 percent healthy,” Meyer said. “We were bragging about him all summer and then had the tough injury. But he’s doing very well.”Meyer said last week that Weber’s hamstring injury was severe enough to consider surgery. So maybe he truly is finally healthy and that’s what is making the difference in his game and perceived improved quickness since the Iowa game.No one has really been able to figure out Ohio State’s colossal conundrum against the Hawkeyes.“What just happened,” has been a repeating question for three weeks. Meyer raised it after a fourth-quarter comeback against Penn State. Fans and media asked it following a complete collapse against Iowa the week after, then it came up again in an annihilation of Michigan State the week after that.Still, no one really has a good answer for the Iowa game, especially after the blowout of a ranked Michigan State. Maybe fans can just chalk it up as an unexplainable letdown and hope that Ohio State team doesn’t show up again because this Ohio State team that clobbered Michigan State and kicked the snot out of a terrible Illinois team is pretty good — maybe playoff good.Weber is a major part of that.“If we get the running game going, everything else opens up,” Price said.Meyer and the offensive coaching staff have talked all year about the possibility of playing both Weber and Dobbins in a formation. That’s now possible. And what a better week to do that than against Michigan.Weber is averaging 13.5 yards per carry the past two games and has gained more than 100 yards in each. The offensive line has been making its case as one of the best units in the country, but the running backs are doing their job, like they have been all year.Weber’s production in the past two games is unequivocal to the first nine games, and it’s a welcomed addition.Meyer and the coaching staff somehow didn’t see the writing on the wall that the running game was always the team’s identity. But that gaffe by the staff might not matter because Ohio State is in the playoff picture, and if Weber’s performances the past two games are an indicator of a new Weber, he can make this offense College-Football-Playoff good.