Football The Rivalry

A Generation Of Domination: Tressel, Meyer and The Game

Kids, have I ever told you what it was like to go to Ohio State in the 1990s? The campus looked totally different. The Ohio Union was a run-down dump. The main campus workout facility was a run-down dump. The main library was a run-down dump. (Or so I heard from my more studious friends, anyway.) South Stands at Ohio Stadium was a somewhat scary-looking temporary set of bleachers that they took down at the end of every football season.

High Street was lined with cool, local bars and restaurants. No, not Panera. This was before the Secret Michigan Fans Redevelopment Company (d/b/a “Campus Partners”) swooped in and homogenized everything. Picture Mama’s Pasta & Brew, except dozens of different-sized versions. It was a little dirty, but it was delightful.

It was a very different time technologically as well. Almost no one had cell phones, so unless you went to a computer lab to check your email, you would go for hours without being in contact with anyone except the people you were with.

Oh, and perhaps most mind-blowing of all, Michigan beat Ohio State… like… all the time. Yes, in football. Yes, American football. Yes, the Michigan that’s in Ann Arbor. Really. I’m not making this up.

Kids, stop screaming. Calm down. I know this may be hard for you to understand, since you were too young to pay attention to this stuff back then. Heck, even J.T. Barrett was just shy of his sixth birthday when some D-1AA coach in a sweater vest showed up in Columbus to set things right.

What, you’re too young to even remember his arrival? Well let me tell you the story. Don’t worry, there are only a couple of sad parts and I’ll leave those out.

An impossibly young-looking Jim Tressel (Jim Davidson/ TheOzone)

2001: The man in the sweatervest was named Jim Tressel. He coached Youngstown State to four Division-1AA titles in the 1990s, and was only hired at Ohio State after the Buckeyes flirted with guys like Oregon’s Mike Bellotti and Minnesota’s Glen Mason. He walked in to a program that was just 2-10-1 against Michigan in the previous 13 versions of The Game, and where his predecessor had been openly and loudly cheered when he was announced at Michigan Stadium. He was introduced to the Buckeye faithful at halftime of a basketball game against, who else? Michigan. Tressel walked onto the court, said some pleasant things about being excited for the opportunity, how he wanted fans to be proud of the players for their work in classes and in the community, and then said 11 words that marked the true turning point in the rivalry, “in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field.”

Exactly 310 days later, OSU entered Ann Arbor with a 6-4 record, but star RB Jonathan Wells rushed for three first-half touchdowns and the Buckeyes held a 23-0 halftime lead over the heavily-favored Wolverines. They hung on for a 26-20 win, the first Buckeye triumph in Ann Arbor since Earle Bruce’s last game.

Will Allen intercepts John Navarre’s pass (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2002: His second season at Ohio State went substantially better than the first. The Buckeyes entered the Michigan game with a 12-0 record, and needing just one more victory to clinch a spot in the Fiesta Bowl for a shot at the national title. Much like the rest of the year, the Bucks got it done, but it was neither pretty, nor easy. OSU trailed 9-7 midway through the fourth quarter, but Maurice Hall took an option pitch from Craig Krenzel and raced three yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

Michigan drove deep into Buckeye territory in the final seconds, but OSU safety Will Allen intercepted a pass from John Navarre right at the goal line as time expired. The Buckeyes went on to shock heavily-favored Miami to win their first consensus national championship since 1968.

Ted Ginn’s 82-yard punt return touchdown (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2004: Everybody knew what was going to happen. The Buckeyes had lost to Michigan the year before, and entered the 2004 version of The Game at just 6-4. Lloyd Carr’s team was 9-1 and looking to lock up an outright Big Ten championship. Clearly, the Wolverines were about to even up their record against Tressel and restore some balance to the rivalry. And then a funny thing happened.

A sophomore quarterback by the name of Troy Smith, who had split time with Justin Zwick, and struggled mightily to get the offense moving all season, suddenly turned into TROY SMITH: DESTROYER OF WORLDS. He threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 145 and another score.

Ted Ginn broke open a close game with an 82-yard punt return score early in the third quarter, and suddenly the Buckeyes had the groundwork for three dominating seasons to come.

Antonio Pittman scores the winning touchdown (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2005: Smith worked his magic again the following year, but it took a while for the show to get going. With 7:49 left in the game, Michigan led 21-12 and OSU looked like they were in big trouble. But then the offense marched right down the field, going 67 yards in just five plays to cut it to 21-19.

Then, after the defense got a big stop, Smith got the ball back at his own 12. He took the Buckeyes the length of the field, narrowly avoiding a critical sack to convert one first down, and then hitting WR Anthony Gonzalez for a 26-yard gain to set up Antonio Pittman’s game-winning touchdown with just 0:24 left.

Ohio State won a share of the Big Ten title and went on to destroy Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl to cap a 10-2 season.

Pittman breaks Michigan’s heart again (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2006: Pretty inarguably, this was the biggest game in the storied history of The Game. Ohio State came in ranked #1 in the nation, while Michigan was #2. Then legendary UM coach Bo Schembechler died suddenly, barely 24 hours before kickoff. His passing cast a very strange pall over the pregame atmosphere at the Horseshoe, but once the game kicked off, it was business as usual.

A game that featured nearly unprecedented hype, somehow managed to live up to every bit of it. Michigan struck first, but then the Buckeyes responded, taking a lead of 21-7 and going into the halftime locker room up 28-14. The Wolverines scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to cut it to just 28-24. OSU answered with a 56-yard Antonio Pittman touchdown run, then Michigan punched back with a score of their own. OSU stretched its lead to 42-31, but Michigan cut it back to 42-39 with 2:16 to play.

The Buckeyes had to recover the ensuing onside kick and run out the clock before anyone could exhale.

Beanie Wells Ohio State Football Buckeyes

2007: On a brutally cold, rainy day in Ann Arbor, Ohio State used a stifling defense and just enough offense to pull out a 14-3 win. Star RB Chris Wells ran for both touchdowns, a 1-yarder in the second quarter and a 62-yard burst on the Buckeyes’ first play of the third quarter.

After that, the Buckeyes put on a Tresselball clinic, running down the clock on offense and leaning on the defense. Wells finished the day with 39 carries for 222 yards. Michigan QB Chad Henne, who was playing with a badly-injured shoulder, went 11-for-34 for just 68 yards.

Are you starting to detect a pattern? (Dan Harker/TheOzone)

2008: This was a transition year for both programs. Ohio State benched starting QB Todd Boeckman after an early loss to USC and replaced him with true freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor, while Michigan replaced retired coach Lloyd Carr with West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez. One transition went a little more smoothly than the other.

The Buckeyes entered the game with a 9-2 record, while the Wolverines were just 3-8. It was close for a half, as OSU took just a 14-7 lead into the locker room, but things quickly spiraled out of control after that.

The lead swelled to 35-7 just one play into the fourth quarter, and then the Bucks closed the scoring with Boeckman coming off the bench to throw one final touchdown pass in the Horseshoe. The 42-7 final score was the most lopsided in the series since OSU’s 50-14 win in 1968.

Tate Forcier’s fumble gave OSU an early 7-0 lead (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2009: Wolverine fans were more hopeful the following year when the series returned to Ann Arbor. Rodriguez’s second team entered The Game at 5-6, and could earn a bowl berth with a win over 9-2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, needed a win to clinch a Rose Bowl berth.

The OSU defense got on the board first, recovering a Tate Forcier fumble in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. It was the first of five Michigan turnovers on the day.

Brandon Saine scored on a 29-yard run, but the Buckeyes were still clinging to a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter until Pryor hit Boom Herron on a screen pass to put the game away. The Buckeyes clinched an outright Big Ten title and went on to win the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

Jordan Hall’s kickoff return swung the tide (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2010: A game that technically never happened according to the NCAA’s official records wasn’t much of a game on the field, either. Michigan scored to cut Ohio State’s lead to 10-7 midway through the second quarter, but Jordan Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and the rout was on.

OSU scored four touchdowns in just 15:04 of game action between the second a third quarters, before easing off the gas to coast to a 37-7 win. Neither Tressel’s mercy, nor a tearful rendition of “You Raise Me Up” was enough to save Rodriguez, who was fired after the season.

Zach Boren, Devin Gardner, and a microcosm of the last 16 years (Dan Harker/TheOzone)

2012: Something like 48 hours after Michigan had finished off just its second win over OSU in 10 tries, the party in Ann Arbor came to a screeching halt with the introduction of Urban Meyer as the Buckeyes’ new head coach on November 29, 2011. Meyer, who came to Columbus with two national titles under his belt, immediately lived up to the hype, entering the 2012 season-finale with a perfect 11-0 record.

Michigan’s second-year coach Brady Hoke was looking to improve his mark in The Game to 2-0, and for a while it appeared that it might happen. The Wolverines took a 21-17 lead on a 67-yard Denard Robinson touchdown run with just 0:40 to go before the half, but that was the last time they scored.

OSU’s Drew Basil kicked three field goals, one on the last play of the second quarter to cut it to 21-20, one in the third quarter to give OSU a 23-21 lead, and then one more with 6:26 left in the game to close the scoring. The 26-21 win capped a 12-0 season that ended prematurely due to a bowl ban.

Tyvis Powell saves the day (Dan Harker/TheOzone)

2013: Going into his first visit to Ann Arbor as OSU head coach, Meyer had to be feeling pretty good. He was still perfect with the Buckeyes, 11-0 on the year and 23-0 overall. Meanwhile, Michigan entered just 7-4 on the season, and a 16-point underdog.

Instead of the anticipated blowout, The Game turned into a back-and-forth nailbiter for the ages. The teams traded touchdowns until Michigan took a 21-14 lead just two plays into the second quarter.

The Buckeyes appeared to have seized control of the game with three straight touchdowns in the span of a quarter, but the Wolverines came back to tie it again at 35, thanks in part to a crucial fumble by Carlos Hyde.

Hyde redeemed himself with a go-ahead touchdown to give the Bucks a 42-35 lead with 2:20 to play, but the Wolverines went right back down the field and scored to make it 42-41 with 0:32 left on the clock. Hoke went for two, but Tyvis Powell intercepted the conversion attempt to preserve the 42-41 win.

Ezekiel Elliott takes it to the house (Dan Harker/TheOzone)

2014: Ohio State’s most recent national championship season certainly didn’t feel like it was destined to end in playoff glory during The Game. The 10-1 Buckeyes were tied with the 5-6 Wolverines late into the third quarter before Ezekiel Elliott gave them a 28-21 lead.

It was still a one-score game until an Elliott 44-yard touchdown run and Darron Lee 33-yard fumble return just one minute apart put the game away.

Still, fans exited the Horseshoe for the last time that season worried about the quarterback situation. Starter J.T. Barrett went down with a broken ankle, meaning the Bucks would be turning to unproven third-stringer Cardale Jones the following weekend in the Big Ten title game.

Joey Bosa drills Michigan QB Jake Rudock (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2015: One week after suffering a shocking loss to Michigan State that would cost them a chance to defend their national title, the 10-1 Buckeyes went north to face a 9-2 Michigan program rejuvenated under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh.

However, the first Harbaugh/Meyer showdown started as a struggle, but turned into a blowout.

A 14-10 halftime nail-biter quickly grew into a more comfortable margin. Elliott racked up 214 rushing yards and two scores. Barrett put up 252 yards of total offense and four touchdowns as the Buckeyes rolled to a 42-13 win. They went on to drub Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-1.

Ballgame (Jim Davidson/TheOzone)

2016: Doubtless, even the youngest Buckeye fan remembers this game, another classic showdown in the series between #2 Ohio State and #3 Michigan.

But in case you don’t, just scroll back up and read the first letter of each year’s description.




12 Responses

  1. I thought I might need my Ovaltine decoder ring to figure this one out!
    Nice write up!

    This just reinforces my belief that although people like to talk about “the good old days”… the best days are RIGHT NOW.

  2. So very well done; I enjoyed every word! And awesome the way you wrapped it up. O-H!

  3. Haha, to a Michigan fan it was the only time in history where a straight line was crooked. Great article!

  4. Clever thing you did there, with the first letters of each description. 🙂

  5. Well-played, Tom. It’s GOOD to have you back at The O-Zone!

  6. Great post!!
    Damn right…

Comments are closed.