How a team responds to a situation doesn’t just happen in that moment, and it doesn’t just happen because of that moment.
A response at a time of crisis is all about preparation. And it’s about having faith in your team to do what it takes to make the plays that are available to be made.
On Saturday, Ohio State was prepared for that crisis and Michigan wasn’t. OSU made the plays that were available to them and Michigan didn’t.
The Buckeyes overcame the crisis of a 10-point deficit in the second half to defeat the Wolverines 30-27 in a double-overtime classic that will live on forever — both in dreams and in nightmares.
Michigan won the field position battle for most of the game, pinning the Buckeyes deep in their own territory repeatedly, but they were only really able to get a field goal out of it. The field position on their two touchdowns came from a 45-yard kickoff return by Jabrill Peppers and a failed fake punt that saw Michigan only have to drive 22 yards for the score.
Ohio State started drives at their own 8-yard line, 11-yard line, 4-yard line, 2-yard line, 16-yard line, and 18-yard line.
Michigan scored three total points on the ensuing drives of those possessions. They just didn’t execute and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
When linebacker Jabrill Peppers intercepted J.T. Barrett, he gave Michigan the ball at the Ohio State 42-yard line. What did the Wolverines do with that possession? Quarterback Wilton Speight fumbled the ball away at the 2-yard line.
How did it happen? Lack of focus, according to Speight.
“I think there was a little miscommunication with the crowd noise,” he said. “I should have stayed in there longer knowing that there might be problems with how loud it was, so yeah, that’s on me.”
But focus isn’t about just one play, it’s about an entire ordeal, and the Buckeyes were certainly in the middle of an ordeal on Saturday.
The OSU defense was doing their part, but the offense was amassing three drives of zero yards, as well as three drives that actually lost yards, with drives of 17, 14, 13, 20, and 13 yards thrown in.
There was never any finger pointing, however.
“We knew we didn’t want to lose and we played hard the entire game and we knew we had to keep getting stops,” OSU defensive end Jalyn Holmes said after the game.
“Something was going to happen, the offense was going to make something happen. They may have struggled a little bit but we knew we had to just keep doing our job and getting stops. We couldn’t put our heads down because the offense wasn’t clicking. It could happen in another game the other way around. We just had to have the faith. I felt like we built that brotherhood right after that loss to Michigan State last year. It’s just love. I’m speechless.”
That kind of reaction is as much about preparation as anything. A win of this magnitude takes all nine units — and this one even took the tenth unit (the fans) — to get it done.
Ohio State, despite this game being soaked in chaos, was the team that remained calm and disciplined and found a way to win.
Remember when Michigan ran into punter Cameron Johnston, giving the ball back to Ohio State? The Wolverines would have started that possession on the OSU 28-yard line. Instead, the Buckeyes ran a few more plays and then Johnston uncorked a 60-yard bomb that was downed at the UM 6-yard line.
The next play? Pressure from Raekwon McMillan forced a contested throw from Speight, which was intercepted and returned 16 yards by safety Malik Hooker for a touchdown.
The Buckeyes, unlike the Wolverines, took advantage of the poor field position suffered by their opponent.
Rather than looking at the plays that were and were not made, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh chose to focus on the officials. At times he was talking to the refs as much as he was talking to anybody on his own sideline. He even drew an unsportsmanlike penalty, which gave OSU a first-and-goal at the UM 4-yard line instead of the 8-yard line.
What happens if Harbaugh doesn’t get that penalty? Who knows, but we do know that punching it in from the 4-yard line is a lot easier than punching it in from the 8-yard lien.
His own mistakes weren’t Harbaugh’s focus during or after the game, however.
“I’m bitterly disappointed with the officiating today,” he said. “That spot, the graphic display is the interference penalties. The one not called on us on Grant Perry, he clearly was being hooked before the ball got there, and the previous penalty the called on Delano Hill, the ball was uncatchable and by the receiver, so I’m bitterly disappointed in the officiating. I couldn’t make that any more clear. My view of the first down was it was that short.”
“Two penalties called all day,” he said when asked if his team deserved to win. “Multiple holding penalties let go, multiple false starts, and the official on my side that’s supposed to be watching that is concerned about whether our coaches are in the white or not in the white. Not on the field. Their coaches were on the field, practically In the huddle at times. Yeah, I’m bitter.”
If a coach is distracted during a game, it would stand to reason that his players could end up distracted as well. Contrast that with what Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was telling his players when they were down 17-7 late in the third quarter.
“That’s the only thing I kept stressing to the defense the entire time, going up and down the sidelines, saying ‘Do not lose your focus. Do not start to worry. Do not start to blame. Things are going to change and it’s a long game. Anything that’s worth anything doesn’t come easy.’ That’s what I kept saying to them, to have faith, have confidence, that things are going to change, but if you get your mindset out and you start blaming when it comes down to it, you’re going to have a tough situation.”
Fickell then took it one step further and compared the situation between how the Buckeyes handled their business and how Michigan handled theirs following J.T. Barrett’s pickup of the fourth-and-one in double overtime.
“Just like them, to be honest with you,” he said. “We get the fourth down and they’re complaining it’s a bad spot and this and that, and what happens the next play? (Curtis Samuel scores.) You’ve got to be able to handle those situations and that’s one of those things… I’m proud of these guys.”
The Buckeyes outgained Michigan 137-5 in offensive yards in the fourth quarter. In other words, Ohio State was able to handle the difficulty of the situation and maintain their focus. Michigan, on the other hand, lost focus throughout the afternoon.
Ultimately, it cost them the game, and will continue to cost them until they look in the mirror and find the real problem.