Football The Rivalry

Notes on an Instant Classic in The Rivalry

COLUMBUS — Ohio State defeated Michigan in two overtimes by a final of 30-27 on Saturday in what is sure to be a long-remembered game in the storied rivalry between OSU and Michigan. Curtis Samuel scored the winning points on a 15-yard touchdown run.  The OSU win left Urban Meyer undefeated in The Rivalry and Jim Harbaugh winless in The Rivalry.

You most likely saw the game, so there isn’t a whole lot about the game itself that you don’t already know, but there are probably a few things about this year’s rendition of The Game that are almost always true and proved to be true this year.  There were also few things that maybe you didn’t notice as the game unfolded.

Yeah, there’s going to be some clichés, but facts are facts.

Running the Ball wins The Game:  This has been the truth in The Game forever, and it was true this year. Ohio State ran for 206 yards,  Michigan 91.  OSU’s winning score came on a 15-yard run by Samuel, and the biggest single play of the game (most explosive) was a 41-yard run by J.T. Barrett in the fourth quarter.  The team that was most effective running the ball won the game.

Stopping the run wins The Game:  This may seem like a restatement of the above, but not really.  It’s possible for both teams to run the ball well and kind of offset each other’s advantage.  Stopping the run has always been huge in The Game, and this year was no exception.  Michigan managed just 91 yards on the ground. At crunch time in overtime when they really needed yardage they were a one-dimensional football team and got beat.

Speaking of One-dimensional: For much of the game the Buckeyes were one-dimensional on offense. They couldn’t throw it worth a hill or beans. In the fourth quarter and in overtime, however, they found some balance in the offense and began moving the ball both on the ground and in the air. In the end, they found offensive balance when they needed it, the Wolverines never did.

Turnovers are critical:  The Wolverines turned the ball over three times, the Buckeyes once.  Two of Michigan’s turnovers led directly to OSU touchdowns after the pick-six by Malik Hooker and interception by Jerome Baker.  Michigan’s fumble at the goal line going in stopped a scoring drive.  The Wolverines failed to capitalize on OSU’s only turnover, an interception of a tipped pass. Turnovers, and the ability to capitalize on them or play over them, were critical.

The 10th Unit was Effective: The OSU crowd was incredible and Ohio Stadium has never been louder. Michigan quarterback Will Speight said after the game that his fumble at the goal line was caused by crowd noise. It was so loud that the Michigan offense could not hear the snap count well and that led to his fumble that thwarted the promising Michigan drive.

Playing “clean” in The Game pays:  Not turning the ball over is a part of playing clean, but so is avoiding costly penalties. Michigan drew 7penaltiesfor 59 yards, the Buckeyes two for six yards.  One of Michigan’s penalties was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on head coach Jim Harbaugh that set up an easy OSU touchdown.  Composure and discipline always pay in The Game.  This year was no exception.

Defense Wins Championships:  There were two championship-caliber defenses on the field. Michigan’s defense acquitted itself very well, Ohio State’s a little better.  The OSU defense surrendered 310 yards to Michigan, Michigan gave up 330 to Ohio State. The biggest difference came in the area of big plays. The Buckeye defense produced three turnovers and a touchdown.  Michigan’s defense produced one turnover and no points.  When the game was over Ohio State was the co-champion of the eastern division of the Big 10.  Michigan was an also ran.

Officiating is what it is: Despite the machinations of Jim Harbaugh after the game the officials did not determine the outcome of the game. Did the officials miss any calls? Of course they did. They do their best, but some calls get missed in every game.  That goes both ways during the course of a game.  It always does and evens out.  If you get a bad call you get a bad call. Strap it up and play the next play.  OSU did a much better job with this than Michigan.

Playing Tight Will Kill You:   Jim Harbaugh clearly tightened up in the second half. He got conservative with a lead and the Wolverine offense nearly disappeared.  Urban Meyer went the other way. He rolled the dice, sometimes successfully, sometime not, but he was out there slugging from start to finish.  The unsuccessful fake punt was a chance he took that didn’t work out, but the Buckeyes were two of three on fourth down conversions including a critical conversion on the game-winning drive in overtime.  Meyer also stayed the course in the passing game even when it looked like there was no hope for it. At the end of three quarters OSU had a total of 57 passing yards.  It would have been easy to abandon the pass, but Meyer didn’t panic.  OSU stuck with it, found some passing success in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and ended the game with 124 yards passing.

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight was probably the MVP for both teams: Speight played both courageously and at times brilliantly for the Wolverines.  He overcame an injury to start the game and play, and at times carried his team with his passing game.  He completed 23 of 36 for 219 yards and two touchdowns.  As good as he was at times, his three turnovers led to two OSU touchdowns and stopped one promising Michigan drive at the goal line.  As much as he was a nemesis for the Buckeyes, at critical times he helped them out big time.

J. T. Barrett is a winner:  Barrett didn’t have his best game, but he avoided the big mistake and when the Buckeyes needed a play at crunch time to win, Barrett made it. For three quarters there were Buckeye fans who would have strangled him, but when the dust settled he led his team to the W, and that’s all that matters.  He did just enough in the passing game and made critical plays with his legs, but most of all avoided the big mistake.

The OSU linebackers played their best game: Michigan was held to less-than 100 yards rushing and much of the credit for that goes to the OSU linebacking trio of Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker and Chris Worley.  McMillan had 16 tackles, Baker 15 and Worley 11.  That’s a whopping 42 tackles by linebackers.  They also accounted for a sack, a TFL and an interception that led directly to an OSU score.

The Ohio State sports information department supplied the following additional notes on the game.

• Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer improved to 165-28 in his career, continuing to hold the highest winning percentage among active coaches with at least 10 years of FBS coaching experience at .855.

• The attendance of 110,045 broke the Ohio Stadium attendance record previously set at 108,975 against Michigan State Nov. 21, 2015.

• The game went to overtime for the first time in 113 meetings between Ohio State and Michigan.

• Ohio State improved to 10-2 when trailing at the half under Meyer.

• Meyer is 19-1 in the month of November at Ohio State and 5-0 vs. Michigan at Ohio State.

• Meyer improved to a perfect 8-0 in his career in overtime games. 

• Ohio State won its fifth-consecutive game against the Wolverines, one shy of the school record of six-consecutive wins against Michigan from 2004-2009.

 Malik Hooker’s 16-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter was his program-record third of the season and third of his career. Neal Colzie previously held the season record with two interception returns for touchdowns in 1973 while Hooker and Colzie tied nine other Buckeyes for the career record. 

• The interception return for a touchdown was the Buckeyes’ seventh of the season, marking the most nationally.

 J.T. Barrett’s third-quarter interception was his first since the third quarter of the Buckeyes’ game at Wisconsin, marking 207 passes thrown without an interception.

 Mike Weber’s one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter marked his team-high ninth rushing score of the year. Barrett later tied him with a seven-yard touchdown run for his eighth rushing touchdown of the year.