“The Game” is without a doubt one of the best rivalries in all of sports.
Both Michigan and Ohio State share a deep dislike for each other rooted in the two school’s excellence on the football field. Once known as the two powerhouses of the college football landscape, only one team has maintained that title.
The Buckeyes dominance has continued into the 21th century, especially in the rivalry game as they came into Saturday’s contest winners of 15 of the last 18 games and were riding a seven game winning streak in the rivalry. The optimistic thought for Michigan heading into the game was that maybe the inexperience of new Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and Michigan’s new found offensive rhythm could change the script.
A confident offense rolled into Saturday’s matchup led by quarterback Shea Patterson, who was playing the best football of his career and was fresh off back to back games of 300+ passing yards and 4+ touchdowns. The success from the previous two weeks carried over as Michigan’s offense was able to move the ball down the field with great success in the first half.
On the first possession of the game, Michigan marched 75 yards down the field in seven plays, capped off by a 22 yard end around from Giles Jackson for a touchdown. Quinn Nordin missed the extra point wide left that would open the gates for more mistakes later in the contest. Close to the end of the first quarter, Michigan drove 75 yards again, this time on only three plays, and completed the drive on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones on a slant route over the middle.
Despite the success of Michigan’s offense in the first, the mistakes and the unfocused efforts from earlier this season began showing up again for the Wolverines this game.
The Buckeyes started the second quarter with the ball. After Michigan defensive end Carlo Kemp received an unsportsmanlike penalty for untying and taking off J.K. Dobbins’ shoe, Ohio State moved into Michigan territory. A 41-yard pass completion to Garrett Wilson and 6 yard run from Dobbins made it 21-13 Buckeyes.
Down eight and deep into Ohio State territory at the 12 yard line, Patterson fumbled the snap and the Buckeye Robert Landers recovered at the Michigan 16.
On the ensuing Ohio State offensive possession, the Michigan defense stopped the Buckeyes and set up a 4th-and-4 scenario. Wolverine Khaleke Hudson jumped offside on what would’ve been an Ohio State punt. The penalty gave the Buckeyes offense new life with a first down.
Michigan was playing with fire as Fields hooked up with Garrett Wilson for a 47-yard bomb on a go route and, on the next play, Dobbins ran it in from five yards out to make it 28-13 Buckeyes.
Michigan’s offense had another strong drive reaching Ohio State’s five-yard line. But, they settled for a Nordin field goal after Peoples-Jones dropped a crucial touchdown pass that would’ve cut the lead to one score before half. Nordin’s 23-yard field goal cut Ohio State’s lead to 28-16 closing the first half.
Michigan simply couldn’t overcome that many mistakes against a team like Ohio State, especially with how their offense was operating. The Buckeyes’ offensive line was plowing the Wolverines’ defensive line off the ball every snap and Dobbins and Fields both took advantage. Dobbins was gashing the Wolverines on the ground, totaling 103 yards and three touchdowns, averaging an insane 6.1 yards per carry by halftime.
Fields and company utilized Dobbins’ success in the play action game to force Michigan’s safeties and corners to come down and then burn them deep; Fields threw for 200 yards and one touchdown in the first half.
Ohio State received to start the second half and picked up where they left off. Dobbins started the drive with a 41-yard run. Then, he caught a pass out of the backfield for 21 yards. Michigan was penalized for holding. Cam McGrone also hit Fields late out of bounds on the same play to move the ball deep into Michigan territory. Fields connected with K.J. Hill on a curl route in the endzone to push the Buckeyes lead to 35-16.
Buckeyes’ fans held their breath mid-third quarter when Fields left the contest after his own lineman was pushed into his knee. Fields returned a few plays later to make a Heisman type play. Flushed out of the pocket to his left, Fields threw a perfect ball with Michigan defenders closing in to connect with Garrett Wilson in the back of the endzone for a 30-yard score to make it 42-16, Buckeyes.
Michigan received a much needed break after Wilson muffed Brad Robbins’ punt and Wolverine Jake McCurry recovered at the Ohio State 26. Unfortunately, the drive stalled out in just three plays. Michigan was forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Nordin to trim the Ohio State lead to 42-19.
The Michigan defense was able to force a rare punt and the offense put together a nice drive as Hassan Haskins started to make his impact on the game with a 33-yard run. A few plays later, Haskins was set up as a quarterback in the wildcat and evaded a diving tackler to run in unscathed for a two-yard touchdown. The Wolverines had to go for two to cut the lead to a two score game and Haskins, lined up again as the wildcat quarterback. He bounced out to the left and stiff-armed Buckeye defenders for a successful two point conversion. It cut the Buckeye lead to 42-27 early in the fourth quarter.
The Michigan defense stood tall again and forced another punt to turn the ball back over to the offense. Faced with a pivotal 4th-and-1 at their own 29-yard line, Josh Gattis opted to go with Haskins in the wildcat again. Haskins took the snap and decided to go to his left, the Ohio State defense had blown it up, and Haskins was stuffed for a one-yard loss. Haskins missed a touchdown opportunity as there was a huge hole on the right side, led by his left guard Ben Bredeson. There were no defenders within 15 yards and Haskins would’ve gone untouched into the endzone.
Ohio State took over after the turnover on downs at the Michigan 28-yard line. They scored four plays later. Fields hit Austin Mack on a slant route over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown, which made it 49-27 Ohio State. It was the final nail in the coffin for the Wolverines.
Michigan turned it over on downs again in their own territory and a few plays later Dobbins burst out to the right sideline and into the endzone for a 33-yard scamper to reach the game’s final score of 56-27 Ohio State.
Urban Meyer’s departure and Day’s insertion had no effect on the outcome of this game or the rivalry. The same thing can be said for when Urban Meyer took over after Jim Tressel left. Ohio State has created a significant gap between them and the University of Michigan in terms of talent, coaching, and the overall culture of their program. Ohio State has recruited better, has a better coaching staff, and have not fallen off from a winning culture since the turn of the century.
Where does Michigan go from here? Jim Harbaugh has brought the Wolverines a long way from the five win seasons they endured under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. But, he cannot get over the hump to beat Ohio State (0-5 record, worse record for any Michigan head coach). He has closed the gap between the two schools, but the difference is still too great for Michigan to overcome anytime soon.
Although the Wolverines failed to beat their arch rivals, it was a nine win season in which the Wolverines showed drastic improvement. Michigan will look to improve to another 10 win season under Harbaugh in their bowl game, which will most likely be the Holiday Bowl on December 27 in San Diego, CA. against the Washington Huskies or the USC Trojans.