Dienhart: Ohio State gets 'pulsating and heart-stopping' win vs. Michigan

Dienhart: Ohio State gets 'pulsating and heart-stopping' win vs. Michigan

Urban Meyer collapsed. He could take no more. He was face down on the turf of Ohio Stadium. Exhausted … and no doubt elated to have beaten Michigan … again.

“That’s an instant classic between two great teams,” said Meyer. “We knew going in it was going to be that way. That’s one of the best defenses we’ve ever gone against.”

Ohio State’s pulsating and heart-stopping 30-27 double-overtime win vs. Michigan adds another delicious chapter to an already illustrious rivalry steeped in lore. The Buckeyes domination in a series known simply as “The Game” continues, as they are 13-2 since 2001 and winning the last five meetings vs. U of M. The last time Michigan won in Columbus? In 2000, when the Wolverines took a 38-26 decision.

Now, Ohio State will have to wait and wonder if its 11-1 resume will be good enough to earn a playoff spot even without winning its division, as Penn State wrapped up the East title today with a win vs. Michigan State coupled with Michigan’s defeat. That sets up a Big Ten title game next Saturday between Penn State and Wisconsin.

There are some interesting “what if?” scenarios to think out. What if Penn State beats Wisconsin? Will both PSU and OSU get playoff spots? Could Ohio State get a playoff spot and Penn State be left out–even if the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten title and had beaten the Buckeyes in the regular season? If Wisconsin beats Penn State, it seems likely the Badgers and Buckeyes both would make the playoff, right? Stay tuned. This is gonna be interesting.

“I think we’re one of the top teams in the country,” said Meyer. “Once again, I don’t really know that. I go week to week, and I love my players.”

Ohio State was No. 2 in the most recent College Football Playoff poll, so it’s sitting pretty. And today’s result vs. Michigan (No. 3 in the CFP poll) is a nice feather in the cap of OSU, which won the national title in 2014. And the Buckeyes can thank their quarterback.

When the chips were down, Ohio State looked to J.T. Barrett. And, on this day, Barrett made plays when they had to be made.

“J.T. didn’t start out very good,” said Meyer. “We had some misfires. We weren’t playing very well. The first drive was great. I think we hit a field goal or something. We had some protection issues. And the pass game is a constant. It’s either protection issues or a misfiring, and I thought the receivers played decent. I know Parris (Campbell) had a drop. They just keep swinging. It’s a very, very good defense we faced.”

The junior had issues finding a rhythm as a passer, as he hit just 15-of-32 attempts for 124 yards with a pick. But he compensated with a big effort on the ground, running 30 times for 125 yards and a TD. Add it up, and that’s 249 yards of total offense for a Buckeye attack that had to fight and scratch for yards all day vs. a Michigan defense that is among the nation’s best.

“Been a part of some crazy football games here,” Barrett said. “That one was No. 1.”

Few will argue with that. Or that the fact that when it came time for the knockout punch, Barrett tossed the ball to the most electric player on the field: Curtis Samuel, who ambled in from 15 yards out to hit pay dirt for the winning TD in the second overtime.

Game over.

And Michigan’s Big Ten East title hopes also were over. The Wolverines needed to win to take the division and advance to the Big Ten title game. Alas, Michigan will have to wait another season to try to win the program’s first Big Ten crown since 2004. But the Wolverines still could land in the Rose Bowl, which would be a nice destination in Jim Harbaugh’s second season and a place Michigan hasn’t been since the 2006 season.

This will be a tough one for Michigan to swallow, as there was some debate on whether Barrett picked up a key first down on the play prior to Samuel’s winning score in the second OT.

“That was not a first down,” Harbaugh said. “I’m bitterly disappointed with the officiating today.”

Harbaugh was a cartoon of emotions most of the game, at one time drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a sideline outburst (watch it here) as Michigan was whistled for seven penalties compared to just two for Ohio State. But a poor running game and turnovers hurt Michigan.

The Wolverines received a lift from the return of Wilton Speight, who missed the previous game. John O’Korn quarterbacked Michigan to a win vs. Indiana last week. But O’Korn didn’t impress, hitting just 7-of-16 passes for 59 yards in a 20-10 win in his first start for the Wolverines.

Speight provided a boost on this day, a day when yards were difficult to come by. He staked Michigan to a 10-7 halftime lead, guiding the Wolverines to the go-ahead TD late in the second quarter.

For the game, Speight hit 23-of-36 passes for 219 yards with two touchdown, two picks and a lost fumble. Those three turnovers proved critical, as one of his interceptions was returned for a TD by Malik Hooker (watch it here), the seventh pick six of the season for Ohio State.

“It’s a bummer, you know, knowing I let the defense down,” Speight said.

Still, Speight did all he could. Michigan’s inability to run the ball hurt, as the Wolverines had 43 carries for 91 yards led by De’Veon Smith’s 60 yards on 21 carries. The long run was 16 yards.

The build-up for this game was immense. The clash between the Nos. 2 and 3 teams dovetailed perfectly with the 10th anniversary of the epic meeting between these rivals in 2006, when No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan, 42-39. The Buckeyes would go on to lose the BCS title game that season to Florida, 41-14. And that was a Gator team coached by Urban Meyer.

This year’s clash was the second between Meyer and Harbaugh in what’s shaping up as blood feud that may reach the same hallowed proportions as the 10 Year War between Woody and Bo in the 1970s. This year’s meeting is one those two icons could appreciate.

“I’ve said that many, many times,” said Meyer. “I’m very humbled to be a part of it. And you can’t ask for better efforts. They have great players; we have great players. They’re a very well-coached team and so are we. And it’s good for the country to see the Big Ten in action like that.”

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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