By JON HALL
For the Star Beacon
ANN ARBOR, Mich. —
Having already punched their ticket to the Big Ten Conference Championship next Saturday in Indianapolis, it was only fitting that in meeting for the 110th time, the No. 3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0,8-0) and Michigan (3-5, 7-5) would go down to the final seconds.
The final key play had Buckeye fans found their national title hopes teetering on the brink. Somehow OSU had just enough in the tank against its rivals. In pinball-like fashion the Buckeyes snatched a 42-41 decision out of the hands of the Blue and Maize to extend the nation’s longest win streak to 24 in front of 113,511 at the Big House.
Another instant classic was made in the series as Buckeyes defensive back Tyvus Powell intercepted Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner on the Wolverines attempt to go for the win on a 2-point conversion after scoring with 32 seconds left. However, Ohio State came up big on defense on a day where there wasn’t much played by either side for the thrilling win.
It was Gardner who threw connected on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess to make it 42-41, but instead of kicking for the tie, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke called timeout and went for the lead.
As Hoke said afterward, “We played the game to win.”
OSU rode quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde as it has most of the season. It is why Ohio State remains unbeaten for at least one more week before tangling with Michigan State in the Big Ten title game this Saturday at 8:17 p.m.
The Michigan State game is essentially a play-in game to the BCA National Champion as No. 1 Alabama fell to No. 4 Auburn, 34-28.
Miller ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for 133 yards and two scores, Hyde ran for 226 yards to help Ohio State win for the ninth time in 10 games against Michigan.
With Miller and Hyde having rushed for over 100 yards it marks the first time Ohio State has had multiple 100-yard rushers vs. Michigan since 1967 (Jim Otis & Rudy Hubbard).
Ashtabula’s own and OSU coach Urban Meyer is now 2-0 versus Michigan (7-5, 3-5) and finished the conference with a perfect mark for the second-straight season, and the fourth time since 2002. Along with Michigan State (11-1, 8-0 who beat Minnesota 14-3, Saturday) prior to ’02 (Iowa and Buckeyes, 8-0), the last time the Big Ten had two teams finish the year with perfect conference records was in 1943 when Michigan and Purdue were 6-0.
“That was an instant classic,” Meyer said. “I want to congratulate our players. Someone had asked me what was more important — our 24th win (in a row) or our second win (in my tenure). There is no question to that. Our second win against our rivals. I want to give them credit. They have great players and great coaches. It was a battle. A great game-classic. I just have great respect for this rivalry.
“Instantaneously what I thought about is 1986-87 when coach (EarIe) Bruce was here and coached his final game. I had a flashback to what I have witnessed in person (as a graduate assistant under Bruce) and what I certainly did witness I also saw on TV.
“I think (former legends, Michigan) Coach (Bo) Schembechler and Coach (Woody) Hayes, who was in my generation when I grew up, would have looked out and seen two teams that played as hard as they possibly can. This is what this rivalry is all about.”
“C.J. Barnett was joking about how he was going to make a play and be on the HBO series (Greatest Rival in Sports No.1 all-time). So to go and make this play that was our season on the line,” Powell said. “So, 12-0, Gold Pants, and Big Ten Championship it just hit me — wow! Knowing what they were going to do it allowed playing with more confidence and you are able to move faster because you can anticipate what is going to happen.”
To think what the defense gave up in points at 41 is to gain some perspective — Ohio State defense was supposedly great in 2006, but allowed 39 points to Michigan. That’s why they call “The Game.”
Ranked No. 95 in total offense in the country, Michigan had great control in scheming with screens, options, end around to keep the defense honest.
“We were blown out on defense from playing too many guys and playing guys too many plays. I wanted to call time out to give them a deep breath,” Meyer said about the 2-point conversion the Wolverines tried. “I would have done the same thing (as Hoke did) no question. The offenses were in that kind of unstoppable mode. They would change at the line of scrimmage and passing the ball with high efficiency. That’s why I called the timeout and let our guys think about it. We stopped them.”
Michigan averages 234 passing yards a game. Their huge total of 451 in the are was due to Ohio State having an inordinate amount of missed tackles, out of position, and missed assignments by the Buckeyes. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner had been magnificent up until his fumble and last interception to end the game. An escape act for the most of the day and until Michigan had only had three turnovers in the last five games.
Gardner was 11 for 15 for 238 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Overall he was 32 of 45 for 451 yards and four scores, connecting nine times for 175 yards and a score to Jeremy Gallon (17-yards). He also ran for a 1-yard touchdown that gave Michigan the first lead in the shoot-out that went to halftime tied at 21.
“Gardner is an excellent thrower,” Meyer said. “Early in the season (today) he looked like he did against Indiana,.
“I have seen them throw the back screen. Michigan did a nice job of recognizing that and we did not do a very good job defending it.”
Shazier once again led the Buckeyes with 14 tackles (seven solo). Defensive back C.J. Barnett was credited with 11. All year long Gardner has worn jersey No. 98 in honor of Wolverines great Tom Harmon, who wore the number from 1938 to '40. Harmon won the Heisman Trophy in his final season.
In his last college game, on Nov. 23, 1940, Harmon powered Michigan to a 40-0 blasting of Ohio State. That afternoon Harmon scored three touchdowns, passing for two, kicked four PATs, punted three times for a 50-yard average, returned three punts for 81 yards, and stood out on defense. After nearly 59 minutes of play according to prior game stories, he received a standing ovation from the Ohio Stadium crowd.
Jeremy Gallon (5 catches for 137 yards in first half) and his hauling in an 84-yarder from Gardner tallied a team-high 175 yards on nine catches.
The Buckeyes lost starting right guard Marcus Hall and kick returner Dontre Wilson, while the Wolverines lost backup special teams linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone to ejections after all three players were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and had to leave the field after a skirmish.
Hall and Wilson appeared to throw punches. Jenkins-Stone tugged Wilson's helmet off and tossed it to the turf. This all happened after Wilson returned a kickoff 16 yards after Michigan scored to go up 21-14. At the 14:28 mark, punches were thrown and a melee ensued on the field with coaches chasing other key players away from more ejections. Sanctions to players after the fight will be up to the Big Ten office after an official’s written report is submitted, then further action if necessary.
“I don’t think we will lose guys next week but I didn’t see what (exactly) happened so...” Meyer said. “I was very disappointed in that. I don’t know where that came from. We had a little chat about that at half time and it is unacceptable.”
Hall was escorted to the Locker room and his behavior resulted in him flipping off the crowd. Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton was trying to get Hall off the field and into the tunnel as soon as possible after being dismissed from the game.
Thrown into the fire was 6-3, 295 Pat Eflein, a redshirt freshman who replaced Hall at right guard.
Hyde had averaged 156 yards while ripping off six straight 100-yard games, with an 8-yard average and 13 touchdowns. When games are in doubt, or need to be put away, the Buckeyes have leaned on their senior running back with smash mouth football.
Although it was his fumble that set up a Michigan’s 13-play, 41-yard tying scoring drive to make it 35-35.
“He’s a great leader,” Eflein said of Hyde. “He brings juice to the huddle and we were hyped up and he said it was my time. Once he gets rolling it is hard to stop us and him.”
“I was real disappointed with the fumble,” Meyer said. “He pulled through tackle I warned him a couple of times, as he got loose with the ball. We blocked them, and I thought (offensive coordinator Tom Herman did really good job because we made a lot of adjustments to try to get our perimeter running game. They did a great job taking that from us. I did not feel real comfortable about our throwing (Miller 6 for 15, 1 INT) and I should have been. They were playing real good pass defense. We were changing at the line of scrimmage from them. That’s why we went with the (running game) from the first quarter on.”
Hall is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.