Saturday marked the 113th edition of the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry known simply as “The Game.”
As rivalries go, this one ranks as one of the big ones. It’s the 14th-longest Division 1 rivalry. It doesn’t have a headline-grabbing name, like Bedlam (OK vs OK State), Backyard Brawl (Pitt vs WVU), or 100 Miles of Hate (Middle Tennessee vs Western Kentucky). There’s no trophy, like Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the winner of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game, or the Old Oaken Bucket for the Indian-Purdue winner, or the Governor’s Cup (three different games). This one is all about bragging rights.
Michigan leads the series 58-48-6, although that record includes the 2010 OSU win that the school vacated.
Records don’t much matter in The Game though.
OSU is currently in the middle of a 5-year win streak. Prior to that, they had a 6(7) game streak. Michigan has the longest streak, winning 9 straight in the beginning of the series, including 13 of the first 15.
But records don’t matter much in The Game.
Three times in the 90s, the Buckeyes entered the game undefeated, and Michigan beat them. The game that kicked off the Ten-Year-War saw Michigan end OSU’s 22-game winning streak. Four times in the early 70s, the Wolverines came to The Game without a loss. The Buckeyes won three of those.
I had high hopes this season. Coach Harbaugh has done a terrific job turning the team around. UM had some atrocious records in the last 7 years, including three losing seasons. Harbaugh has achieved 10 wins in both of his first two seasons. We came into The Game this year ranked #3, facing the #2 ranked Buckeyes.
I had high hopes.
Michigan has played pretty well this season. They were 10-1 coming into The Game, having lost to Iowa on a walk-off field goal that was eerily similar to the UM-Iowa game 30 years prior, when Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback. As a result of the 1985 game, 3 of the top 4 ranked teams lost in one day. The same thing happened in 2016.
Quarterback Wilton Speight got hurt at the end of the Iowa game. Backup John O’Korn turned in a respectable performance against Indiana the following week. Rumors had Speight out for the season with a broken collarbone, but the suspicion and hope among the Wolverine faithful was that Harbaugh was resting him for The Game.
Living in Oklahoma without cable TV, I don’t get to watch many Big Ten games. But this was The Game, and it’s traditionally on ABC, so I settled in with my traitorous son in his OSU shirt. I should point out here that I grew up in SE Ohio, and regularly endured the grief of kids who said, “You live in Ohio. You should root for the Buckeyes.” I’d ask them though who their favorite pro football team was, and it was never one of the two Ohio-based franchises. Odd, that.
The first quarter was almost stereotypically defensive, and I thought of the Ten-Year-War’s “Three yards and a cloud of dust” mentality that pervaded the Big 10 at the time. OSU missed a short field goal attempt, the teams traded punts, then Michigan made a 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Then with 4:03 left in the first half, Malik Hooker picked off Speight and ran it in for a touchdown. Speight came into the game having thrown only 4 interceptions all season. He usually has a good eye and a great arm, and can thread the needle when he has to.
The Wolverines responded with an 11-play drive for a touchdown, leading 10-7 at the half.
I remarked several times that the Michigan defense seemed to have J. T. Barrett’s number. As the half went on, he looked less and less confident. Rattled, even.
Jabrill Peppers’ interception to begin the third quarter probably didn’t help Barrett’s attitude. Peppers has been a terrific player the last two years, and I’m sure he’s going to go pro this season. He’s played both sides of the ball in multiple games, and last year played 6 different positions. OSU seemed to be keyed in on him offensively this year though. He only had 4 carries for four yards.
Speight managed a 40-yard drive down to the Ohio State 1 yard line, where he fumbled the snap on 2nd and goal. Ohio State wasn’t able to capitalize on the turnover though, and Speight recovered well, finding Khalid Hill for an 8-yard touchdown pass two minutes later.
On the next Michigan possession though, Jerome Baker picked off Speight again, returning the interception 22 yards to the Michigan 13. Two Michigan penalties gave the Bucks first-and-goal from the 4, and they ran it in two plays later.
Two interceptions for 14 points.
With the score at 17-14 Michigan, OSU marched down the field to the Michigan 23, where Tyler Durbin completed his first field goal of the three he tried, sending the game to overtime for the first time ever.
I was on pins and needles at this point. All I could think about as I watched the game literally on the edge of my seat was how much my dad would have enjoyed this game. One of the things he and I shared was a love of Michigan football. Games like this always make me miss him more.
I would happily accept an ugly OT win. I just wanted a win, especially in Columbus.
It was not to be though. The teams traded touchdowns, then Michigan kicked a field goal, and OSU scored a touchdown, winning 30-27.
At his post-game presser, Harbaugh went on a rant about the officiating. His two main complaints involved the spot on OSU’s game-winning drive, and a third-quarter unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his sideline behavior.
When I watched the 4th-down play, I didn’t think Barrett made it. The officials ruled that he did, and the play was reviewed, and upheld. I saw multiple replays that day, and none were conclusive enough to rule that he didn’t make it, so the play had to stand. I’ve seen the overhead view since then, and it’s pretty clear the ball made it across the 15-yard-line, so while it’s a bitter loss, that’s life, Coach.
And Coach? That headache you felt during the presser? That was the ghosts of Bo, Bump, Fielding, and Fritz giving you multiple Gibbs Slaps. I think you went a little too far in the press conference.
I think the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is less clear. Michigan was called for offsides with Ohio State in the red zone. Harbaugh responded by tossing his play sheets in the air. Right after that, he threw his headset on the ground. It’s my understanding that that’s when the flag was thrown. I’m not sure that he was warned for his behavior, and at any rate, coaches throw stuff all the time. As long as it doesn’t end up on the field, I don’t see the issue. I think he was more upset at his guys than at the officials.
So Coach was focused on the spot of the ball, thinking that OSU had failed to convert the fourth down, and that the game should have ended there.
But let’s look back at Speight’s mistakes. He got picked twice, and lost a fumble. That’s fourteen points for OSU, and seven lost points for the Wolverines. That would have made the score 24-3 at the end of regulation if everything else held true.
Those mistakes lost the game, Coach. Not the officiating or the spot. Give credit and blame where it’s due. Urban Meyer said that was the best defense the Buckeyes had faced all season. That’s a huge compliment, especially from him. You had Barrett rocked back on his heels for most of 4 quarters. Unfortunately, that’s not enough when you’re facing a team like the Buckeyes.
So now the counter climbs well past 1,800 days since the Wolverines have beaten Ohio State. Next year in Ann Arbor, we’ll face them without receiver Jake Butt, and almost certainly without multiple-threat Jabrill Peppers. We’re also losing most of the defense that Coach Meyer complimented, and a huge chunk of a great offensive line.
362 days until we see the next edition of The Game. But as I said last year, “I have been, and always will be, a Michigan fan. My loyalty comes not through geography, but through my father, a 2-time alum, and will not be changed by a win-loss record.”
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