Michigan entered Ohio’s Horseshoe Saturday as a slight underdog. They were determined to halt the Buckeyes progress toward another appearance in the Big Ten East Division Championship game, and to enable an appearance of their own. As we all know by now, that agenda that will have to be visited again next year to be conquered by the Wolverines.
Both the Buckeyes and Wolverines entered the game sporting equivalent Big Ten Records, both had lost but a single Big Ten game for the season, and they had both lost no other game. Both had their sights set on prevailing in what portended to be a close game with the ability to run and stop the run as the key to victory, and that was the way it turned out. M rushed for 91-yards and the Bucks for 206. D. Smith was the leading M rusher, bulling for only 60 net yards on 21 carries for a 2.9-yard average and a long of 16. The OL was not consistent. Again, it could not move the chains in crunch time in regulation to protect a lead. The OL was not at its best in this game.
It was as memorable a game as any in the memorable series between Bo and Woody that was called the “The Ten Year War”, except their first one. That Bo victory stands out over all others. Some called it “The Game”, and in 2006 the series was designated by ESPN as the “Greatest North American Sports Rivalry”. Today’s knuckle fest did not defile that caption.
In this year’s meeting, the Buckeyes featured one of the most talented QBs in the Big Ten, JT Barrett. Michigan featured a recovering from injury Wilton Spieght. Speight was day to day pregame, and was at the throttle for the first snap. He did not play poorly, nor did he seem hurt, but unfortunately, he was not mistake free either. Speight threw a pair of critical interceptions and fumbled. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett made fewer mistakes, and had a better day rushing, but poorer passing. He gained 124-net yards rushing on thirty carries, with one run for a TD. He was intercepted once (by Peppers).
Wilton threw for 219-yards on 23 completions, but did not contribute significant yardage rushing, and of course the errors changed the game. This is not to say that the loss was is all Wilton’s fault. The OL demonstrated a lack of protection, could not move the ball in crunch time. Wilton has the makings of a steady contributor as he gets better and better, a bright future. As always, this was a team defeat.
Michigan had the multi-positional Jabril Peppers playing defense and sometimes offense, and again excelling on special teams. Ohio State featured the multi position offensive threat, H Back Curtis Samuels. Samuels scored the winning overtime TD on a 15-yard run.
The two teams seemed remarkably similar. TOSU was named the Number Two team in the country. Michigan was denominated the number three or four team in the country. Only once before in the long history of “The Game” had they met with such lofty ratings or better. In that one the Bucks prevailed and Saturday the Bucks prevailed again.
THE GAME IS AN ANNUAL HABIT: The Wolverines versus the Buckeyes is an annual habit established in 1918, but its long history started in 1897. It provided some little solace to Wolverine fans, that their Wolverines had established only a 27-26-2 record in Columbus. More that their over-all record against the Bucks was 58-48-6. Saturday was the combatant’s 113th meeting.
Fans knew this one would be a “slobberknocker” (a Harbaugh bon mot describing contested, and hard hitting football), and Saturday’s game was just that.
SOME M PROBLEMS SATURDAY: Among the Wolverine’s trouble’s Saturday, were problems protecting the football on offense-a Speight fumble at the OSU two was recovered by the Buckeyes. Wilton threw 2 harmful interceptions. After the game, he said one was because his arm was hit. He was under a lot of defensive pressure at all times.
There were stupid penalties. A face mask by Cole ruined a drive. Harbaugh assisted OSU when he drew a 15-yarder for tossing a paper after a series of happenings, especially the call on the prior play, perplexed him. He tossed what I presume to be a play sheet well onto the field, and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, half the distance. This helped enable the Buckeyes second regulation TD when M was leading 17-7. TOSU did not need the help of a shortened field, and took full advantage. That TD was big, a turning point.
I do not mean to chide Coach Harbaugh, although he should remain poised. He was fuming regarding the prior play, the call on Hurst, and it seemed to me to be a poor call. His rage was understandable. The tossing of the play sheet, if that is what it was he tossed, was not so much.
THE GAME WAS BOTH UNIQUELY AND ALMOST EQUALLY IMPORTANT TO BOTH TEAMS THIS SEASON.: The primary reason was that both teams were avidly pursuing the same Big Ten Championship role, plus earning a passport to the further football glories available by capturing eligibility for a spot in the four team college football playoff. Each desperately needed a victory to continue to live those dreams of a crack at the Big Ten East representative spot in the Big Ten Championship game, and later a crack at a national championship play-off game. While OSU shared the goals above, their situation was unique in that OSU lost to PSU earlier in the season. PSU beat MSU so they may be the East Division Champion. Michigan, while they could not take advantage of it, could have controled their own fate with a victory. That is now gone with the wind.
There was only one other time in the long history of the storied rivalry when they both have been ranked in the top three. That was in 2006 when the Buckeyes nipped the Wolverines at home. There have been numerous occasions when an undefeated season was pending and lost, as one side or the other bestowed a loss on the undefeated. Though very satisfying if your team won, they did not approach Saturday’s game in importance.
You can roll out all the clichés that you can think of for this one. It was for all the marbles-the whole enchilada-a shot at the Big Ten Title- a shot to be in the mix for a crack at the national championship-a chance to turn the rivalry tide. Cliché or not all were true.
MICHIGAN HAD A LITTLE MORE AT STAKE: Also at stake was the fact that a win was an important to remedy M’s four game (now five game) losing streak to those below the border. The Buckeyes have now won eleven of the last twelve. A continuation of this was unacceptable to the Michigan contingent, but is the stern reality.
In the spring, fall, and since, fans thought that in order to have a successful season, the Wolverines had to beat both MSU and TOSU. It was thought they couldn’t afford to leave the job half done. It is now time to reevaluate and adjust to the facts. Maybe the good thing is, we will not now have to wonder if we can spank the Badgers twice.
SPECIAL TEAMS SUCCESS SOMETIMES SEALS CHAMPIONSHIPS AND PAVES THE WAY FOR SUCCESSFUL HEISMAN TROPHIES SEEKERS: You don’t have to look back too far in Michigan Football lore to remember M WR Desmond Howard streaking 93-yards to six for a game capping and winning score to down the Buckeyes in 1991. He famously struck a Heisman pose in the end zone after striking a blow to the Bucks, and at the same time sealing a win. He obviously struck a chord with the Heisman Committee as he won the award.
In 1997, DB Charles Woodson provided a similar 77-yard return to cap a whipping of the Buckeyes. He also won the Heisman, and obtained a shared of the national title in a later Rose Bowl victory, as the Wolverines were undefeated.
Both the Wolverine’s need and the big stage were there for Jabril Peppers Saturday. He played an extraordinary defensive game, and had a needed and timely 44-yard KO return, but the super play to elevate his Heisman chances was not there. His offensive chances were limited in productivity. I thought we might see him throw or grab a pass.
Personal accolades certainly weren’t on Pepper’s mind Saturday, but this probably was his last appearance on the biggest regular season Michigan Football stage. He is sure to be wearing different colors in a different football league at the next level next year, so I believe this was his last chance against the Buckeyes.
Kenny Allen won accolades for special teams Saturday. He kicked the ball out of the end zone routinely, and hit a pair of FGs. He routinely provided the field positon needed to stymie the Bucks for much of regulation by landing four of seven punts within the Ohio twenty. Fortunately the OSU kicker missed two FGs. which if made, would have prevented, overtime.
THE WOLVERINES v THE BUCKNUTS 2016: TOSU deferred and M received. In the first quarter, the Wolverines could move the football but not into any zone named red or end. They punted twice, but had the ball to end the quarter, and continued a drive into the second quarter.
The Bucks had a 10 play 72-yard drive, but stalled in the 1st quarter, but missed a 37-yard FG.
It seemed the two heavyweights were sparring all quarter without landing punches- scoring punches that is. There was no score in the first.
Early in the second Kenny Allen polished off a 12 play, 53-yard drive by making a 28-yard FG. M led 3 to zip.
Although 3-zip was an obviously fragile lead, at least the Wolverines were on the board first.
Both teams traded punts, but neither scored in the second quarter until Speight threw an interception that was returned by the Bucks 16-yards for six at around the 4 minute mark of the quarter.
Speight quickly recovered from his miscue, and engineered an 11-play 66-yard TD drive. Kahlid Hill scored from two out on the Wolverine’s third attempt for short, and the Wolverines had a 10-7 lead at the half. Several passes to Darboh breathed life into the offense, the long being of 9-yards. The offense seemed to have come to life. The Wolverines scored with 6 seconds left in the half, and thus held a 10-7 lead at the break.
The defense had played an admirable 1st half, pitching a shutout, and limiting the Bucks to nine yards after their opening drive.
The third quarter started with both teams offensively stalling. As so often has happened this season Jabrill Pepper got them jump started one way of another, this time with his first career interception. His return of 11-yards took it to the OSU 42. M got to the 1, but Speight, under center, then fumbled the center exchange. The Bucks recovered.
The Bucks then returned the favor when they tried a fake punt.
M defender Jordan Glasgow nailed the punter short of the first down at the OSU 22. This five play M scoring drive ended with an eight yard side line pass to Armara Darboh for a significant first down, and a couple of plays later Kahlid Hill snagged another 8-yarder for the TD. It was M-17 and OSU-7. The Bucks had not yet scored an offensive TD, and things were looking hopeful.
Speight’s second interception at the M 35 reversed the momentum. The Wolverines assisted the Buckeyes with an offside penalty. Immediately afterward, Harbaugh went over the top in demonstrating against the call on Hurst. It was a suspect foul, looked like a bad call, looked like Hurst was enticed, but coach was called for an unsportsmanlike at a critical time. That resulted in half the distance to the goal to put the ball at the Michigan 4. After two rushes, the score was M-17, OSU-14.
It was too close for comfort in the fourth. But the Wolverine’s kept clawing and a long OSU drive turned into another missed FG. M had stopped the Bucks at the two. The FG miss was for 21-yards.
Then came an offensive malaise the M Football team has seen too often this season. With a win at stake they again could not get a first down, couldn’t move the chains at all in regulation crunch time.
The Bucks moved 77-yards and produced a 23-yard FG to tie it at 17. I was chagrined that the defese could not stop this drive with so much at stake. It was into overtime.
THE FIRST OT: OSU made quick work of obtaining their first overtime TD. Curtis and Barrett ran it in’ using just two plays for Barrett to score. M-17, OSU-24.
M answered with a series of short Smith runs and a crossing pattern to Darboh for the 5-yard score and it was tied again at 24-24.
THE SECOND OT: M got the ball back again and got it to the Ohio 19. A slant pattern to Grant Perry was incomplete. Seemed to me he was interfered with, but no call. Kenny Allen produced 3 points on a 37-yard FG. M-20, OSU-24.
On last play of their 5-play drive, OSU’s Samuel Curtis ended any suspense by rushing 15-yards for the winning score. Whether or not a Barrett run managed a fourth down first down conversion during that drive was at issue. The call on the field was first down, and as usual it was sustained as that in review. Had the Bucks been stopped there, the game would have been a Wolverine victory. A good call? Not from what I see in the video. I don’t believe he made it.
OSU had the necessary, winning OT TD. Game over. M-27, OSU-30.
SOME TAKE AWAY: The Wolverine’s will watch the play-off picture, and hope to be included, even though it does not seem likely. Obviously they no longer control their own fate. MSU beat Penn State, so OSU’s chance of being nominated is not likely, since Penn State beat OSU this season and so owns the tiebreaker.
This loss will really be felt by this team, even more so than with the fans. We and they will have recovery time. It will be December before which Bowl game chooses the Wolverines is made known.
The Wolverines completed the regular season with a limp, with many of their professed dreams unfulfilled. Now the focus must be on producing an 12-2 season and nothing less.
The team and its fans have had very few losses over the past two years, but this one stings, and will for a while.
Let’s take in the Bowl game, and be solaced that this is a rising program, and will continue to be a rising program. We will often have the Wolverine’s in the hunt.