Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 2003

Looking Back is a Special Feature Highlighting
Key Rivalry Games by Jeff Cummins

The fifth and final installment of this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State takes us to 2003. Just a year before, Ohio State had defeated Michigan in a tightly contested game, before a partisan Ohio State crowd that was exceptionally intense. The Wolverines fought hard that day, but things just didn’t go their way.

Twelve months later, the Wolverines were poised for a rematch, fully aware that the 2003 version of “The Game” would be the 100th playing of the rivalry. By the time the Buckeyes arrived in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines were ready for them.

Michigan leaders John Navarre and Chris Perry remembered the previous year vividly. Despite playing a very good game, the Wolverines were not able to make the necessary plays at the necessary times. That was not going to happen again.

From the opening kickoff, the Wolverines were in control of the 2003 game. Well, almost. Ohio State started well, gaining eight yards on its first two plays. On 3rd down and 2 yards to go, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel threw to tight end Ben Hartsock, who was wrapped up immediately for no gain by Michigan safety Ernest Shazor, and the Buckeyes had to punt. The teams then traded a few possessions before Michigan took over at its own 11-yard line. Perry then gained a hard eight yards, zigging and zagging through the Ohio State defense, something he would do all day. A couple of plays later, Navarre and Perry connected on a screen pass for 11 yards, and suddenly the Wolverines were cooking. Near the end of the quarter, receiver Steve Breaston lined up under center and followed his right guard into the end zone on an option play to complete an 89-yard drive, giving the Wolverines a 7-0 lead that they would never relinquish.

Michigan extended its lead in the second quarter when Navarre connected with receiver Braylon Edwards, who broke a pair of tackles and went 64 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, the game had established its identity: The Wolverines would lead with Perry on the ground, and when the Buckeyes committed too many players to stop Perry, Navarre would answer with a big pass play. A few minutes later, Navarre and Edwards connected again on a 23-yard scoring pass to give the Wolverines a 21-0 lead at halftime.

In the second half, Ohio State began to mount a comeback, and by the time Lydell Ross went over from two yards out in the fourth quarter, Michigan’s lead was down to just one touchdown. At that point, the Wolverines went back to basics, putting their faith in Perry and the offensive line. It was a wise decision, as Perry ran 15 yards for a touchdown to extend Michigan’s lead to 35-21, and the Wolverines were never threatened after that.

The victory gave Michigan the Big Ten championship. The Wolverines fell to USC in the Rose Bowl, but their performance in the regular season, with convincing victories over Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, had firmly reestablished them as a national power.

Many thanks to ABC for the attached game broadcast. As always, we own nothing, and this blog post and video are intended strictly for the enjoyment of readers.

About Jeff Cummins

Jeff Cummins has written about football since 1998, including nine years with The Record of Hackensack, N.J. He frequently contributes feature stories to Touchdown Illustrated, an insert in the national college football game program, published by University Sports Publications, and he has also written the official pregame stories for the game programs of the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and the BCS National Championship game. He has written the preview story for the official program for the NHL Winter Classic at MIchigan Stadium, and numerous college basketball feature stories for College Hoops Illustrated, another game program insert published by University Sports Publications. In addition, he has written stories about theater, music, physical therapy, and newsletter marketing. He’s an avid Michigan football fan and long-time New York Jets season ticket holder, and he can be reached at jeffcummins@optonline.net.