They say all good things must come to an end. It sure would have been great if this wasn't one of them, but alas, it was.
It only took 60 minutes out of a year to define the entire Buckeye season.
60 minutes for a lifetime of memories.
60 minutes of immortality.
The Buckeyes and the Wolverines met for the 108th time, and for the first time that I can remember since Ohio State Football became my religion, the Wolverines were favored to win by 8.5 points.
It’s been a bittersweet season for the men of the scarlet and gray, but nothing that had transpired over the last 12 months meant a thing as they took the field against their hated rivals.
It was a chance for the outgoing Seniors to add to their collection of gold pants. It was an opportunity to silence the critics, and an audition for Coach Fickell to remain on Urban Meyer’s staff going into 2012. It was also, thankfully, Jim Bollman’s swan song.
The offense, led by Braxton Miller, showed the world why Ohio State never rebuilds, but only reloads as he connected on 14 of 25 passes for 235 yards and 2 TDs with 1 interception. Miller added another 100 yards on the ground with a touchdown, while Boom only managed 37 yards on 15 carries, but added a touchdown.
DeVier Posey finally got in his own touchdown celebration, his first and only of the season, but it was not enough to overcome the Michigan offense led by Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
The past three weeks, the Buckeyes had fallen into a 10-0 hole, and were unable to dig themselves out against Purdue and Penn State. This Saturday, however, saw the polar opposite.
Whether it was that Urban replaced Bollman’s bucket of salt cod with an actual playbook, or whether Michigan came out with a little too much swagger, it didn’t matter as the Buckeyes came out aggressive and bombing the football all over Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines won the toss and deferred to the second half. As the teams lined up for the opening kickoff, the Big House crowd of more than 114,000 whipped themselves into a frenzy.
Ohio State was determined not to fall into a hole against the hated rivals from up north, and it was evident on just the first drive as Braxton Miller completed passes to three different receivers, the last a 54 yard floater to a wide open Corey “Philly” Brown for quick touchdown.
The Silver Bullets, much maligned the past few games for their flat play, came out swinging, forcing Michigan into a three and out on their first drive. The offense came back on the field after the punt was not returned by Jordan Hall, but were forced into their own three and out with Ben Buchanan punting from out of his own end zone.
After a run by Toussaint picked up 6 yards, Robinson showed why he is probably the most hated Wolverine since Mike Hart as he broke through the line on a QB keeper for a 41 touchdown run. The TD knotted it up at 7.
Someone must have replaced Jim Bollman as the offensive coordinator before the game, because Ohio State fans finally saw some play action fakes, coupled with throws on first down.
But the penalties were what doomed the Buckeyes from the get go as on the next drive Zach Boren was flagged for holding, Jack Mewhort false started, and Mike Adams was flagged for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety, giving the Wolverines their first lead against the Buckeyes since 2007.
After the kickoff was fair caught at midfield, the teams got a little chippy, as these two teams are wont to do. Something in the scrum gave the Wolverines some life, as they marched the rest of the field and Denard hit Junior Hemingway for a touchdown to give UM the 16-7 lead.
Fumbilitis was the story of the first quarter, as the ball squirted out of Jordan Hall’s hands on the kickoff return, only to be tipped and recovered by Posey. After a three and out by the Buckeyes, Denard fumbled as he was hit by Orhian Johnson, but quickly fell on the ball.
After the Michigan timeout due to equipment malfunctions (apparently in addition to not tying his shoelaces, Denard has problems with his helmet), John Simon showed why he’ll be the beast on the D-Line next year as he got into the back field for a coverage sack.
The field position game was swinging back and forth, as the ensuing punt was fair caught by Hall at the 45, only to be pushed back an additional 15 yards due to an unnecessary roughness penalty on Dominic Clarke.
Two plays later, Braxton Miller demonstrated why people compare him to Terrelle Pryor as he broke tackles and ankles on his way to a 24 yard pickup on third and 7. His efforts went largely for naught, as the Buckeyes settled for a 47 yard field goal from Drew Basil to but the lead to 6.
Denard’s case of the fumbles struck again, as he lost the ball on a designed run. The recovery went to Travis Howard, but the elation of the Buckeye faithful was short lived as Ryan “Beastmode” Shazier, starting in place of the injured Andrew Sweat, had to be helped off the field.
The cheers came back in short order for the Scarlet and Gray, as just three plays after the fumble recovery, Braxton ran in for his only rushing touchdown of the day, once again making insane cuts and jukes on his way to the end zone. The Buckeyes regained the lead, albeit a single point, with the TD run.
The Ohio State defense, led by Simon and Shazier, faltered mightily on the next drive, allowing Toussaint and Robinson to gobble up 56 yards on the ground en route to Robinson’s second QB keeper touchdown of the day. Once again, the lead had changed and the Buckeyes were back down by 6.
The Ohio State fans watching from the unfriendly confines of Michigan Stadium and at home had to have mixed feelings at the offensive play calling from Jim Bollman. On the one hand, the Bucks were coming out much more aggressive than they had in any previous game other than Wisconsin, but on the other hand we all wondered where the play actions, bubble screens, and outlet passes were the last month.
But checkdowns and passes the flat were the order of the day for Miller and the Buckeyes. The true freshman quarterback showed tremendous poise in registering only the 4th 200/100 game in Buckeye history. The other three came from Troy Smith (1) and Terrelle Pryor (2). That’s pretty elite company for a Buckeye QB to be included in.
The “basics” of football passing had eluded the Buckeyes for the better part of 2 months, but against That Team Up North, they worked wonders as Miller hit Posey in the flat for a gain of 9, hit Boom with a checkdown for 5, and Hall for another gain of 5 on a screen. All of this set up the streak toss to Posey, a 43 yard beauty that Posey fell into the end zone with. The Buckeyes retook the 1 point lead after the Basil point after, 24-23.
On the final drive before halftime, Denard was shaken up as he got a chalk pebble in his eye and Devin Gardner had to enter the game in a non-wildcat formation. Gardner handed off to Toussaint for about 2 yards before the clock wound down to zero in the first half.
At halftime, Braxton Miller was already having his best game of the year so far with two passing touchdowns on 127 yards and a rushing TD with 59 yards.
If fumbles were the story of the first half, then injuries were the story of the second. Just three plays into the second half, safety Orhian Johnson was rolled up by Jonathan Hankins, and had to exit the game. Untested safety Zach Domicone came in for the injured Johnson.
The depleted secondary turned out to be no match for the starting Michigan offense, as Denard completed passes to Koger and Odoms, the second a touchdown to give the Wolverines the lead back. Not even a massive tackle by Bradley Roby in the backfield could negate the porous Buckeye defense as they fell back into a 6 point hole.
The Ohio State offense felt deflated after that, the 5th lead change of the game. The ensuing kickoff was returned by Hall to the 24, and Miller got the team to the 36 yard line when 4th and 4 came up. This decision is where you could see the chasm of differences between Tresselball and Fickellball.
Tressel, in this rivalry, with the game within reach, would have either sent Basil out there with confidence that he could hit the FG, or would have gone for it and given up little field position. Instead, Fickell opted to punt, putting his faith in Buchanan’s ability to pin the Wolverines. And pin them he did. His kick was high, booming, and went 27 yards to go out of bounds at the 9.
In just a few plays, the field position was erased, but the defense found the second wind and forced a punt. Hagerup muffed the snap and instead of punting the ball when he picked it up, tried to make a play. He was taken down at the 32 yard line and just like that the Buckeyes had picked up 4 yards from the questionable punt call.
Just before the end of the 3rd quarter, Braxton Miller continued to show flashes of why he was considered the #1 dual threat quarterback in the nation just a year ago, as he broke ankles on his way to the 5 yard line. Had he not slowed up as it appeared he did, he might have found the end zone once again.
As it was, the end of the quarter may have taken some of the momentum from the offense, as they came back from the break to settle for another field goal by Basil to make it 30-27 in favor of the Wolverines.
Just 8 plays later, Denard found Tight End Kevin Koger in the end zone after a nifty play action to push the lead back to 10. A touchback brought the ball out to the 20 for the Buckeyes, who marched down the field in 83 seconds for another touchdown, aided by Miller passes of 36, 17, and 20 yards to Stoneburner, Hall, and Fragel, respectively.
A late hit out of bounds by Michigan (their first penalty of the game) cut the yards needed for a touchdown to 4, and Boom immediately broke through the line to pick up the six.
The lead was cut back down to 3. This is when all hell broke loose. After a keeper by Denard and a snazzy run by Toussaint got them down in the red zone, the UM running back punched it into the end zone once again.
However, the play was reviewed and the officials overturned the TD run and placed the ball at the 1 foot line. The touchdown seemed an inevitability at this point. Robinson rolled out to the right and got back into the end zone, but a flag for holding on Omameh and a personal foul flag on Steve Watson negated the TD and brought the ball back to the 26.
Denard tried to get it done through the air, but the pass fell incomplete and Michigan got the easy points to put them up by 6. The Buckeyes were left with just under 2 minutes to win the game. The fans were thinking Wisconsin redux. But it was not to be.
An overthrown pass by Miller to Posey would have given the Bucks a 76 yard TD with seconds left on the clock. Posey had created a good yard of separation from his defender, but the pass just sailed over his outstretched arms.
A questionable spike on third down gave way to the Buckeyes’ only turnover of the game, a Miller interception to end the game. The Wolverines came out and assumed the victory formation for the first time since 2003, dropping Ohio State to its first 6-6 season since 1999, well before Jim Tressel set up shop in Columbus more than a decade ago.
The Buckeyes now head home to Columbus and patiently await the NCAA’s ruling, and hope that their performance this season – and the sure to be riveting storylines – garners them an invitation to the Gator Bowl to face off against Meyer’s old Florida team.