ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich is still angry about the end of the Ohio State game last season — and he’s just as angry about what happened in the immediate aftermath.
As he headed to the visitors locker room at Ohio Stadium, fans stormed the field to celebrate the Buckeyes’ double-overtime victory. Winovich said an Ohio State fan greeted him and “shot the double bird at me.” He said another Ohio State fan ran into him.
“He hit me in the chest and he went down,” Winovich said. “But as I ran into the locker room, it was one of the worst injuries I’ve sustained in my Michigan career here, from a fan and their lack of being able to protect the opposing players.”
It added injury to insult. Ohio State won the game as a result of controversial fourth-down spot awarded to the Buckeyes.
Michigan players believe they won last year’s game at Ohio State. They will use one of college football’s most hotly contested calls of 2016 as motivation when the rivalry takes center stage Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
With Michigan leading 27-24 in the second overtime, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett faked a handoff to Curtis Samuel on fourth-and-1. Barrett landed awkwardly and officials ruled the run a first down by the slimmest of margins. A review confirmed the call.
Samuel scored on a 15-yard touchdown run on the next play to seal Ohio State’s 30-27 win.
Many will continue to debate the spot of the first down. Likely even more will debate the outcome of the game — including Michigan.
For former teammates
Michigan has beaten Ohio State twice in the last 15 years, and none of the players on Michigan’s roster have beaten their rivals. Michigan’s current players are thinking of their teammates from last season, and how they were denied the chance to beat the Buckeyes.
Many of last season’s starters and seniors are now in the NFL, including defensive lineman Chris Wormley, linebacker/safety Jabrill Peppers and linebacker Ben Gedeon. They were so close to making the College Football Playoff, and so close to playing for a Big Ten title.
But that was taken away because of a matter of inches on one play and one official review.
“They had a great season, a great year, great individual play and they all got drafted,” junior safety Tyree Kinnel said. “But they didn’t beat Ohio State. They’re still going to remember that for the rest of their life, as well. We definitely want to get this for all the past guys, who haven’t been able to win it.”
Heat of the moment
Winovich grew up an Ohio State fan, and his older brother, Peter, lives in Toledo. But Winovich took exception not so much to the officials who denied his team last season as he did the postgame decorum of the two Ohio State fans whom he said confronted him.
“I still don’t know who it is, who shot the double bird at me, and then the other fan who tried to take me out,” Winovich said. “It’s crazy. It’s motivated me, personally ever since then, personally, and I’ve tried to motivate the others, to make sure the message is known that we have to do everything we can to win this game.
“By all means necessary.”
Closing it out
Michigan lost three of its last four games last season. The Wolverines squandered fourth-quarter leads in all three losses. If the game Saturday in Ann Arbor is close, it’s up to the Wolverines to leave no doubt that they can seal a win.
“It motivates us, a lot,” defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “Just the fact that any play can really change the game. You want to make sure you’re doing all the little things right. You want to make sure that it doesn’t get to that scenario, where it has to be decided on one play at the end of the game.”
Hurst has one opinion on the final play of the 2016 Ohio State-Michigan game.
“Until I’m an old man,” Hurst said, with a wry smile, “I’ll think he’s short.”