COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thanks to Ohio State, those who stayed still aren’t champions.
The No. 2 Buckeyes beat No. 3 Michigan in the first-ever overtime edition of The Game, 30-27. After trailing by 10 in the second half and missing two field goals, the Buckeyes (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) rallied. The Wolverines (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) featured a senior-laden group but still couldn’t beat Ohio State.
Five things we learned
1. Somehow, this team finds a way: Ohio State overcame three horrendous quarters of offense and beat Michigan. Nearly everything that happened was a recipe for disaster, but the Buckeyes got their act together just in time. That makes five wins in five tries for Urban Meyer against the Wolverines.
2. The offense needs work: There’s no other way to say this. The Buckeyes were pretty dreadful on offense in pretty much every big Big Ten game this season. (The 62-3 win against Nebraska doesn’t qualify given that the Huskers’ best win came against … Northwestern? Wyoming?) At Wisconsin, the offense struggled. At Penn State, it disappeared. And against Michigan, it never really showed up.
3. That’s partly because of the play calls: Ohio State used an uptempo pace on the first drive and moved the ball well. The Buckeyes looked great until the drive stalled, ending with a missed field goal. From that point, the Buckeyes struggled to establish consistency. The only offense in the first half came on Malik Hooker’s pick six (more on that later). Michigan’s defense deserves credit, but Ohio State also did little to challenge it. The Buckeyes routinely ended up in second-and-long situations, and that led to many three-and-outs.
4. The special teams play was awful: Ohio State has been playing with fire in this category for quite some time. The first time it let its kicker attempt a field goal of 45 yards, Penn State blocked it and returned it for a touchdown. Dontre Wilson routinely bobbled punts or made questionable decisions to field them or he let them roll. Curtis Samuel didn’t look much better in that role. Cam Johnston had off games against Penn State and Northwestern.
It all came to a head against Michigan. Kicker Tyler Durbin missed a 37-yard field goal on OSU’s first possession. He botched a chip shot that would have tied it late in the fourth quarter. Ohio State gave up a good kickoff return that led to a touchdown with six seconds left in the first half. A fake punt by Johnston proved unsuccessful and led to another Michigan touchdown.
5. Malik Hooker will be missed: Hooker once again showed the skills that have made him one of the most dynamic defensive backs in the country. His interception return for a touchdown gave the Buckeyes their only touchdown of the first half. With six interceptions and three touchdowns, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t a Thorpe finalist (best defensive back). If this was the last home game of his career – and surely the NFL beckons – he made it a good one.
Question answered for Ohio State
Could the defense almost singlehandedly win the game with the offense struggling? The Silver Bullets got Ohio State to overtime with an inspired second half. They won it in double-overtime by holding Michigan to a field goal.
Questions looming for Ohio State
Can the Buckeyes fix their offensive issues? They might have a playoff game to win.
Three. Hooker returned an interception for a touchdown for the third time this season. That score set Ohio State records for interceptions returned for a touchdown in both a season and a career by one defender. Neal Colzie (1972-74) previously held both records.
What it means
Ohio State will almost certainly head to the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes own wins at Wisconsin, at Oklahoma and against Michigan. Those three teams were all ranked in the top 10 of the Nov. 22 CFP rankings. Even if Penn State wins the Big Ten East, Ohio State has probably done enough to merit inclusion.