ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Urban Meyer is just never going to lose The Game.
Seriously, what else could Michigan even throw at the Ohio State coach at this point?
Meyer has lost his starting quarterback to injury twice, once in a bizarre encounter with a cameraman during warm-ups that adds a strange subplot to the storied rivalry. He’s won in a wild comeback in overtime, and he’s dug out of a double-digit hole on the road. He’s had his defense disappear for stretches only to magically awake in the most-crucial moments, and he just had a nonexistent offense for a full quarter only to bounce back and win comfortably in a 31-20 decision.
What’s even left after Meyer ran his record to 6-0 against the Wolverines?
Will Michigan get to use two footballs and 13 defenders next year when the two storied programs meet again? Maybe the Wolverines can get double-bonus points when they score a touchdown. Heck, at this point, I think even if they changed the rivalry to an M&M eating contest that Meyer would still find a way to choke down more chocolate covered with that hated letter than the Wolverines.
He refuses to lose in a rivalry that fits him like a custom suit. He won’t do it, can’t do it, and somehow even in the face of incredible adversity keeps finding ways to prevent it from happening.
Maybe there’s a debate worth having about which was the greater escape act between this year, the thriller last season or even the shootout in 2013. To Meyer, that would probably be like being forced to name his favorite from among his three children, but it would be a fun bar chat for just about anybody else.
To me, Saturday in the Big House is going to stand out for a number of reasons, and that’s without factoring in the insane Barrett injury and how positively livid Meyer was at the podium after the game. Even after losses, that was a level of anger that he has never shown since taking over at Ohio State. And it wasn’t all that hard to understand where it was coming from since his frustration had been stewing for hours, combining with the legendary intensity he saves for the “Team Up North” to form a toxic brew unlike any he had shown in a press conference.
On top of that, there was the wild way he reacted on the sideline to penalties. The urgency he showed even for something like a kickoff when the ball had to be held, drawing a flag on himself in the process. The emphatic celebrations even seemed to be dialed up a notch.
That looked like a direct reflection of how much jeopardy he felt the perfect record in The Game was in after the Buckeyes were getting owned in the trenches on both sides of the ball early in the game while falling behind by 14.
The master motivator doesn’t get all the credit for this, particularly since it required so many special efforts from the players and the rest of the coaching staff to pull off the latest Gold Pants Heist. But he’s the one at the top of the program marquee, and with a couple losses already this season, this wouldn’t have been an opportune time for him to drop his first matchup with Michigan or Jim Harbaugh.
Barrett had to dig deep into his reserve of toughness on his injured knee and provide two quarters of steady work at quarterback before a Michigan defender was able to finish the job started by a rogue cameraman. The comeback doesn’t happen without him leading a pair of touchdown drives in the second quarter, including a gorgeous throw on a 25-yard strike to Marcus Baugh.
Dwayne Haskins had to be ready in reserve, and he wasn’t fazed by the moment. His relief effort to lead the go-ahead scoring drive and put the game away down the stretch will instantly make him a beloved figure for the Buckeyes.
The defense answered the bell after some struggles in the first quarter with Michigan’s power-rushing attack. On a couple occasions, backup offensive tackles had to come off the bench and not miss a beat protecting the quarterback and opening holes on the ground. Even the much-maligned special teams chipped in a blocked extra point that could have proved invaluable.
All of that is a reflection of the program Meyer built. Each of those individual pieces deserves credit for the remarkable win and the fact Ohio State still has hopes of winning a Big Ten title and then playing for the national championship. By no means is there any reason to believe that Meyer is dominating Michigan by himself.
But he does own The Game.
And there are no signs of him ever allowing Ohio State to lose it.