Ohio State piled up 251 yards on the ground, forced five Wolverine turnovers, and left the blue-clad members of a crowd of 110,922 disappointed for the sixth consecutive season, as the Buckeyes beat Michigan 21-10 at The Big House.
As a result, OSU clinched an outright Big Ten championship, while Michigan will spend bowl season at home for the second consecutive season.
Michigan needed a victory to gain bowl eligibility, but took the wrong route to an upset, committing five turnovers.
Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, who promised earlier in the week that he would lead his Wolverines to a bowl game, threw four interceptions, including three in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a young guy and he threw a couple balls he shouldn’t have,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said. “Turnovers and the rushing game are always going to be the key.”
Forcier also handed OSU the game’s opening score when he fumbled the ball in the end zone on Michigan’s initial possession. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward landed on the football in the end zone to give the Buckeyes the early 7-0 lead.
“[Heyward] did a great job of getting on the ball,” linebacker Brian Rolle said. “Forcier dropped back to scramble and dropped it, but Cam did a great job covering it up and making sure it was a touchdown.”
Ohio State pounded away at the Big Ten’s last-ranked defense with a three-headed rushing attack. Dan “Boom” Herron racked up 96 yards on 19 carries, Brandon Saine amassed 84 yards on 12 rushes and quarterback Terrelle Pryor totaled 74 yards on 19 carries.
The Buckeyes eclipsed 225 rushing yards for the fifth straight game.
“It’s really fun out there running the ball,” Saine said. “The offensive line is doing great, getting a lot of movement. With [Pryor] back there being able to do what [he] does, it really helps me and ‘Boom.'”
Leading 7-3, Pryor faked a rollout to the right and handed to Saine, who cut back to the left toward a wide-open pathway to the end zone for a 29-yard score. The misdirection play appeared to throw off the Wolverine defense, and even surprised Tressel.
“On Saine’s touchdown, our student intern put the wrong play up on the board,” Tressel said. “That was not the play we called. He called that.”
Tressel said he couldn’t remember what the original playcall was supposed to be, but that it wouldn’t have worked as well as the misdirection mishap fared.
Pryor committed the Buckeyes’ first and only turnover in the third quarter, when his pass sailed off the hands of Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren and into the grasp of senior linebacker Jonas Mouton.
The Wolverines cashed in on the pick, driving 49 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. Forcier connected with running back Vincent Smith for 18 yards to cut the lead to 14-10.
OSU bounced right back, though, with an 89-yard drive that culminated with a touchdown.
After nine rushing plays and a sack, Pryor tossed a lob pass over the heads of Michigan linemen and into the hands of Herron, who sprinted into the end zone for a 12-yard score. Tressel had rushed out onto the field before the snap, trying to call timeout, but to no avail. The Bucks caught a break in taking a 21-10 lead.
“[Pryor] did a great job on that drive, he just kind of took over,” Tressel said. “Rather than us trying to guess calling the plays, we just called read plays for him, and he decided who carried it. That was a great drive.”
After falling behind by 11, Michigan failed to muster any offensive rhythm. The Wolverines’ final five drives ended with a punt, three interceptions and a turnover on downs.
Senior safety Kurt Coleman nabbed two interceptions, both deep in OSU territory, ending a pair of Michigan scoring threats.
“He’s a guy you always have to look for to make plays,” Rolle said. “One interception, I was like, ‘Did he catch that?’ He’s a guy who is always going to be around the ball once it’s in the air, and he did a great job of going up and catching it at the highest point and coming down with it.”
Coleman and the rest of the Buckeye seniors will leave OSU having never lost to their rivals from up north.
“The rest of their lives, they can be arrogant or whatever they want to be,” Tressel said.
Since taking over as coach in 2001, Tressel has led OSU to victory in eight of the nine meetings with Michigan.
The Buckeyes concluded their regular season schedule with a trio of critical November victories, having knocked off Penn State, Iowa and Michigan, and now await to learn the identity of their Rose Bowl opponent.
“We knew when we looked at the November schedule that it was not going to be an easy thing, but our guys don’t back down from anything,” Tressel said. “When you’re undefeated in November, good things will happen over the holidays.”