ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With 32 seconds left in the game, Ohio State — now the owner of a 24-game win streak, two consecutive victories against Michigan and the chance to play for a BCS National Championship — faced a play that could define its season.
After Michigan (7-5, 3-5) scored a touchdown on a two-yard pass from redshirt-junior quarterback Devin Gardner to sophomore tight end Devin Funchess with just 32 seconds remaining in the game against OSU Saturday, the team likely could have sent the game to overtime by kicking a game-tying extra point. Instead, the Wolverines elected to try to win the game — and end the longest winning streak in OSU history in the process — by attempting a two-point conversion, leaving the Buckeyes to figure out how to prevent the score.
But the play Michigan chose for its attempt was one OSU redshirt-freshman cornerback Tyvis Powell and his teammates had seen the Wolverines run before. Gardner took a shotgun snap at the 8-yard line, quickly set his feet at the 10-yard line and fired a throw to the end zone intended for senior wide receiver Drew Dileo.
Powell saw the throw coming. He jumped Dileo’s route and intercepted the ball on the goal line, preserving a 42-41 lead that would hold through the end of the game.
Powell was in position to make the play, he said after the game, because cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs had told him it was the play Michigan would run.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Coach Coombs is a genius,’” Powell said.
The Buckeyes’ defense practiced against that play call in preparation for Saturday’s game, Powell said, because OSU believed it was Michigan’s “bread and butter” play for two-point conversions.
“We prepared for it … it really happened,” Powell said. “All I can do is thank the coaching staff for that. They really helped us out and prepared us correctly.”
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, too, said the OSU defense “pretty much knew what was coming.”
“Off the film, we kind of noticed that they like to do that type of route, so we got in the right coverage,” Shazier said. “Tyvis (Powell) practiced that all week and he just made a play he needed to make.”
In his first season on the field for the Buckeyes, Powell has seen significant playing time in all 12 games as OSU’s first-team nickel cornerback, but he acknowledged the interception was the biggest play he has made to date.
“When we was in there taking a shower, I was talking to (backup redshirt-senior quarterback) Kenny (Guiton), and that’s when it clicked. It hit me, we really, like — that was our season on the line,” Powell said.
But while the defensive players felt prepared to make the game-saving play, a number of offensive players, including junior tight end Jeff Heuerman, said they were nervous during the two-point conversion attempt.
“It was such a crazy ending and everyone’s head’s still spinning,” Heuerman said after the game.
That said, Heuerman said he and his teammates had “full confidence” in OSU’s defensive players and coaches.
“Deep down inside, we felt pretty good about it,” Heuerman said.
If there was any game this season where OSU (12-0, 8-0) could have doubted its defense, though, it might have been Saturday. Michigan’s six touchdowns and 603 total yards were the most against OSU in any of its 12 regular-season games.
“We’re pretty disappointed (about those numbers) because we’re a lot better than that,” Shazier said.
Although OSU might have known what was coming on the two-point conversion, Powell said Michigan caught the defense off-guard on a number of occasions throughout the game, especially in the first half.
“They came out with a bunch of tricks and gadgets,” Powell said. “We was all just going out there trying to do too much, everybody trying to do other people’s jobs.”
In a game in which the Buckeye and Wolverine offenses combined for 83 points and 1,129 total yards, OSU coach Urban Meyer said he was not surprised the opponent’s decided to attempt the two-point conversion.
“I would have done the same thing,” Meyer said. “You go win the game right there. No question. Both offenses were kind of in that unstoppable mode.”
Powell said he, too, agreed with Michigan’s decision to go for the lead.
“This is The Game,” Powell said. “You got to leave it all on the table. I’m not shocked at all they did that.”
The win, combined with a loss Saturday for previously-undefeated then-No. 1 Alabama to then-No. 4 Auburn, enabled OSU to move up to No. 2 in the BCS standings, while Auburn is the new No. 3 and Alabama fell to No. 4. Those rankings put OSU in position to play for a national championship if the Buckeyes can hold off No. 10 Michigan State (11-1, 8-0) in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game.
If OSU is going to defeat Michigan State – which ranks first nationally in total defense with 237.7 average yards allowed per game, compared to the No. 6-ranked OSU offense, which is putting up 530.5 yards per game – the Buckeyes’ defense is going to have play better, Shazier said.
“I know they’re a really good team,” Shazier said of Michigan State. “Really good defense and their offense has been doing a lot better, week in and week out, and we just going to have to capitalize and do better this week in practice and just fix on the mistakes that we had this week.”
OSU is set to take on the Spartans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Saturday at 8:17 p.m.