It took the first ever overtime finish between the Buckeyes and Wolverines, and some late-game heroics from redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and junior H-back Curtis Samuel, but OSU ultimately prevailed 30-27 in double overtime. In a game billed as one of the greatest ever in the rivalry, the Buckeyes ran their way to victory.
Comparisons to the 2006 “Game of the Century” made throughout the weeklong buildup were far from an accurate representation of how the game played out. Instead, The Game lived up to the hype with one of the most exciting finishes in college football history. For the Buckeye seniors, the send-off for their last game in Ohio Stadium could not have been more perfect.
Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said he was overjoyed for the players who have been with the program for four to five years, and could not rank this game in terms of his all-time greats at OSU just yet.
“It’s so hard to say because you’re in the moment, obviously,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s one that’s been this up and down and this stressful and this gratifying to be honest with you. Obviously you can say last year coming off a loss, and all that stuff but the reality is, to send your guys out, to send your seniors out the way we did in the last game here in their last game in the ‘Show, I’m so happy for the Pat Elflein’s and the Craig Fada’s and the Joe Burger’s, and it definitely ranks up there. I’m going to have a hard time topping it.”
OSU failed to move the ball throughout the first three quarters of the game. The Wolverines’ defense smothered the OSU offense in the first half, limiting the Buckeyes to just 81 yards and no offensive scores.
The Scarlet and Gray had the chance to take an early lead 3-0 after the Buckeyes’ offense drove down the field on its first possession, but senior kicker Tyler Durbin failed to convert on his first kick of the season to that point.
In true bend-but-don’t-break fashion, the Buckeyes defense allowed a Michigan drive into the redzone, but held firm to force a field goal by redshirt senior kicker Kenneth Allen. From there until halftime, OSU’s offense failed to move the ball down the field, electing to punt on four separate occasions.
OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett was largely ineffective for the opening half, minus a 19-yard run in the first quarter. On three different occasions, he missed wide-open receivers, including two passes to junior H-back Curtis Samuel.
“First half we had good things called,” Barrett said. “We just weren’t executing it, whether it (be) myself, O-line, receivers. It was everybody (playing) their part in that.
The only scoring for the Buckeyes came by way of their defense, as redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker picked off an errant pass from Michigan redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight. OSU junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan brought pressure from the middle on the play, and forced Speight to toss the ball well before he was ready.
Overall, Speight was a thorn in the side of the Buckeyes for the first half, injured shoulder and all. After missing last week’s game against Indiana with a shoulder injury that was rumored to be a broken collarbone, the junior quarterback lit up OSU’s defense for 141 first half yards.
Even with the injury, both Fickell and redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley said the team had been preparing for Speight to go all week.
Samuel, the offensive dynamo for the Buckeyes, was sparsely used in the opening frame with just one catch for a yard and four carries for 12 yards. He ended the game with 11 total touches for 86 yards and the eventual game-winning score.
In the second half, OSU received the initial kickoff, and promptly handed the ball right back to Michigan. A tipped pass from Samuel’s hands allowed junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers to snag his first career interception. A stroke of luck on a botched snap by Speight allowed OSU to regain the ball deep in its own territory.
After more failed attempts to move the ball, the Buckeyes attempted a fake punt with senior punter Cameron Johnston. The Australian punter darted to the left through a hole, but was brought down a yard shy of the first-down marker.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said it was his call to go with a fake in that scenario, and diverted the rest of the questions regarding the thought process with a rundown of the final play from scrimmage that won the game, although he did delve into why he called that play in that situation.
For him, it was all about rallying the troops for morale, even if it didn’t work.
“That’s why you run a fake punt,” he said. “That’s why we were trying to get the ball downfield and we just weren’t hitting them. And yeah, we were trying — we needed sparks.”
After the Wolverines took over, senior fullback Khalid Hill found the endzone for a second time, spreading the Wolverines lead to 10 with six and a half minutes remaining in the third. OSU’s offense, once again, sputtered. The inability of Barrett to hit Samuel in space, and lack of over-the-top passing limited OSU to just 124 passing yards on the day.
However, luck remained on the Buckeyes’ side. Speight went back to pass, and never saw OSU sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker camping in the middle of the field. An easy interception by the sophomore linebacker eventually led to a Weber touchdown run from a yard out.
OSU set a team record on Saturday with the most defensive touchdowns in a season on Hooker’s pick-six. Baker had a chance to get a touchdown as well, but was stopped before reaching the goal line. After the game, Fickell said his teammates were letting him know about it.
“We are actually harassing Jerome Baker that he didn’t get his into the endzone,” he said. “That’s an expectation. We told Jerome we thought you were the All-State, Mr. Ohio tailback and you couldn’t get it into the endzone, so that’s one of those things were we can try to keep it light on the sideline.”
A few drives later, with the ball firmly in Michigan’s hand, back-to-back stellar defensive plays from redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis and freshman defensive end Nick Bosa forced another Michigan punt. Lewis forced an incomplete pass, while Bosa and junior defensive end Jalyn Holmes drove Speight to the turf.
On the Buckeyes’ ensuing drive, Barrett and company moved the ball down the field, and converted a key fourth down conversion with Weber to keep the drive alive. Facing another fourth down, OSU turned to Durbin for a 20-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide left.
It was Durbin’s second missed field goal of the game. Rather than yell at his kicker, Meyer let him figure out what went wrong by himself.
“I just hit him on the rear end,” Meyer said. “I didn’t really say much to him.”
After pushing the ball all the way down to Michigan’s 5-yard line, the game was placed in the senior kickers hands once again. This time, the kick was good from 22 yards out, and the teams headed to overtime.
It took two plays for the Buckeyes to score, thanks to both Samuel and Barrett. A 7-yard scamper into the endzone gave OSU a 24-17 lead, and the task of slowing a Michigan offense that had ripped apart its defense all game long.
Speight once again bailed out the Wolverines, and found redshirt senior wide receiver Amara Darboh in the back of the endzone for a score. After reaching overtime for the first time in history, The Game went to double overtime.
“I feel like we just faced so much adversity, and our mindset never changed,” said redshirt sophomore defenisve end Sam Hubbard. “We just kept swinging, kept fighting, kept swinging and came out on top. We never gave up. We really never changed our mentality. That’s why I think we were so strong at the end.”
The Silver Bullets held Michigan to a field goal, and OSU took over. In possibly the play of the game, Samuel darted back and forth across the field for eight yards. On that specific play, Elflein said his job, as well as the rest of the offensive line, was simple.
“Just block somebody,” he said.
The run across the entire state of Ohio set up a fourth down conversion attempt for the Buckeyes. Barrett was initially given the line to gain on a quarterback dive, and Samuel took a sweep into the endzone from 15-yards out for a touchdown.
The game lived up to the billing as the next Game of the Century, and gives OSU a convincing case for a playoff spot. Elflein still believes this team is destined to make the four team playoff, even if the team doesn’t make the Big Ten title game.
“I would like to play that game next week,” he said. “To win a Big Ten championship is part of our motto. But if not, how can you keep us out?”
The Buckeyes will await to see the decision of the College Football Playoff committee Tuesday at 7 p.m. OSU is currently ranked second in the nation.