No. 9 Ohio State (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) came into the Big House on Saturday to take on archrival Michigan (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) and defeated the Wolverines 31-20 in a game that featured plenty of momentum shifts. Michigan got out to an early 14-0 lead. In the history of the rivalry, Michigan had never lost when up by two touchdowns. But it watched as its two-touchdown lead went away with two Buckeye drives. In the end, the Buckeyes outgained Michigan 350-295 in total yardage and were able to do just enough to come away with the win.
Here are some of the important statistics from that game.
53.1 – John O’Korn completion percentage. When the dust settled and Michigan had 295 total yards and 20 points, it became clear the Ohio State defense did its job. It held the opposing offense to less than 300 yards and gave its offense a chance to win. But the defense did not look great. Tight ends and wide receivers often found space and broke open. But O’Korn could rarely ever find them, for he hit only 53.1 percent of his passes.
Looking back at that statistic, it’s hard to believe it was even that high. O’Korn looked about as bad as he has the entire season, even though he recorded 195 passing yards and a touchdown. The fifth-year senior missed open receiver after open receiver, and the Michigan offense could have seriously damaged the Buckeyes had he connected on even just a few more of those passes.
The game-sealing interception with 2:36 left in the fourth quarter was by far his worst pass of the night. He lobbed up a floater to Buckeye safety Jordan Fuller, who was camping underneath the ball with no Wolverine receiver near him. The Ohio State defense might not have allowed many yards in that game, but it really has no one to thank more than O’Korn.
15 – carries for both J.K. Dobbins and J.T. Barrett. When Ohio State struggles offensively, it tends to rely on the quarterback run too much. Rather than handing the football off to a running back or attempting passes, Barrett keeps the ball and runs. And at first, that’s what the Ohio State offense looked like it was going to do. At halftime, Barrett had 11 rushes for 74 yards compared to Dobbins’ six carries for 44 yards. But by the end of the game, the two had evened up, and both Dobbins and Barrett finished with 15 carries. Dobbins had 101 rushing yards to Barrett’s 67.
Part of the reason the two ended up at 15 each was because of the injury Barrett suffered in the third quarter. At the time, he had 15 carries and Dobbins only six, but his injury pushed him out and brought in redshirt freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a pocket-passing quarterback without Barrett’s mobility. And while Haskins attempted three rushes, removing Barrett from the equation forced Ohio State to run with Dobbins. It paid off for the Buckeyes as Dobbins finished leading the team in rushing yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in the third quarter.
-6 – total yards for Ohio State in the first quarter. It was still early in the game, but it looked like Ohio State was in serious trouble. The Buckeyes were trailing the Wolverines 7-0 and Michigan was going to begin the second quarter at the Ohio State 3-yard line, knocking on the door of making it a 14-0 game. Ohio State had not moved the chains and had five plays of negative yardage, two penalties, a single complete pass and just two plays for positive yardage. All told, it finished the first quarter with minus-6 yards of offense.
It would have been easy for Buckeye fans to be concerned at this point. Ohio State seemingly had nothing going on offense and the defense was not doing its part against a Michigan offense that has struggled mightily at times this season. Michigan scored on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-0. At that point it became make or break for Ohio State. The Buckeyes managed to do what they needed in their next two drives to tie the game up, but that first quarter was an early indicator their win streak against their rivals was in jeopardy.
53 – receiving yards for K.J. Hill. The Buckeyes have such a wide array of starting receivers that it is always easy for someone different to take the lead in receiving yards for a day. With H-backs Parris Campbell and Hill and wide receivers Johnnie Dixon, Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor and Terry McLaurin all listed as starters, it would not take much for one player to have a breakout day. But with so many options, it would probably seem surprising that 53 yards by Hill was all it took to lead the team in receiving yards for the day.
Even crazier might be that second and third on the team were Mack and tight end Marcus Baugh with 27 and 25 yards, respectively, both coming on just one catch apiece. Ohio State shied away from throwing the ball against a pass defense that had allowed the fewest receiving yards per game in the nation. However, Hill formed a connection with Haskins twice, and hauled in 29- and 24-yard receptions in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes went through a part of the season where 53 receiving yards might not even be third on the team. But now that they have found themselves running the ball so frequently, passing has become less of the go-to plan of attack and more of a fallback plan in long-gain situations.
43 – distance on missed field goal from Sean Nuernberger. Ohio State has not needed many field goals this season. Nuernberger entered the game having attempted just 15 field goals, making 13 of them. He had attempted just one outside of 39 yards against Maryland, and missed. On Saturday, he attempted two field goals longer than 40 yards, the first he made from 44 yards and the second he missed from 43.
The first attempt extended Ohio State’s lead to 24-20. The second attempt was equally as critical because with a connection, Michigan could only tie the game with a touchdown rather than take the lead. The kick sailed wide left, however, and the Wolverines took over possession from their own 27-yard line. Nuernberger was bailed out on the first play of the Michigan drive when Fuller picked off O’Korn, but that miss could easily have changed the game and came back to haunt Ohio State.