Ohio State came into “The Game” as the underdog for the first time in the Urban Meyer era.
But, as always, the Ohio State head coach found a way to win, putting up 62 points against the No. 1 defense in the country.
In the 62-39 victory against No. 4 Michigan, the Buckeyes showed an offense capable of finding space both on the ground and through the air, and a defense with the ability to stop a more-than-capable Wolverine offense.
After weeks of underwhelming performances, this was the first game where Ohio State showed the potential of what it could be.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Parris Campbell said this was a more motivated performance than the Buckeyes have had all season.
“I’d definitely say that’s probably our best execution game,” Campbell said. “Everyone was kind of on edge today, everyone was more emotional, everyone was more passionate, everyone was more eager to get out there and play, so I think it was just a collective unit that everyone showed it a little bit more.”
Ohio State needed this game. It needed to win dramatically against its rival.
The Buckeyes have remained at No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings for four straight weeks, with the committee saying each week they have not seen their potential show up in games down the stretch.
A 23-point win against the No. 4 team in the country will change that. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones knows that.
“I think we improved them a lot,” Jones said. “We have a lot of doubters, I mean it sucks, but I think today we really showed our tails off and we played to the potential we’ve been saying we can.”
With the emphatic win, Ohio State has moved from a team on the outside looking in to a team with the potential to control its own destiny. A team that still has its aspirations of a championship intact.
“I think everything is still in front of us,” Campbell said. “We’re not taking any breaths, obviously we’re gonna celebrate this win, huge win, but we know we have another mission ahead, and that’s to win the Big Ten Championship.”
The Buckeyes were helped by one team ahead of them this week: No. 8 Washington State, who fell to No. 16 Washington 28-15. Ohio State is expected to jump Michigan and No. 7 LSU, who both are at two losses on the season.
That puts Ohio State at No. 6, assuming it passes undefeated UCF from a lack of quality schedule. The main question for the College Football Playoff committee becomes if Ohio State has proven enough to leap No. 6 Oklahoma.
The Sooners have the No. 1 scoring offense in the country and defeated No. 13 West Virginia 62-59 on Friday, marking the fourth straight game Oklahoma has given up 40 or more points.
Did Ohio State, which held Michigan to 19 points through three quarters before giving up touchdowns in garbage time, show enough defensive ability to make up for its own inconsistencies?
Jones seems to think so.
“People have been saying, talking about our defense all year. I mean, a lot of negative talk a lot of we can’t do this, we can’t do that,” Jones said. “Today we kind of just proved to everybody what we can actually do.”
Ohio State has one more opportunity to prove itself as a playoff team: a matchup in Indianapolis against No. 19 Northwestern to decide a Big Ten champion.
The Buckeyes will be favored to win, but their playoff hopes may hinge not on if they win, but how much they win by and how dominant they look on both sides of the ball.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins said the offense still has more to prove.
“We played well, so we’ve got to do it again versus Northwestern next week, and let the committee make a decision from there,” Haskins said. “I feel like we can still get better; we haven’t played our best game yet. So there’s a ways to go for us.”
Ohio State has not quite given itself a road to simply win and get into the playoff. An Oklahoma victory against No. 14 Texas will add mightily to the Sooners’ resume, and if No. 5 Georgia upsets No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship, it turns the final spot into a whirlwind.
But the Buckeyes have given themselves a legitimate chance with a statement victory against Michigan, showing what can happen when the pieces all come together for the team.
If Ohio State can prove it is a team able to play like this consistently, not just in a rivalry game, it has a legitimate shot at sneaking into its third playoff.
Going into the Big Ten Championship, Campbell said the mindset against Northwestern will be the same as it was against Michigan: fight until the very end.
“We’re never going to give up,” Campbell said. “We been through tons of adversity all year, we’ve heard the doubt, we’ve heard the hate from outside sources, but we just stay in tune with ourselves, we stay close, we keep swinging and obviously today was a result of everything that we’ve been through.”