After scoring 11 unanswered points to climb back into a two-score game, Michigan faced fourth-and-1 at its own 29 with most of the final quarter to play.
Michigan had momentum on its side, but not the line of scrimmage, as sophomore running back Hassan Haskins was stuffed by Ohio State redshirt senior defensive tackle Robert Landers on a rush attempt out of the wildcat.
Four plays later, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields threw his fourth touchdown of the game to stop the bleeding en route to a 56-27 win for No. 1 Ohio State (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten), its eighth straight against No. 13 Michigan (9-3, 6-3).
“Ever since I took the job, it’s been on my mind,” head coach Ryan Day said. “I know what this game means to the people of Ohio, to Buckeye Nation, and coming off the heels of one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football winning seven in a row here, those are big shoes to fill.”
Down 35-16 in the third quarter, Michigan found a sliver of hope for a swing in momentum. Fields went to the medical tent with an apparent knee injury.
However, Fields ran back onto the field seven plays later, scrambled to his left and appeared to dash that hope with a 30-yard heave to freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson in the back of the end zone.
Instead, a fumbled punt by Wilson left the door open for the Wolverines, who scored a field goal and a touchdown by consecutive drives, the latter by Haskins. Haskins punched in a 2-point conversion to make it a 42-27 game.
But Fields’ 16-yard touchdown toss to senior wide receiver Austin Mack following the failed Wolverine fourth-down conversion put the game firmly back into Buckeye hands. Fields finished with 302 yards on 14-for-25 passing.
Junior running back J.K. Dobbins earned Ohio State a 28-16 halftime lead following 103 yards and three scores. He opened the second half with a 41-yard rush and 21-yard catch on the first two plays to spring a 6-yard touchdown connection from Fields to redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill.
Dobbins finished with a career-high 211 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
“[Dobbins] just had a look in his eye today that he was not going to be denied. It was the same look as our offensive line, too. Tight ends, receivers — they all kinda had that look today,” Day said.
Michigan redshirt senior quarterback Shea Patterson’s 250 first half yards on 14-of-19 passing were 32 more than any opposing team has had in an entire game against the Buckeyes this season, and he led the Wolverines to the game’s first points on the opening possession.
Michigan went 75 yards for a touchdown in just more than three minutes, with freshman wide receiver Giles Jackson taking a handoff to the outside. The kick was no good, giving the Wolverines an early 6-0 lead.
Toward the end of the first quarter, it took the Wolverines just a minute and three plays to score, as Patterson hit junior wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 25-yard score. The touchdown came a play after a 41-yard pickup from senior tight end Sean McKeon.
Dobbins picked up all 79 yards from scrimmage on the Buckeyes’ opening drive and capped it with a 5-yard touchdown run to regain the edge 7-6.
Fields started 3-of-9 passing before he launched a bomb down the right sideline to sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave for a 57-yard touchdown. Olave’s team-high 11th scoring catch of the year made it 14-6 in favor of the Buckeyes.
“We take it more serious than they do, I think,” Fields said. “We prepare for it all year, like coach [Mickey Marotti] said. We’re preparing for the next year right now. I think it just means more at Ohio State.”
Dobbins found the end zone from five yards out on the next Buckeye drive, and a 47-yard reception from Wilson set up Dobbins’ third score of the opening half to put Ohio State up 28-13. On third-and-4 from the Michigan 5, Dobbins scored his second touchdown of the half on a shotgun handoff to put the Buckeyes up 21-13.
Michigan left points on the field with a couple first half errors, as a Patterson fumble at the Buckeye 12 was recovered by Landers, and a fourth-down offsides extended a Buckeye drive that led to a Dobbins score.
Peoples-Jones dropped a third-down end zone pass at the end of the half, and Michigan settled for a field goal to head into the locker room down 28-16.
Dobbins scored again in the fourth quarter, this time on a 33-yard scamper that made it 56-27.
“This is all a blur right now. To say that there’s not stress coming into a game like this would be a lie,” Day said. “There’s so much riding on a game like this, and you understand and you feel the weight of everybody involved with it. To win like this, it’s a relief.”
Ohio State plays the winner of Saturday’s Minnesota-Wisconsin matchup in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis next week.