(Photo courtesy AP)
The Ohio State has University’s football program has turned what’s known as ‘The Game’ into ‘Just Another Game’, turning one of the greatest rivalries in sports history into a one-sided series with modest expectancy.
The goal for the Buckeyes from the first minute of play time of the beginning of the season wasn’t really a focus on beating Michigan as it once was in the days of Woody Hayes, even Earle Bruce, and John Cooper …. But to chase a national championship, which certainly entails a victory over the Wolverines. The goals initially mapped out aren’t geared solely on the season’s end and the “The Game” but a game by game strategy to control and conquer. This means that the Buckeyes have eventually evolved into an attitude that the Wolverines are equal to anyone else on the Buckeyes schedule, even with the public pressure that ‘The Game’ seemingly produces. No longer is it equated to determine a successful season based on a victory against TTUN but a flawless season based on an undefeated final year, or if a loss must be, based on continuity towards remaining in the hunt for a national title.
And under first-year coach Ryan Day, they have put themselves in a position to potentially win it all for the second time since the 2014 season and third time this century.
J.K. Dobbins ran for four touchdowns and Justin Fields threw four TD passes, providing plenty of firepower for the number one team in the CFP polls and second in the Coaches and AP polls to rout the 10th ranked Wolverines 56-27 Saturday for a school-record eighth straight win in the series.
“It feels great just to continue the legacy of this great Ohio State tradition,” defensive end Chase Young said. “We’re just going to try to keep it moving and keep it rolling next week.”
The Buckeyes (12-0, 9-0 Big Ten, No. 1 CFP) will head to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis to face off for the second time this year against the 13th ranked Badgers of Wisconsin next Saturday with a spot in the College Football Playoff in plain sight.
Fields will likely use the limited time to rest and test out braces to protect his left knee that was injured for a second straight week.
He went down in the third quarter and cautiously walked off the field to be evaluated in a tent behind the Buckeyes sideline. He came back in the game after a few plays and on the first snap of that return he scrambled and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson.
“It was a magical moment,” Day said. “I thought it was a Heisman moment.”
Fields has thrown 37 touchdown passes with only one interception and scored 10 more times rushing.
The sophomore quarterback said he aggravated a strained ligament, forcing him to use a bulky brace after starting the game with a smaller one, but didn’t consider staying out of the game.
“I wanted to show the team I was tough,” he said.
The Wolverines (9-3, 6-3, No. 13 CFP) will have to settle for a second- or third-tier bowl game after coach Jim Harbaugh fell to 0-5 in the rivalry, and the program lost to The Ohio State University for the 15th time in 16 years.
“It’s just kind of the same thing every year,” Michigan tight end Sean McKeon said. “It gets old, but you’ve just got to play better against them.
Harbaugh was asked if the difference between the teams was talent, preparation or coaching?
“I’ll answer your questions, but not your insults,” Harbaugh said to a reporter.
Michigan got off to a strong start, driving 75 yards on the opening drive and scoring on Giles Jackson’s 22-yard run.
The Wolverines, though, followed that up with the first of too many mistakes that doomed their chances of pulling off an upset as a heavy underdog. Quinn Nordin missed the extra point and less than a few minutes later; the Buckeyes took the lead – never looking back.
Dobbins ran for 211 yards on 31 carries, scored to put the Buckeyes in front 7-6 midway through the first quarter.
Fields was 14 of 25 for 302 yards, connecting on a 57-yard “brute” touchdown pass to Chris Olave late in the first quarter.
Michigan answered with Shea Patterson’s 25-yard TD pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones to pull within a point later in the opening quarter – yet was not to get any closer.
The Buckeyes turned the game into a rout by outscoring Michigan 28-3 to earn a 42-16 cushion late in the third quarter when only the final score was in doubt.
During this pivotal surge, Patterson lost a fumble on an accurate, shotgun snap from the Ohio State 12 trailing by eight points midway through the second quarter.
“The turnover by myself was huge,” he said. “You can’t fumble the ball down there.”
Patterson was 18 of 43 for 305 yards with an interception late in the game. He completed 14 of 19 in the first half for 250 yards before the Buckeyes slowed down the one-dimensional offense.
Hassan Haskins had 78 yards rushing and ran for a TD and a 2-point conversion early in the fourth to cut Michigan’s deficit to 15 points.
Fields and Dobbins added late touchdowns, giving the Buckeyes 56 points a year after it scored 62 in a win over the Wolverines.
“You’re not gonna win ballgames when you’re letting up 50, 60 points,” defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson acknowledged.
Patterson said Michigan’s locker room was very quiet after the game. (You think!)
“There wasn’t too much talking going on,” he said. “Coach Harbaugh just told us to keep our composure.”
WHAT IT ALL MEANS:
The Buckeyes: Ohio State’s defense had “some” issues for the first time this season, allowing a season-high 396 yards. Young also had a quiet day, but the defense he leads played better in the second half than first and the offense did “all” the rest.
“They did a lot of doubles, triples, bringing the guard over to help,” Young said. “Everybody on the defense stepped up.”
TTUN: The Wolverines must figure out how to get better defensively to have any chance of making the rivalry competitive.
“We made some mistakes and they executed very well,” Harbaugh said. (Yep!)
“I know a few players on the team and I just know the things we do in terms of workouts and how serious we take it at Ohio State,” Fields said. “Talking to those guys and getting their perspective, I definitely see that we take it way more serious.”
Ohio State could become the top-ranked team in The Associated Press poll after becoming No. 1 in CFP rankings earlier in the week. TTUN shall fall.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes will have a rematch with Wisconsin, who they beat 38-7 a month ago.
TTUN: Awaits for its bowl bid.