ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The traditions big and small were all there when Ohio State beat Michigan 31-20 for its 13th win in the last 14 years over its biggest rival.
Michigan Stadium was packed. The Michigan band blasted out The Victors countless times. Legends from past games from both sides, like Archie Griffin and Dan Dierdorf, were there to watch. Some Michigan fans booed the Ohio State band.
But the biggest tradition since 2001, the game where Ohio State backed up Jim Tressel’s promise to make the fans proud against Michigan again, was extended into another year.
Ohio State won again. It won despite falling behind 14-0 in the first minute of the second quarter. It won with four-year starting quarterback J.T. Barrett on the sideline with a knee injury. It won with redshirt freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins leading three scoring drives in the last 21 minutes of the game.
Since 2001, Ohio State has sent Michigan home sad 15 times in 17 seasons.
But the Buckeyes faced a sizable amount of drama and uncertainty before they could put this game in the win column.
“We were playing a good football team, one of the best defenses in America on their home turf. They (Michigan) gave everything they’ve got. We hung in there for four quarters,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
“The offensive line started blocking them, the tailbacks ran really, really hard and we started hitting the opportunistic passes. Our defense just kept hanging in there. Our defense played well,” he said.
The first quarter was a very, very bad 15 minutes that OSU was able to recover from. It was incredibly bad, actually.
Michigan drove 77 yards in 13 plays on its second possession of the game to go up 7-0, then went up 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter after freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones returned a punt to the 11-yard line to set up an easy score.
In the first 15 minutes, Michigan outgained Ohio State 105 yards to -6. But a pair of Ohio State scores in the second quarter, the first on a 21-yard run by Barrett and the second on his 25-yard throw to tight end Marcus Baugh, tied the game at halftime.
Michigan regained the lead, 20-14, halfway through the third quarter but never saw the end zone again.
J.K. Dobbins’ 1-yard run at the end of a 78-yard drive put Ohio State up 21-20. Sean Nuernberger’s 44-yard field goal made it 24-20. And after Jordan Fuller intercepted a pass, Mike Weber put the game away with a 25-yard touchdown run with 1:44 to play.
Michigan defensive lineman Chase Winovich called seeing Ohio State win for the sixth time in a row against the Wolverines “a bitter pill to swallow.”
“It’s the most bitter pill I’ve ever had to swallow, not being able to beat these guys once is tough. But hats off to them. Their quarterback goes down and they still find a way to win,” he said.
Ohio State’s seniors are leaving without ever knowing a bitter feeling after a Michigan game. “I never lost to the team up north. It feels good,” defensive end Tyquan Lewis said.
After its slow start, Ohio State gained 356 yards in the last three quarters and held Michigan to 190 yards in those quarters.
Dobbins rushed for 101 yards on 15 carries. Barrett had 67 yards on 15 carries and Mike Weber gained 57 yards on 12 carries. But the irreplaceable player down the stretch was Haskins, who completed 6 of 7 passes for 94 yards and played mistake-free football after Barrett had to leave the game with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
“It was unreal. You’d think a person would be nervous but honestly I wasn’t,” Haskins said. “It’s crazy to go win the biggest rivalry in sports. I got my number called and it worked out for me, thankfully.”
He was at his best when Ohio State looked like it was struggling with the loss of Barrett. Four plays after Barrett left the game, left tackle Jamarco Jones had to go to the sideline and that was quickly followed by two false start penalties that put OSU into a third and 13 situation.
But Haskins found his roommate, Austin Mack for a 27-yard completion down to the Michigan 26-yard line. Two plays after that, he ran 22 yards to Michigan’s 1-yard line, setting up Dobbins’ touchdown run on the next play that gave Ohio State its first lead.
Meyer needed only two words to describe Haskins’ performance. “Dwayne. Wow,” he said.
If Barrett is not able to play in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin on Saturday, Haskins will get a chance to perform on an even bigger stage.