ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Woody Hayes made the two-point conversion famous in 1961 when he poured it on Michigan, uttering the phrase, “Because I couldn’t go for three,” as his reason for running up the score. On Saturday afternoon in Michigan Stadium, another two-point conversion was added to the lore of one of college football’s most storied rivalries.
The Wolverines scored a touchdown with 32 seconds left to pull within one point of the Buckeyes before electing to go for two and the win. In the end, an observant Ohio State assistant coach snuffed out the play call and cornerback Tyvis Powell broke up the would-be game-winning pass to preserve the Buckeyes’ second consecutive perfect regular season and keep their national championship hopes afloat. The 42-41 final score provided arguably the greatest chapter ever in the 110-game series.
“We played the game to win,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said. When the Wolverines scored, Hoke gathered the seniors and asked if they wanted to go for the win. He received a unanimous decision.
On the opposite sideline, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs told the defense what Michigan intended to do. Third-ranked Ohio State had prepared for the Wolverines’ two-point play all week. Powell called it their bread-and-butter.
“Boom, there it is. Coach Coombs is a genius,” Powell said, smile adorned to his face for the entirety of his seven-minute interview.
What transpired during the previous 50 minutes, 28 seconds was nothing short of an instant classic, complete with an amateur boxing match. All that was missing was a three-ring circus.
High-flying offenses, listless defenses and scoreboards that mimic basketball games are generally reserved for weeknights and the Mid-American Conference. MACtion has become a national pehnomena. But that style isn’t expected in one of college football’s greatest rivalries.
Woody and Bo oozed defense. The same can be said for their successors, even those that are offensive-minded. Ohio State and Michigan, the Big Ten, Midwestern football – it’s all built on defense. So when the Buckeyes and Wolverines combined for 42 first-half points and more than 600 total yards, there’s a reason many of the 113,511 people inside the Big House were aghast.
“I think Coach Schembechler and Coach Hayes would’ve looked out and seen two teams playing as hard as they possibly could, which is what this rivalry is all about,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said.
And there wasn’t much let up once each team regrouped and addressed their defensive concerns. Ohio State churned out 526 total yards – 393 on the ground – while Michigan gained 603 yards, the second-most output the Buckeyes have ever allowed. In all, the game featured 1,129 yards of offense, four ties and two lead changes.
“We had a hard time stopping them,” Hoke said.
The Wolverines entered the game under fire from the fanbase. They were in the midst of a forgettable November that included 49 points until Saturday. The onus was on Gardner. He finished with negative yards rushing in consecutive games to begin the month, was averaging 182.5 yards passing per game and had a game-ending fumble last week at Iowa.
In a losing effort against the Ohio State, Gardner played one of the finest games of his career, completing 32-of-45 pass attempts for 451 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for a score. In the first half alone, Gardner led three scoring drives over 70 yards, including just the sixth 99-yarder in Michigan history.
“Gardner is an excellent thrower,” Meyer said. “I’m not quite sure I saw the same thing from the past few games when he struggled. He looked like he did against Indiana.
“We didn't get the normal pressure that we have. We’ve got to fix some things.”
But Michigan’s defense found similar difficulties containing Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. The duo combined for 379 yards – 226 belonging to Hyde. His total was the most by an Ohio State player in the Michigan game.
When the Wolverines tied the game at 35 with 5:01 remaining in the game, the Buckeyes didn’t flinch. They knew the most direct to the end zone was through Hyde. A kick out of bounds was the first benefit Ohio State got on the drive. Then Miller broke free for 32 yards on the first play. The Buckeyes would travel six plays in 65 yards with little resistance to take the lead. Every play was a run with four carries, 21 yards and a touchdown going to Hyde.
Hyde finished with 226 yards rushing and a touchdown. Miller was only 6 of 15 throwing for 133 yards and an interception, but he did toss two touchdowns, and he ran for 153 yards and three scores. That includes three sacks.
“I felt like our line was going to go win that game for us, our line and backs. We ran the ball very well,” Meyer said. “Carlos Hyde – he’s as good a back as I’ve been around.”
Not many expected Michigan to win, let alone be close. Ohio State was favored by 16 points and cruising after winning the previous 23 games. A throwback to the Rich Rodriguez era was predicted. However, 1969, 1993, 1995 and 1996 nearly morphed into 2013. It became clear very early that Saturday’s contest would be a throw-out-the-records rivalry game.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Hyde said. “I would have been surprised if it was easy. This game is always tough. It’s the biggest rivalry in college football, of course it’s going to be tough.”
On the Wolverines’ third play of the game, Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon connected for an 84-yard pass play, which is Michigan’s longest play from scrimmage against Ohio State. The Buckeyes countered with two 53-yard touchdowns – one a pass to Devin Smith, the other a run by Miller. At halftime, the teams were knotted at 21.
The highlight – or lowlight – of the first half came less than a minute into the secon quarter when a melee broke out. Players from both teams were involved in a fracas that lasted about a minute before officials finally gained control. Ohio State’s Marcus Hall and Dontre Wilson and Michigan linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone were ejected. Hall made matters worse when he spiked his helmet and flipped off the fans as he walked to the tunnel.
“It was unacceptable,” Meyer said. “Disappointed.”
Scott Chipman, the Big Ten commissioner for communications, said the conference will wait to see the officials’ written report and view game footage to decide if any further punishment for this week’s Big Ten Championship Game needs to be administered.
It appeared adjustments were made in the Buckeye locker room based on the Wolverines’ scoreless third quarter. Meanwhile, the Ohio State offense was continuing its assault on the scoreboard to take a 35-21 lead. During that spurt, Hoke opted to go for it on 4th and 2 from inside the red zone instead of kicking a field goal. First-string kicker Brendan Gibbons was out with an undisclosed injury. A two-touchdown deficit didn’t deter Michigan, though.
First came an 11-play, 83-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Drew Dileo. After Hyde fumbled and Michigan recovered on the short side of the 50, the Wolverines needed 13 plays to traverse 41 yards and tie the game with just more than five minutes left. Following the Buckeyes’ six-play go-ahead scoring drive, the Michigan offense went 84 yards in 11 plays before Hoke took the ultimate gamble.
“I would have done the same thing,” Meyer said. “You go win the game there. No question. Both offenses were kind of in unstoppable mode.”
Said Gardner: “I threw an interception that cost us the win. That’s what I will remember.”