There was a pregame scuffle at midfield, the typical cacophony of bone-rattling hits and down just seven, with the ball at midfield and a little over a minute remaining in the first half, the Wolverines were doing their best to ensure that this edition of the rivalry matched up with all those that had come before it.
Uh... not so much.
Halftime came, adjustments were made and a dominant Buckeye performance leading to a 28-0 run in the second half squashed any outside upset chances as Ohio State marched to a 42-7 drubbing of the hapless Wolverines. The margin of victory was the largest in the series in forty years and all of a sudden, the Buckeyes have hung 42 on the Wolverines in two of the last three seasons.
As alluded to above, it was anything but easy-going in the early parts of the game. Ohio State received the opening kickoff, converted a 3rd and 7 to move the ball out to the 39 and then Pryor promptly turned the ball over, throwing one of the few bad passes he's had all year which was picked off and returned by Stevie Brown to the Buckeye 13.
The defense stiffened and Michigan lost five yards on the series before kicker K.C. Lopata shanked a 35 yard field goal and the Shoe breathed a sigh of relief.
On their next possession, the Buckeyes were held to a three-and-out and were forced to punt. Michigan return man Martavious Odoms fumbled the ensuing Trapasso kick and Ohio State recovered the ball at midfield. Another three-and-out followed, but the subsequent punt no doubt pleased Tressel as it flipped the field in the all-crucial battle of field position.
The Wolverines were forced to punt on their following possession and then the two teams traded punts as both defenses continued to dominate the action. The Buckeye defense smothering a shaky Michigan offensive attack, while Beanie Wells was held in check by a dominating front and Pryor appearing uneasy after the early mistake mixed with a healthy portion of opposing blitzes.
With 4:20 remaining in the first quarter, Ohio State started at their own 41, having been kept off the board on their previous four possessions. In a matter of seconds, the shutout was no more as Beanie rumbled 59 yards mostly untouched to put the Buckeyes up. Vintage Beanie -- showing up against the Wolverines and giving his team that much needed boost. To put into perspective how big the play was at the time, the Buckeyes had 76 yards of total offense including the run at that point.
Michigan punted again and the Buckeyes took over with a little over two minutes remaining in the first quarter at their own 22. After five straight runs, including an eight-yarder which seemed to get Pryor's juices going, he hit tight end Jake Ballard for a 10 yard completion on 3rd and 4 from the Buckeye 39. Wells was stopped for a loss on the following play, but Pryor followed that up by hitting Hartline on a beautifully thrown 53 yard bomb to put Ohio State up 14-0. Live by the blitz, die by the blitz.
After holding Michigan to a punt on their next possession, the Buckeyes received the ball at their own 45 and drove down to the Michigan 35 and were smelling blood before a fourth down throw to Brian Robiskie fell incomplete. It was then that running back Brandon Minor and the Wolverine offense made a cameo. After earning their first 1st down of the game with 8:25 remaining in the half, they drove into Buckeye territory, setting up a 32 yard run out of Minor and leaving a first and goal from the Ohio State one yard line. Again, the Buckeye defense hardened and visions of shutouts were dancing in the heads of Ohioans, but on fourth and goal, Minor punched it in from one yard out, trimming the lead to one score.
That would be it for the first half scoring and the 14-7 lead was probably a little too close for comfort for Buckeye fans, but aside from the one long drive, the defense had been handling the Wolverines rather easily. The offense, on the other hand, looked like the unit that played against Penn State -- often unable to sustain any type of serious threat. It was essentially two big plays and the halftime studio crew took some glee in pointing this out.
Though the Buckeye staff has taken criticism this season for a perceived lack of halftime adjustments, give them and the line credit for correcting issues Saturday. After a Zoltan Mesko punt was downed inside their own 10 yard line, Ohio State started its first drive of the second half up against it a little. On first and 10 from their own 9, Beanie rumbled 42 yards untouched through the left side before going out of bounds at the Michigan 49. On the very next play, Boom followed suit, racing 49 yards, again untouched and through the same side of the line to put the team up 21-14.
Rodriguez's crew would be stymied the entire second half and raised their own white flag when trailing by just two scores and the ball at the Ohio State 38, the offensive mastermind dialed-up a Nick Sheridan draw on 3rd and 15 that yielded a one yard loss. Mesko's line drive punt was fielded by Ray Small at his own 12 and returned 80 yards to the Michigan eight. From the doghouse to the penthouse and the Buckeyes capitalized on their next play when Pryor hooked up with Robiskie to move the lead to 21.
With Sheridan injured on the previous series, freshman Justin Feagin came on to the field, but his success rate wouldn't be any better. After another failed 3rd down conversion -- Michigan finished an incredibly awesome 1-17 on the afternoon -- Pryor and company took over near midfield. The first two plays yielded nothing, but on 3rd and 10 he delivered one of those plays that only he could. Operating out of the shotgun, he was quickly flushed when both of his tackles were beat on the play. Pryor juked end Brandon Graham, then avoided another defender before sidestepping Graham yet again and finally heaving a floater to Dane Sanzenbacher for 35 yards. Three plays later, Boom finished the drive and the rout was officially on.
It was insult to injury time as Michigan fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Buckeyes took over at the Wolverine 22. Enter captain Todd Boeckman. The senior came on to the field to a chorus of applause as 100,000+ showed their appreciation for the grace and dignity with he handled a less than enjoyable experience. After two short runs out of Rasta, Boeckman brought the crowd to its feet again with an 18 yard touchdown strike to Brian Hartline that put Ohio State ahead 42-7. The throw was tight and on the money and Boeckman would later have an even better toss on a 46 yard completion to Robiskie, though much to the crowd's disappointment, the team would not cross the goal line again.
The win gave the Buckeyes a share of their fourth-straight conference title and was the fifth in a row in the series, marking their greatest run in the rivalry. Tressel is now 7-1 against the Wolverines and though they were awful, it was the Buckeyes that handed them their worst loss of this most miserable of seasons. Sometime during the next couple of days, I hope everyone pauses to reflect on just how great things are going right now in The Game. It won't last forever, and won't be duplicated again anytime soon, but damn is it sweet.
- Pryor was shaky early, but settled down as the game progressed. He becomes the first freshman to ever beat Michigan and moves to 7-1 as a starter. I keep saying it, but I cannot wait to see him blow up in the bowl game with all of that time to work on mechanics and fundamentals.
- Beanie has inherited Troy's role of Wolverine killer. Saturday marked the third-straight season he's had a touchdown run of at least 50 yards in The Game. He left early due to hammy issues, but 15 for 134 is pretty fresh. Boom's 8 for 80 isn't bad either. Further, I'm really enjoying this game becoming the springboard for young Buckeyes.
- It was nice to see the Brians end the year on a positive note. Because of the new quarterback and a variety of other factors, each has seen their numbers decrease this season, but scoring on your biggest rival is always a win.
- Laurinaitis led the team with tackles once again, finishing with 12 including a sack. Heyward and Larimore also had sacks on the day.
- That was a safety in the fourth quarter when Nathan Williams wrapped up Shaw in the end zone, but the officiating crew had pity in their hearts.
- Oh to have that shutout. The Wolverines have not been shutout in 245 games -- or longer than about half our readership has been alive. The 10 three-and-outs were pretty nice, however.
- Sheridan was incredibly bad (8-24), but outside of him, I didn't notice a huge talent gap across the field. Sure, they don't exactly have a Beanie, but that is a team that could have been closer to .500 with some better coaching.
- Speaking of the coaching, the sideline fight was kind of crazy, but we have our own episode from the 2002 season leaving us in a glass house. The delay of game penalty at the end of the first half was curious, though it kind of worked out when the punt rolled inside the five. Still, you just force the Buckeyes to take a sneak instead of going to a knee to run out the half.
- Tressel substituted liberally late in the game. Plenty of freshman and backups saw action and though some of them won't ever achieve stardom in Columbus, they'll always have the stories of how they were on the field for the great ass-kicking of 2008.