Michigan Loss Costs Ohio State Its Chance at A Fifth Straight Big Ten Title, Third Straight College Football Playoff Berth

By Griffin Strom on November 27, 2021 at 6:00 pm
Chris Olave

Ohio State will not win a Big Ten Championship Game for the first time in five years, and in all likelihood, the Buckeyes will miss the College Football Playoff for the first time in three seasons.

What stings even more for the Buckeyes is that Michigan is the team that’s responsible.

The Wolverines’ 42-27 win over Ohio State was their first in a decade, only this time, it did not come during a down season amid a transition year for the Buckeye program. The Buckeyes had all of their aspirations ahead of them entering this weekend’s rivalry game, and all of them were dashed on a freezing cold afternoon in Ann Arbor.

“When you work this game 365 days out of the year and you come up short, it’s a failure, and it hurts,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said after the game. “It hurts a lot.”

After eight Ohio State wins in a row in the rivalry, the Buckeyes’ longest-ever streak in the all-time series, another scarlet and gray victory might have seemed like a foregone conclusion. But the oddsmakers, who had Michigan closing as less than a one-score underdog, didn’t see it that way, and the Wolverines certainly didn’t either.

After a victory that was nothing short of thorough and convincing, it will be Michigan taking the Buckeyes’ familiar spot in Indianapolis next week for a chance at a Big Ten championship. If the Wolverines win that game, they’ll earn their first-ever spot in the playoff, which has become the new bar of expectation for the Buckeyes due to their 29-game reign over conference opponents dating back to 2018 going into Saturday.

“There’s not much to say, because you don’t plan for these type of things,” Day said. “We’ll have to get on the bus, head back to Columbus and figure out what’s next. You don’t really have time to process all of that. Especially for the younger guys who have had to play a lot this year, there’s a lot to be learned from this. We’re not there right now, this thing is still fresh and it hurts. So we’ll get back on the bus, head to Columbus and figure out what’s next.”

The keys to Ohio State’s best performances on both sides of the ball this season had been playing clean on offense and stopping the run on the other end. The Buckeyes did neither of those things for most of the game Saturday, as they racked up 10 penalties for 66 yards against Michigan, and allowed the Wolverines to tally a whopping 297 yards and six scores on the ground in the loss.

Ohio State gave up 60 yards and a score on the ground on the very first drive of the game, and it was far from an aberration for the Wolverines. The Buckeyes had given up two straight 200-yard rushing performances to start the season, but since then, Ohio State had allowed only two 100-yard games to opposing offenses on the ground in the nine weeks prior to Saturday. Michigan running back Hassan Haskins had 169 yards and a rivalry record five touchdowns alone on the ground, and Blake Corum added 87 yards on just six carries. 

The Buckeye defense managed to hold the Wolverines without points on four of their six drives in the first half to head to halftime down just one point, but Michigan was met with little resistance once the second half began. Besides the victory formation kneel-down, the Wolverines scored touchdowns on every drive of the second half, and each one was punctuated with a rushing score.

But 27 points from the Buckeye offense wasn’t enough either. Ohio State settled for field goals on two trips to the red zone in the first half, including one drive that went all the way down to the Michigan 3-yard line, and the Buckeyes opened the second half with a three-and-out. 

Between holding and false start penalties, the Ohio State offense had seven on Saturday, and several fumbled snaps didn’t help matters. The Buckeye offensive line also gave up four sacks on the day, including three from Aidan Hutchinson alone, and four quarterback hurries to boot. 

C.J. Stroud blamed himself for the issues, citing a sickness that caused him to lose his voice before the game, but that was not the only problem for the unit.

“It’s the worst feeling you can possibly have,” Stroud said. “I know people probably hate me for it, but at the end of the day, I know deep down in my heart I put everything; I put my heart and soul, I put my body on the line, I put everything that I possibly could to win this game. At the end of the day, whatever happens, happens. Just know that I love this team, I love Ohio State, I love Buckeye Nation, and know every single day I’m gonna keep grinding just to get this win back.”

Ohio State struggled to run the ball as well, finishing with just 64 yards on 30 attempts for a woeful average of 2.1 yards per carry. While the Buckeye defense finished with zero tackles for loss on Saturday, the Wolverines had eight.

For the first time since 2015, Ohio State will play in neither the Big Ten title game nor a playoff game. The possibility of playing for meaningful championship hardware has now passed, barring completely unexpected circumstances, and the Buckeyes must now ruminate on a loss that they won't soon forget.

“When you live this year-round, it hurts,” Day said. “There’s so much riding on it, as we know, and it’s gonna leave a mark for a while.”

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