The passing game was supposed to be Michigan’s weakness on offense.
Not against Ohio State.
By the end of Saturday’s 45-23 win for the Wolverines in The Game, there were several areas at which blame could be pointed. But perhaps first and foremost was the play of the Ohio State secondary, which gave up big plays far too frequently, including the first three Michigan touchdowns. Oh, and a pass interference call on the unit in the end zone set up the next Wolverine score, which all but sealed Ohio State’s fate in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeye secondary didn’t just give up big plays. It had major miscues, breakdowns and blunders that left pass catchers without a defender within five yards of them on multiple occasions, resulting in game-wrecking plays and momentum-shifting moments all too often.
Those who were skeptical of Ohio State’s pass defense following inconsistency and a lack of real tests throughout the season saw their worst fears confirmed Saturday, as J.J. McCarthy and company took advantage of the one defensive unit that didn’t seem to benefit substantially from Ohio State’s defensive coaching staff overhaul.
“It was just disheartening. Obviously, I have to take the blame for that,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said after the game. “Surely, you know, just got to do a better job. It’s a story of explosive plays. I thought we matched well, and nothing was lost like that. We matched through the course of the game, but too many explosives. And that’s what is disheartening, you know, for not just the defense, but the team, the fans, and I have to take responsibility for that.”
McCarthy averaged just 177.4 passing yards per contest through his first 11 games this season. The Michigan pass attack ranked 99th in the country, and the Buckeyes possessed the No. 11 passing defense entering the weekend. McCarthy hadn’t cracked 200 yards in four of his last five games before Ohio State.
None of that mattered on Saturday.
McCarthy finished with 263 passing yards and three touchdowns before all was said and done. The former was his second-highest total of the season, and the latter tied a career-high for the second-year QB.
“I thought he did a good job of making some throws under pressure, but we knew he could throw the ball,” Knowles said. “I thought he played well when he had to.”
Ohio State actually started off strong defending the pass. The Buckeyes forced McCarthy into seven incompletions on his first 10 attempts. However, his next two passes after that changed the game entirely.
On a 3rd-and-9 from the Michigan 31-yard line in the second quarter, Ohio State brought a blitz that nearly got home on McCarthy. But the Wolverine passer got the ball out quickly to the left sideline. With no help behind Buckeye cornerback Cameron Brown, his missed tackle allowed Michigan wideout Cornelius Johnson to sprint downfield for a 69-yard touchdown. That score tied the game, 10-10, despite an otherwise strong start for Ohio State.
That play would have been an anomaly for Michigan in the first half if not for what happened on its very next offensive play. Ohio State had just taken the lead back with a field goal, but the Wolverines countered with a 75-yard score on the opening snap of the ensuing drive, and it was Johnson who made the play once again.
This time it was third-year safety Cam Martinez who made a mistake, getting spun around in the wrong direction as Johnson broke inside on his route and found himself wide open to score his second touchdown in as many plays. The score gave Michigan its first lead of the day, 17-13.
“I think when you looked at the first half, physically, we were playing really well up front, especially on defense,” Ryan Day said. “I’m not sure how many yards they had in the first half running the ball. Then they had those two long plays.”
Three minutes into the third quarter, a miscommunication between Denzel Burke and Lathan Ransom left Michigan tight end Colston Loveland with the nearest defender nearly five yards behind him as McCarthy found the freshman for a 45-yard touchdown. That one put the Wolverines back on top after briefly losing the lead before halftime, and this time they didn’t relinquish it.
From the latter half of the third quarter through the first couple minutes of the fourth, Michigan embarked on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that lasted nearly eight minutes of game time. The Wolverines punctuated it with a 3-yard touchdown run by McCarthy, but it was set up by a pass interference call on Ronnie Hickman in the end zone.
The penalty bailed Michigan out on 3rd-and-11, as the Buckeye pressure forced McCarthy to heave the ball high into the corner of the end zone while scrambling to his left. But instead of holding Michigan to just three points, the flag put the ball on the goal line, and the Wolverines punched it in two plays later.
Pass interference! Puts the Wolverines on the 2-yard line! pic.twitter.com/RdD4IBfuoh— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 26, 2022
Michigan went up 11 points, and while Ohio State still had a chance to come back, all momentum was clearly with the maize and blue. The Wolverines outscored Ohio State 14-3 the rest of the way, 28-3 in the second half, and finished with a 22-point blowout win in the Shoe.
Three second-half points for the Ohio State offense was never going to be enough to get the job done, and the run defense gave up two touchdowns of 75 or more yards to Donovan Edwards in the final 7:11. But the pass defense allowed Michigan to get the ball rolling with one big play after the other.
“In the second half, it was more of the same; too many big plays,” Day said. “When you look at the game, there was just way too many big plays. … A few plays in the back end and then a couple on the run. The first thing we need to do in games like this is play great defense. Other than two plays in the first half, I thought we did, but not in the second half.”
Ohio State wanted a redemption arc after last year’s loss, but that could never be possible on the day it gave up five touchdowns of at least 45 yards. While the offseason coaching changes gave fans hope about a different result, Saturday’s defeat stomped that out on the Buckeyes' home soil.
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- • Ohio State Postgame • Photos • TBDBITL • Quotebook • Notebook
- • Michigan Postgame • 3 Key Stats • Five Things • Social Reax • Debriefing