How Past Ohio State Teams Responded in Game Three After Two-Game Losing Streaks to Michigan

By Chris Lauderback on June 4, 2023 at 10:10 am
Ryan Day and Jim Harbaugh
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Since Michigan's last big run on Ohio State - a 5-0-1 streak from 1988 to 1993 - the Wolverines have only won at least two in a row over the Buckeyes three times. 

This November, Ryan Day's squad will look to stop Michigan's current two-game winning streak which includes a 42-27 victory over the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor back in 2021 and a 45-23 spanking delivered last fall in Ohio Stadium. 

So how did game three go those previous two times Michigan entered riding a two-game winning streak? 

Whipped into a frenzy after John Cooper punched a hole in a chalkboard during a halftime pep talk, Ohio State beat Gary Moeller's Wolverines, 22-6, in the 1994 matchup in Columbus which helped Michigan secure back-to-back 4th-place Big Ten finishes. The following May, Moeller got hammered in a bar and harassed staff and patrons before punching a cop in the chest. Days later, he was fired or resigned depending on who you ask.

Lloyd Carr took over the Michigan program and despite entering The Game as an underdog to undefeated and 2nd-ranked OSU squads in both 1995 and 1996, he started his tenure 2-0 against the Buckeyes. The 1995 tilt in Ann Arbor saw Tshimanga Biakabutuka run over, around and through the Ohio State defense for 313 yards in a 31-23 win by No. 18 Michigan. A year later, the No. 21-ranked Wolverines beat Ohio State in the Shoe in a game most known for the Shawn Springs slip triggering a 68-yard touchdown pass but yikes Ohio State's offense was a dumpster fire (especially in the red zone) averaging less than four yards per play. 

With those two heartbreakers as a backdrop, Ohio State looked to stop Michigan from carving out a three-game win streak when the two teams collided in Ann Arbor to conclude the 1997 regular season. That would prove to be a tall-task for the No. 4 ranked Buckeyes as the top-ranked Wolverines, led by Charles Woodson, secured a 20-14 win. 

Woodson returned a punt 78 yards for six, caught at 37-yard pass to key Michigan's only offensive touchdown on the day and picked off a Stanley Jackson throw in the Wolverines end zone to turn away the Buckeyes. 

The win propelled Michigan into the Rose Bowl where it beat Washington State and earned a split (lol) national title with Nebraska. 

After Ohio State finally prevailed over Michigan in the 1998 clash, Carr's program handed Ohio State back-to-back defeats in 1999 and 2000,  adding a couple nails to Cooper's coffin.  

The 1999 Buckeye squad entered The Game as 12-point underdogs sporting a 6-5 mark and riding a two-game losing streak. Facing a 9-2 Michigan team ranked No. 10 in the nation, in Ann Arbor, there was little reason to think Cooper could pull off some magic. Ohio State actually led the contest 17-10 midway through the third quarter but alas, 13 penalties and three turnovers ensured defeat. 

The following season No. 12 Ohio State hosted No. 19 Michigan with a chance to share the Big Ten title but the favored Buckeyes again fell flat losing 38-26. Michigan led 31-12 entering the fourth quarter before two OSU touchdowns trimmed the lead to 31-26 with seven minutes to play but a Drew Henson touchdown plunge with a little over a minute left capped Cooper's record at 2-10-1 versus the Wolverines. 

After an undisciplined, embarrassing 24-7 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, Cooper was shown the door, ushering in the Jim Tressel era. 

A virtual unknown to most college football fans, Tressel understood the The Rivalry in a way Cooper never could and made that clear from the outset, promising fans they'd be proud of his team in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

The prophecy rang true even as unranked Ohio State entered the Big House with a mediocre 6-4 record to take on the 11th-ranked Wolverines. Behind 129 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Jonathan Wells, the Buckeyes built a 23-0 halftime lead and hung on for a 26-20 victory - Ohio State's first in Ann Arbor since 1987. 

Of course the 2001 win was just the start for Tressel as he won nine of 10 versus the Wolverines before resigning ahead of the 2011 season. 

Ohio State would lose the 2011 tilt under interim head coach Luke Fickell but as you well know, Urban Meyer picked up where Tressel left off, recording seven straight wins in The Game giving the Buckeyes 16 wins in 18 tries from 2001 to 2018. 

With Ryan Day taking over in 2019 and putting a 56-27 hurting on the Wolverines behind four touchdown passes from Justin Fields and 211 rushing yards with four touchdown runs from J.K. Dobbins, it felt like Ohio State's dominance since the turn of the century would never end. 

Instead, Jim Harbaugh ducked Ohio State during the pandemic-modified 2020 season. In 2021, No. 5 Michigan dumped No. 2 Ohio State, 42-27 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines bullied the Buckeyes to the tune of 297 rushing yards on 7.2 a pop with six scores on the ground.

A year later, in Columbus, Day got caught up in trying to beat Michigan the same way it beat Ohio State in 2021, taking the Buckeyes out of their offensive comfort zone by inviting a slugfest while an unnecessarily aggressive defense was gashed for six plays of 30+ yards with five of those going for touchdowns in a 45-23 defeat. 

Day recently lamented his approach and in-game management during last year's loss especially on offense. The questions now are has he learned from it and is he capable of making big time decisions in big time moments to ensure Ohio State can stop the two-game skid to its rivals to the north? 

Despite losing the Peach Bowl to eventual-national champ Georgia, the offense's return to a more loose and free style of play in a big game was at least a positive sign. But more than that will need to improve if Ohio State wants to avoid just the program's third three-game losing streak to Michigan since 1991.

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