Before Michigan faced Ohio State on Saturday, Jim Harbaugh said he and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, the program's interim head coach, understood the Wolverines' offense would require more than a straightforward game plan to overcome the Buckeyes' defense.
As The Game unfolded, Michigan replaced quarterback J.J. McCarthy with backup Alex Orji on its first offensive possession of the second half, though not before McCarthy connected with tight end Colston Loveland for a 21-yard completion. On the next two snaps, Orji ran two keepers. The 6-foot-3, 236-pound signal-caller ran for 20 yards on the first and 2 yards on the second.
At the start of the fourth quarter, McCarthy pitched the ball to running back Donovan Edwards, who proceeded to throw the ball over the top of Ohio State's defense to a wide-open Loveland. The completion resulted in 34 yards for Michigan and set up a 27-17 lead for the Wolverines, as kicker James Turner converted a 38-yard field goal four plays later.
Michigan built its 2021 and 2022 victories on smash-mouth football and explosive touchdowns, which exploited vulnerabilities in the Ohio State defense. In a teleconference before the Big Ten Championship Game, Harbaugh said those vulnerabilities were harder to find in 2023. Hence, the Wolverines' trickery.
"The emphasis all week was that we wanted to be creative. We felt Ohio State was very good defensively. This, to me, was the best Ohio State team we've played," Harbaugh said. "Against the run, the coverage in the pass – they haven't given up very many big plays at all. We were able to get some explosive plays. But we knew we were going to have to be creative to get them. Every play except for maybe two of the creative plays we got off the call sheet."
“This, to me, was the best Ohio State team we've played.”– Jim Harbaugh on the Buckeyes
Harbaugh then shared his pride in Moore and the Michigan offense for its aggression, attention to detail and execution when it mattered most.
"They were executed beautifully. They were timely," Harbaugh said. "Very aggressive in the fourth down calls. The offense was physical. They were aggressive. They weren't going to be denied. I know that Sherrone believed in them, and he reflected that in the way he called the game."
Michigan will look to extend its win streak against Ohio State to four next season, something the Wolverines have not done since 1988-91. The 120th edition of The Game will occur in Columbus on Nov. 30, 2024.