For Ohio State, Michigan Week — an annual gathering where the Buckeyes and Wolverines renew their vows as arch enemies in one of college football’s most intense rivalries — began with the rapper LL Cool J’s “It’s Time for War” playing on an endless rotation inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the team’s headquarters.
When it was over, the week ended with Ohio State’s third win over a once powerful but now middling Michigan program in as many seasons. The Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines, 42-28, after a second-half surge. They scuttled Michigan’s postseason hopes and pounded the final nail in the coffin of Brady Hoke’s lackluster tenure in Ann Arbor.
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Yet as head coach Urban Meyer and company walked off the field, they did so with mixed emotions. One of their teammates, senior walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge, had gone missing and now their starting quarterback, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, had broken his ankle in the fourth quarter. A little later, the Buckeyes learned they would have to replace another Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback for the second time in three months.
“It’s almost like you’ve got a weird feeling. It’s your senior day, you just beat the team up north, you’re going to the Big Ten Championship Game and you feel like something’s missing,” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said.
“And really something is missing — your starting quarterback that you’ve rallied around all season is done.” Ohio State’s championship hopes, however, were not.
Player of the Game: Darron Lee
You could really make the case that Barrett and/or Ezekiel Elliott were deserving of this particular honor, but Darron Lee’s performance embodied an overall defensive effort that ensured Ohio State would beat its rival to the north for third-straight year.
Against the Wolverines, Lee had nine tackles, two tackles-for-loss, a sack and 33-yard fumble return for a touchdown that all but sealed the game late in the final minutes.
Play of the Game: Ezekiel Elliott’s 44-yard run to go up, 35-21, late in the fourth quarter
As Ohio State's offense offense moved at a slower pace to play keep-away from the Wolverines in the fourth quarter, Ohio State faced a critical 4th-and-1. While the Buckeyes led, 28-21, with about five minutes to play, they decided they would gamble instead of giving the ball back to Michigan.
"I simply asked our offensive line coach very charismatically, can we get it?" Meyer said.
"And without hesitation, he looked me right in the eye and said we can.
After a timeout to talk things over, Ezekiel Elliott bounced to his left and galloped 44 yards into the end zone. It elicited the following reaction from Meyer.
"A lot of conversation went into the play call about who we're going to run behind and you run right behind (left guard Pat) Elflein and (left tackle) Taylor (Decker), and they're good players," Meyer said. "And we had all the confidence in the world."
The touchdown, which sent Ohio Stadium into a frenzy, more or less put the contest out of reach.
What It Meant
After the game, in a rivalry as big as any, there was a purpose in celebration for Ohio State, which continued its modern dominion over Michigan.
Michigan Game Coverage
- OSU Tops Michigan, 42-28
- Familiar Cloud Over Columbus
- Barrett Out for the Season
- Elliott's Big Run
- Photos: Michigan
- Videos: Michigan
- Troy Smith Enshrined
- Michigan Notebook
- Michigan Twitter Reaction
- Michigan Debriefing
- Michigan Quotebook
- Five Things
- Film Study: Zeke's Game-Breaker
- Film Breakdown: Michigan
- Michigan Game Poster
But losing Barrett cast a familiar cloud over Columbus after Braxton Miller, the star quarterback and three-year starter, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury 12 days before the season opener a few months earlier.
And with the Big Ten Championship Game looming and its College Football Playoff hopes in the balance, Ohio State called upon third string quarterback Cardale Jones to make his first-career start in Indianapolis.
Of Jones, perhaps once best-known for a social media blunder his freshman year, former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said, “He’s not ready today, but he will be Saturday.”
Herman added, “We’ve got a really good team around him … the quarterback doesn’t have to win games for us, the quarterback has to manage games and distribute the football and lead. We’ve seen that throughout this season. As long as he’s mentally prepared and he’s got a ton of physical tools … I have nothing but the utmost confidence in him because of what we’ve got around him.”
This was a sentiment shared throughout the locker room.
“He’s at Ohio State for a reason,” Ed Warinner, the offensive line coach, said of Jones. “He’s done a lot of good things and we have to play to his strengths and other players on the team have to pick it up. We’re gonna ask more of the O-line, more of the running backs, more of the receivers, and they’ll take that load off. Cardale will do what he needs to do, he’ll be ready.”
As Meyer processed the notion of Jones as his starting quarterback at his postgame press conference, he broke into a smile and said, “He's been here I think for 120 years. He's been here for a while."
“He practices. He's going to get all the reps,” Meyer continued. “And so we've got to be ready to go.”