Malik Harrison needed just a few seconds to make an impact.
On the second play of the Michigan’s game-opening drive in Ohio State’s 62-39 win against the Wolverines on Saturday, Harrison dropped Shea Patterson for a seven-yard loss on a sack. The Columbus native who attended Walnut Ridge was just getting started. Two drives later, he tackled Karan Higdon for a five-yard loss to set up a third-and-medium situation after Michigan’s eight-yard play on first down.
Harrison, who grew up an Ohio State fan watching “The Game,” had seven tackles in an impressive performance from the athletically gifted outside linebacker. He called it his “best game” yet.
“A kid 15 minutes away, it's a great feeling,” Harrison said. “This rivalry, I've been watching since I was little, so it was great.”
Harrison said he didn’t make the plays for himself, but instead for those playing their final home games, including linebacker Dante Booker.
“I think it was just for the seniors,” Harrison said. “I just wanted to give them out with a bang.”
Harrison certainly succeeded in his goal of sending the senior class out on top, and the Buckeyes did so in front of more than 106,000 fans.
After the game, no one could keep the folks in the stands from streaming out onto the field to celebrate with Ohio State’s players and coaches. The Buckeyes were mobbed, hi-fived hundreds of fans and posed for just as many pictures.
“On behalf of our players and staff, you can't beat our fans,” Urban Meyer said. “The best fans in the land. And they're with us and they helped us win that game today. That stadium was rocking and electric. And so much appreciation, more appreciation than ever. We asked them at the skull session: When I need you the most, would you give us your very best? And our fans and student body who we love just gave us their very best.”
Once the fans got onto the field, no one wanted to leave, which led to limited mobility for the players, though they certainly enjoyed the celebration.
“Can't really get off the field really,” Dwayne Haskins said. “All the fans just flooded the field and it shows how much love that this football team gets from this university. And just really a great win. And we played great. And looking forward to next week.”
“After the game, I'm a big family guy, so I was just looking for my family because it was the first time they'd been out here,” Chris Olave said. “I was looking for my family and everybody kind of came up to me asking for pictures and stuff.”
Ohio State’s 62-point effort was the most points ever scored against Michigan in regulation, and it came against what was the top total, run and pass defense in the nation. Critics questioned whether the Buckeyes had a legitimate chance to beat the Wolverines, let alone crush them, like what happened on Saturday.
But Ohio State did what it could to ignore detractors, and that began with a speech from a pair of captains last weekend.
“As an offense, we didn't really pay attention to the outside noise and the criticism,” Prince said. “I think from Sunday after the game against Maryland, we all got together. (Johnnie Dixon) and Parris talked to the team and just let everybody know that it's a different game. You've got to be different. We've got to play for one another. We can't play selfish. We're going to go as far as each other take us.”
“I don't know about 62, but I knew we were going to come out and put on a show,” Haskins said. “I'm proud of how we played today. It started up front with the "O" line. And the playmakers made plays. That's what mattered.”
“We did it. That was the goal,” Prince said. “We looked up at the offensive stats. That's what we wanted. That's what we practiced for. That's what we worked for all year, and we finally did it.”
Olave will go down in Ohio State-Michigan history, though he has just seven career receptions.
The freshman wideout blocked a punt after catching a pair of 24-yard touchdowns receptions. Though the scores gave the Buckeyes an early lead, there was no contest as to what Dixon believed to be his most impactful play of the game.
“We're happy that he got that punt blocked, you know,” Dixon said. “That in our Holy Grail dictionary type thing, when you get a block, that's a bigger chance of you winning the game. Once he got that one, you could kind of sense everybody knew he got that block, so let's take advantage of the momentum.”
Olave assured after the game that he had no fears.
“No. Not at all,” Olave said. “The older guys told me they believed in me. Johnnie Dixon got hurt in the second quarter, he hurt his ankle. I asked Terry if he wanted to take his reps, and they all told me no, they believed in me. From then on, I just took the role and contributed.”
Saturday’s game pitted two rivals against each other with so much at stake. Even though the victory kept the Buckeyes in the playoff race and sent them to the Big Ten championship, the most important part of the win in most fans’ eyes was to maintain the ongoing win streak against Michigan.
“Great respect for our opponent. I've been saying that really for seven years, that – how do you tackle a rivalry?” Meyer said. “You show the most incredible amount of respect you can for that rivalry. And how do you do that? You work your you-know-what off as hard as you can. It's not a one-week thing; it's a 365 that we work on that. So great respect for our opponent. Great respect for the rivalry.”
The win sends the Buckeyes to Indianapolis for Saturday’s game against Northwestern with the Big Ten title – and a possible College Football Playoff berth – on the line.
“We understand that elite warriors, which I consider our players, they get a mission assignment and a directive and if they accomplish it, they celebrate,” Meyer said. “They celebrate the right way with their families. Do the right things. And then they come back tomorrow and they accept their next mission assignment directive. And that's a big one. That's in Indianapolis.”
“Yeah, we played well, so we've got to do it again versus Northwestern next week, and let the committee make a decision from there,” Haskins said. “But we're going to keep putting good stuff out there on film, and keep getting better. And I feel like we can still get better; we haven't played our best game yet. So there's a ways to go for us.”
How ready will Ohio State be for a quick turnaround from the Michigan win to the Wildcats?
“We'll find out,” Meyer said. “We've been there a couple times. That's our goal in the weight room when you walk in you see a sign that says "Get to Indy." And they did. That's my job and our staff's and our leaders job.”
Meyer hasn’t seen the Wildcats on film yet, but he knows Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
“I think they're awesome,” Meyer said. “I'm a big fan of – Pat's one of my very closest friends. I have just great respect for him. And I haven't watched them yet. So that comes tomorrow.”
Ohio State’s win on Saturday wrapped up the Buckeyes’ latest win against Michigan, and it showed the strength of the football program, Meyer said.
“I think it's a very healthy, strong program,” Meyer said. “I don't like to go backwards. And I assure you I won't. We're pushing forward. And a bunch of very good players. Like I said, that love each other. That was a love game. That was one of those things that you hear the word ‘brotherhood,’ and why do you really play? Why does a true soldier fight? It's not for the hatred of those in front of you; it's for the love of those behind you. And that's a great quote that we live by, and they proved it today.”