Brian Hartline summarized what everyone within the Ohio State football program and its fanbase had felt for the past 52 weeks during his pregame speech at Skull Session before Saturday’s game against Michigan.
“365 days since that godforsaken day (against) the team up north. For 365 days, we’ve heard them talk. For 365 days, I had to watch them attack our head coach, attack our quarterback and attack Buckeye Nation,” Hartline said. “Instead of getting loud and trying to respond on social media, we got quiet. We circled a date on the calendar: Nov. 26, 2022. And we went to work. We went to work. And we knew what we did in the dark, what we did in the quiet, will someday come to light. Today is that light.”
For the past 52 weeks, Ohio State’s mission was to avenge last year’s loss to Michigan. Everything they did throughout the past 12 games, from the coaching changes Ryan Day made after the 2021 season to workouts throughout the offseason and even the Buckeyes’ constant quest for improvement during the regular season, was focused on performing better in their final game of the regular season than they did in their 42-27 loss to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Nov. 27, 2021.
Instead, those 364 days of work ended with the Buckeyes suffering an even worse loss than they did one year before, as Ohio State suffered a 45-23 loss to its rivals in which it was outscored 28-3 in the second half.
Ohio State’s loss to Michigan in 2021 wasn’t entirely shocking. The Buckeyes had been a flawed team all season, and bad weather in Ann Arbor, coupled with a flu outbreak within the team, didn’t help Ohio State’s chances of overcoming those flaws. Michigan’s first win in The Game in 10 years, while still viewed as unacceptable by the Buckeyes and everyone who roots for them, could be chalked up as a one-year hiccup for the program.
This year’s loss, however, comes with no valid excuses. The weather was as good as Ohio State could have hoped in a late November game, and the Buckeyes had the home crowd on their side. Michigan didn’t even have its best player available for nearly the entire game, as star running back Blake Corum – injured one week earlier against Illinois – had just two carries for 6 yards before heading to the sideline for the rest of the day.
Ohio State played poorly on both sides of the ball, as big plays consistently gashed its defense – allowing five plays of 45 yards or longer that all went for touchdowns – while its offense reached the end zone just twice in 14 possessions, with none in the Buckeyes’ last eight possessions. Ohio State gave up more points and yards than it had all season while scoring fewer touchdowns than it had all season.
Michigan was always expected to give Ohio State its toughest test of the regular season. Still, Ohio State was also expected to rise to the occasion and play its best football of the season. Instead, a game that started with lots of promise for the Buckeyes – they scored a touchdown on their opening drive and had outplayed Michigan on both sides of the ball until Cornelius Johnson’s 69-yard catch-and-run for the Wolverines’ first touchdown of the day halfway through the second quarter – gradually swung toward Michigan’s favor until eventually, the scale tipped over as the Wolverines ran away with the win in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeye coaches and players who met with reporters after the game were seemingly shellshocked, believing their preparation over the past year would produce a better result than what they achieved.
“I thought we had a great week,” Day said after the game. “Emotionally, we came into this thing swinging. But we came up short. So I just gotta get my mind wrapped around why that happened today. And how in the end, we didn't finish this thing the right way.”
Day, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau – the four Buckeye representatives who spoke postgame – all offered some variation of going back to the drawing board, figuring out what went wrong on Saturday and working even harder to fix those mistakes in the future.
In football, however, results speak louder than words. After the Buckeyes said all the right things for the past 52 weeks about using their loss to Michigan as fuel that would drive them to a much better performance this year, their lack of execution on Saturday raises questions that no words can provide satisfactory answers for. Michigan now holds firm control of a rivalry Ohio State had dominated for nearly an entire decade, and the cloud that loomed over the Buckeyes for the past 12 months as a result of that loss will be even larger and darker now.
Ohio State can only erase that cloud by beating Michigan on Nov. 25, 2023; until then, the Buckeyes will have to live with the reality that they’ve been bested by the team up north two years in a row.
Adding to that uncomfortable reality is that the Buckeyes are now on the brink of achieving none of their three primary goals for the second straight year.
Ohio State failed to achieve its first goal of beating Michigan, and it won’t get a chance to complete its second goal of winning the Big Ten, as the Wolverines seized the Big Ten East title and the corresponding berth in the Big Ten Championship Game with their victory over the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes’ dreams of winning the national championship aren’t entirely dead yet, as there is still a chance Ohio State could make the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes remain one of only five teams in college football with one loss or fewer this season, along with Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC. While those four teams would likely make up the CFP field as of early evening Saturday, a loss by USC against either Notre Dame on Saturday night or in the Pac-12 Championship Game could open the door for Ohio State to earn the fourth spot in the field.
Day and Stroud expressed optimism that the Buckeyes would perform better than they did against Michigan on Saturday if they could play in the CFP.
“I think if we were able to get a shot in the top four, we would be a dangerous team,” Day said.
If a playoff berth doesn’t materialize, the Buckeyes’ season will feel like a massive disappointment for the second year in a row. Ohio State would likely be headed to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year if Michigan wins the Big Ten Championship Game, but a Rose Bowl win didn’t make up for the sense of failure the Buckeyes felt for losing to Michigan and missing the CFP a year ago – and it won’t this year either.
And no matter what happens over the next week and the rest of the season – even if the Buckeyes make the playoff and win the national championship – they’ll still have to live with their rivals having bragging rights, the same bragging rights Hartline talked about in his Skull Session speech, for 52 more weeks. Day will have to live with having a losing record in The Game and the backlash that comes with that as Ohio State’s head coach, and Stroud – assuming he enters the 2023 NFL draft – will finish his Ohio State career having never experienced a rivalry game win.
That pain will surely fuel the Buckeyes throughout the next year as they look to end what is now their longest losing streak to Michigan since 2000. Since what the Buckeyes thought would be enough to turn the tables this year ended up being not nearly enough, however, it’s clear it will take more than just desire for Ohio State to get back on track in The Game.
- #3 Michigan 45, #2 Ohio State 23
- • Buckeyes Lose Second Straight Rivalry Game
- • Secondary Surrenders Too Many Big Plays
- • 52-Week Quest Ends With Even Worse Result
- • Michigan Plants Flag on Block O
- • Ohio State Postgame • Photos • TBDBITL • Quotebook • Notebook
- • Michigan Postgame • 3 Key Stats • Five Things • Social Reax • Debriefing