COLUMBUS, Ohio — To help give you an idea of how big of a favorite Michigan was on Saturday, look no further than the staff predictions of The Lantern, Ohio State University’s student newspaper.
It was this week three of its seven staffers — who call OSU home for nine months out of the year and have watched this Buckeyes team on a regular basis — went against the home team and picked Michigan for the publication’s weekly predictions.
A sample nationally showed something more convincing. Most folks had the Wolverines winning. Jim Harbaugh’s team had finally shown some life on offense this season, while it had nothing to worry about on defense. It was the best in the country.
So, what did fourth-ranked Michigan go out and do Saturday? It went in front of a national audience and imploded, losing 62-39 in what could only be described as the Wolverines’ most embarrassing loss since that blowout last October at Penn State. You remember, the game defensive coordinator Don Brown said earlier this season he thought about nearly every morning.
Sounds like Brown is going to have another game to think about. His No. 1 ranked defense — best in the nation in both yards allowed and passing yards allowed — was exposed against the Buckeyes, who piled up 567 yards of total offense and a point total not seen in the Harbaugh era.
While Michigan’s offense was settling for field goals early on, Ohio State was scoring touchdowns — jumping out to an early 21-6 lead.
“It’s very unexpected,” senior safety and Michigan defensive co-captain Tyree Kinnel said. “We fought through adversity. We didn’t think we’d have to go through that much pain. It was tough to go through.”
Kinnel and others, Harbaugh included, heaped praise on Ohio State afterward. It was a far different narrative than the one going in, with Michigan players (and even their coach) openly talking about what a win over the Buckeyes would mean for the program.
A Big Ten East crown — significant because Michigan had never finished higher than third under Harbaugh — and trip to the league’s championship game. One win away from the College Football Playoff. The critics could finally back off.
Instead, what helped bring the Wolverines this far — their vaunted man-press defense, one that relies on speed the edges and pressure up front — was sliced and diced from the very start. Ohio State used crossing routes to much success early on, then went to the perimeter as the game progressed.
Michigan (10-2, 8-1 Big Ten) made a game of it, briefly, pulling within 21-19 shortly before halftime, only for OSU to answer by marching down the field 74 yards in 41 seconds for a last-second field goal. It was the beginning of 20 straight points, a stretch that included a game-deciding 17-point third quarter.
Asked to explain what happened afterward, junior running Chris Evans responded despondently: “The score.”
The Wolverines were never really in this game, from opening kickoff to the end of the game. They seemed a step or two slow every part of the way — perhaps not illustrated any more perfectly in two statistics: penalties, for which OSU had 12 (for 150) yards, and time of possession: Ohio State had the football for nearly 11 fewer minutes than Michigan on Saturday.
Yet the Buckeyes racked up big drive after big drive like it was nothing.
“They played great,” said Harbaugh, who took responsibility for the loss and is now 0-4 against OSU in his coaching tenure at Michigan. “Their third quarter, especially. A lot of speed plays that got out on the perimeter and got loose. They also set them up in good field position with a couple of turnovers and, of course, the blocked punt contributed to the score as well.”
Harbaugh and his players weren’t in much of a talking mood on Saturday. Understandably so. They watched their season go up in flames over the course of a four-hour football game at Ohio Stadium, where so many of the program’s seasons have come to die in recent years.
Now the team must wait a week for a bowl invite. It won’t be to the playoff. There will be no Big Ten championship added to the trophy case. A better year, for sure, but another one where Michigan saw everything flash in front of their eyes for a week, only to watch Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes take it.