By Jessie Dingess
Who was hungry enough to go to the Big Ten Championship? The Big Blue showed up ready to eat and pulled through a major upset. No. 5 Michigan swept No. 2 Ohio State, 42-27, ending the Wolverines’ eight-game losing streak to the not-so-popular Buckeyes while giving Harbaugh his first win over Ohio State as coach at Michigan.
This big win also clinches the Big Ten East title for the Wolverines, appearing in the Big Ten Championship Game since 2011 they’re first.
Michigan, which had a split half of the Big Ten East back in 2018, is also seeking its first Big Ten title since 2004.
Although the Wolverines were the better team from start to finish, they pulled and held 75 yards on the game’s opening run to take a 7-0 lead and never looked back. The Buckeyes briefly took the lead during the second quarter, but the Big Blue erased it quickly.
One of the primary keys to the game was Michigan’s rushing attack, led by Hassan Haskins, who crushed the day with 169 yards rushing and an astounding five touchdowns. Aidan Hutchinson swept the load for the Michigan defense, picking up three sacks, setting a brand new single-season program record of 13 takedowns.
Garrett Wilson (10 catches, 119 yards) and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11 receptions, 127 yards) both had huge days for the Buckeyes offense, but it just wasn’t good enough to pull off a win.
Was it a case of Michigan catching a break or two that decided the game or Ohio State having a bad day? When the buckeyes tried to show up and seemed to get a hold of the game, Michigan answered. Michigan showed they were the better team from the jump and never took its foot off the pedal.
Even when Ohio State needed a stop on defense, the Wolverines took to their offensive line and running backs to keep the game alive. It was pretty amazing how often the Wolverines were able to turn around, hand the ball to Haskins or Blake Corum to keep moving the chains, and they delivered effortlessly every single time.
The Wolverines showed they were also the more disciplined team on this big day. In the first quarter, an interception from McNamara killed an entrance chance to go up two scores, but the only blemishes were two penalties for 20 yards. Compared to Ohio State, which never turned the ball over but lost 66 yards on ten penalties. There were several false starts on the Buckeyes that hurt the offense, and on one defensive possession, they gave away to the Wolverines with first downs thanks to an offsides call and pass interference.
As talented and dangerous as Ohio State is, you must play a nearly perfect game to win against them. On the big game day, Michigan showed up and did just that, and they are going to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis because of it.
Ohio State had difficulty staying on schedule, but Michigan showed up. Doing the simple things helps you win football games, and Michigan was much better at them than Ohio State. The Wolverines converted 5 of 8 third-down attempts in the game to keep drives alive, and the biggest reason was their performance on first and second downs. The average distance Michigan needed to get on third down in this game was 3 yards. Ohio State needed an average of getting 7.3 yards on its third-down attempts, which explains why they were only 8 of 18, but still pretty impressive.
With the Wolverines showing they were far more effective on first down, picking up 278 yards on 33 first down plays, they rounded to an average of 8.4 yards per play. Ohio State managed only 5.1 yards on first downs, and there aren’t many defenses you want to face less in third-and-long situations than this Michigan defense, which is why the Wolverines were able to sack Buckeyes QB C.J. Stroud four times and get eight tackles for loss.
Ohio State’s defense didn’t have a single tackle for loss in the game. Michigan’s offensive line better not have to buy a meal on campus for the rest of the year.
Could this cost Stroud the Heisman Trophy? He became the favorite for the award last week after tearing Michigan State apart, but the lack of a Big Ten Championship Game appearance could hurt his candidacy, as does losing this game, even though the loss was not Stroud’s fault. Stroud completed 34 of 49 passes for 394 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover, but it wasn’t enough. The race was very close with too many contenders.
The downfall was Ohio State’s defense. Early in the season, when OSU lost to Oregon, it outmuscled. Oregon rushed for 269 yards and three touchdowns that day, averaging 7.08 yards per carrying. On Saturday, Michigan rushed for 297 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carrying.
Deserves of this one is Harbaugh: Think back around to this time last year. Harbaugh was a dead man walking, and even when he restructured his contract, seen as a lame-duck entering the 2021 season. Instead, he’s just completed his best regular season as the coach at Michigan and beat Ohio State for the first time.
Many coaches could be willing to accept a pay cut to stay at a job, instead preferring to move on and start fresh elsewhere. But with a decision that showed it wasn’t about his pride or his ego, Harbaugh came through. He showed he loved the school and wanted to restore a football program that had fallen on hard times when he returned to Michigan. He made the changes necessary for it to happen and will see rewards for it.