ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The numbers keep growing, much to Ohio State’s delight and much to Michigan’s dismay.
Ohio State’s 56-27 win over Michigan Saturday was the Buckeyes’ eighth in a row in the Big Ten’s preeminent football rivalry.
It was their 15th win in the last 16 years against the Wolverines and their 17th in the last 19 years since that day in 2001 when Ohio State made good on Jim Tressel’s promise on the day after he was hired that they would make the fans proud of them on the football field in Ann Arbor in 310 days.
And it was Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s fifth loss to Ohio State in his fifth season at his alma mater.
Harbaugh was hired to return Michigan to college football’s elite. But in addition to not beating Ohio State, Harbaugh’s teams have not even won a Big Ten East division title.
The baton of beating Michigan has been passed from Tressel to Urban Meyer to Ryan Day without ever being dropped. Michigan’s only win since 2003 was in OSU’s suspension-riddled 2011 season with an interim coach, Luke Fickell, who never expected to find himself in that situation.
Day talked about the responsibility he felt to win this game after Saturday’s latest chapter in the OSU-Michigan rivalry.
“Ever since I took the job it’s been on my mind. I know what this game means to the people of Ohio, to Buckeye Nation. And coming after one of the greatest coaches in college football going 7-0 (against Michigan), those are big shoes to fill,” he said.
“I tried not to worry about that, our staff tried not to worry about that and just focus on right now. Anytime I started to think ‘What if? What if?’ I just got right back into my work and just focused on trying to put a good game plan together and stay focused on the task at hand.”
Justin Fields passed for 302 yards and four touchdowns and J.K. Dobbins gained 211 yards on 31 carries and scored four touchdowns to lead the offense on Saturday.
Defensively, OSU regrouped at halftime and shut down Michican’s pass heavy offense. The Wolverines’ quarterback Shea Patterson, who was 14 of 19 for 250 yards and a touchdown in the first half, was 4 of 24 for 55 yards did not find the end zone in the final two quarters.
That defensive effort came without a sack from Chase Young, who came into the game with 16.5 of them in the nine games he had played.
“Our defensive staff put together unbelievable defensive adjustments at halftime,” Day said.
Young said he wasn’t disappointed to go without a sack after being double and tripled team much of the day.
“If you put your best on the field you can’t be mad. A lot of other people stepped up. Everybody on the defense stepped up,” he said.
When Day was asked which of his three possible Heisman Trophy candidates – Fields, Dobbins or Young – should be ranked highest, he went with the diplomatic answer.
“All three of them played great today. All three of them deserve to be in New York in my opinion,” he said.
Ohio State has scored 118 points against Michigan in the last two seasons – 56 this season and 62 last year.
The Buckeyes rolled up 577 yards on Saturday and gained 567 yards last year against Michigan. OSU has scored at least two touchdowns in each of the last seven quarters it has played against Michigan.
Michigan won the coin toss and made the aggressive move and went on offense first.
The Wolverines then marched 75 yards on seven plays, the last 22 yards coming on an end around by Giles Jackson. A missed extra-point kick left Michigan with 6-0 lead just over three minutes into the game.
That was the only lead Michigan would have, though.
OSU responded with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on its first possession of the game. Dobbins was responsible for every yard the Buckeyes gained on the drive, including a 34-yard run on his first carry, a 28-yard catch and a 5-yard touchdown run.
Ohio State led 28-16 at halftime and never led its lead get below 15 points after scoring two touchdowns to go up 42-16 late in the third quarter.
Maybe nothing better illustrates how important Ohio State considers this rivalry than defensive end Jonathon Cooper’s decision to play on Saturday.
Cooper, who announced his plans to call this a redshirt season and return next season, had one remaining game he could play before he hit the redshirt limit of four games this season.
He could have spent it last week against Penn State, he could have waited for the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin this Saturday in Indianapolis. He could have gambled that Ohio State will reach the College Football Playoff and used it there.
But he chose to play against Michigan. “It was tough. I was debating if I wanted to come back for Penn State, the Team Up North or the Big Ten championship. But I felt something inside that this should be the one and I’m very happy with the decision I made,” Cooper said.