Columbus, Ohio – Few gave Michigan a chance at Ohio State on Saturday in the 111th meeting between the two storied rivals.
Any why should anyone have believed the Wolverines, speculation swirling around their coach's job security, three-touchdown underdogs and facing the Big Ten East's top team, have any shot at upending a rival that has dominated this series for more than a decade?
Mchigan held the lead once, midway through the second quarter, and kept things close against the Buckeyes through three quarters. But Ohio State now has won 10 of the last 11 meetings, this time, 42-28, before an Ohio Stadium-record 108,610.
The Wolverines finished the regular season 5-7 in Brady Hoke's fourth -- and perhaps final -- season as head coach. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett has said he will evaluate Hoke once the season has concluded. Michigan will not play in a bowl, so it now has effectively ended.
Hoke said after the game he does not have a meeting scheduled with Hackett.
Ohio State ended any chance of a Michigan upset late in the fourth quarter on back-to-back scores, one a defensive touchdown. But with OSU starting quarterback J.T. Barrett out of the game -- Barrett will undergo surgery Sunday for a fractured right ankle -- the Buckeyes kept rolling with backup Cardale Jones in the game.
The backbreaker for the Wolverines came on fourth-and-1 at the Michigan 44-yard line. After Ohio State took a timeout, Ezekiel Elliott scored his second rushing touchdown of the game, a 44-yarder, with 4:58 left to give Ohio State a two-touchdown lead.
"We gave up three big plays that kind of eat at you as a coach," Hoke said. "Those things can't happen. That last fourth-and-1, we just mis-fit the run, probably overplayed the other side of the formation a little more than we should. They had the right play and it was a good call, and it was executed well."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he and his offensive staff discussed the play call during the timeout.
"A lot of conversation went into the play call about who we're going to run behind," Meyer said. "We gave them a little set that we haven't been in before with the two backs in the backfield. (We) had all the confidence in the world."
But Ohio State got a bonus score on Michigan's next series when quarterback Devin Gardner, playing in his final game for the Wolverines, fumbled while Joey Bosa sacked him, stripping the ball. Darron Lee scored on the fumble recovery, a 33-yard run.
Michigan added a final score with 1:15 left when Gardner found Freddy Canteen for a three-yard touchdown. Gardner was 22-of-32 for 233 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a fumble. He took five sacks and also had an 18-yard reception from Johnson. Devin Funchess had 108 yards receiving on seven catches.
Jake Butt and Canteen scored Michigan's receiving touchdowns.
"I told them I was proud of them, proud of the group, proud of how they went to work," Hoke said. "That's what they've done with a great attitude and how they prepared this week, which you would expect because of the week itself. They did that all year. Thank the seniors for what they've given this university, this program."
Both teams suffered injuries to key players in the second half.
Barrett, who has played splendidly this season after Braxton Miller was ruled out because of a shoulder injury, suffered the fractured ankle early in the fourth quarter after being caught awkwardly by Mario Ojemudia. Barrett, his right leg immobilized in a long air cast, was taken off the field on a cart, but not before a touching moment when Gardner went over to Barrett, touching him on the face while he still was being tended to by team doctors.
Earlier in the second half, Michigan lost tailback Drake Johnson, who had accounted for two rushing touchdowns. Johnson, who missed last season because of a torn ligament in his left knee, limped off the field and medical trainers examined his left knee. He led Michigan in rushing with 74 yards.
"You don't like any kid to get hurt," Hoke said, referencing the Barrett injury. "With Drake I feel the same way. I think he'll be OK. I don't know enough yet. We'll see how it goes from here."
The Wolverines' offense was never the same after Johnson left the game.
Ohio State, perhaps with some momentum after scoring late in the first half, opened the second half with a quick touchdown-scoring drive to take a 21-14 lead after Barrett scored on a 2-yard run. But Michigan came right back, answering with a game-tying, 75-yard scoring drive. Johnson scored on a four-yard run.
The Buckeyes regained the lead, 28-21, when Elliott scored on a 2-yard run with 1:08 left in the third quarter and never looked back.
Michigan dominated statistically in the first half, 203-176 yards, but allowed an Ohio State touchdown with seven seconds left -- affter Michigan had driven 95 yards on 15 plays to take a 14-7 lead -- that gave the Buckeyes momentum heading into halftime.
"I think there was another key part of the game, the two-minute drill right before the half," Meyer said.
Allowing scores just before halftime has been an issue for the Michigan defense all season. In five of the previous six losses, teams have scored just before half -- Utah and Minnesota scored on field goals with no time left to break ties and take leads, Michigan State scored on a touchdown with 21 seconds left to build a 14-3 lead, Rutgers scored a touchdown with 22 seconds left to take a 19-17 lead, and Notre Dame built a 21-0 lead after scoring a touchdown with 34 seconds left before halftime.
Center Jack Miller said the players were not focused on not entirely focused on the fact they did not qualify for a bowl game.
"Disappointed," Miller said, when asked the players' attitude in the locker room. "I don't think guys had (not making a bowl) on their mind. Disappointed for the seniors that the season ended this way. Any time you lose to Ohio, guys are upset about that.
"It's kind of a culmination of all things this year -- just disappointing."