'We were dominant': Michigan solves Ohio State, earns Big Ten title game berth
Ann Arbor — The Wolverines have been waiting for this a long time. And they’ve been preparing for this moment all year.
On a cold, snowy day at Michigan Stadium, Michigan upset Ohio State, 42-27, and will play for the Big Ten championship next week, marking the program’s first trip to Indianapolis as the East Division champion. Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004.
It was a sight that hasn’t been seen in Michigan Stadium in a long time, as the crowd swarmed the field in its excitement over the win.
“The will was very strong with our team,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after his first win as a coach in six tries against the Buckeyes. “The way it feels now, it feels like the beginning.”
Ohio State entered the game as the No. 2 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, ahead of Michigan at No. 5. The Wolverines snapped an eight-game losing streak to their archrivals, winning for the first time since 2011.
“I feel awful,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day told reporters. “When you work this game 365 days out of the year and come up short, it’s a failure. It hurts a lot.”
Ohio State, which had won the last four Big Ten championships, is 10-2. Michigan, projected to finish fourth in the Big Ten in an informal media poll during the preseason, is 11-1 and will play Iowa, the West Division champion, in Indianapolis next Saturday for the Big Ten title.
This has been a long time coming for the Wolverines, and they trace the beginnings of this journey to the start of the year. After Harbaugh signed an extension worth half its original annual salary, he revamped his staff and made it younger, including the hiring of first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald after firing Don Brown following five seasons at Michigan.
“That energy has been present this entire year,” Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara said. “The energy, the confidence we’ve had since spring ball. We’ve been playing these dudes, really, every day since January. I couldn’t be happier to be part of such a great team.”
Since the start of the year, the players have prepared for this season with an unavoidable sign in the football building asking: “What are you doing today to beat Ohio State?”
Michigan’s workhorse running back Hassan Haskins was a major reason why the Wolverines were able to beat Ohio State. Haskins scored five touchdowns, tying Ron Johnson’s program record set in 1968, and had 28 carries for 169 yards. He has 18 rushing touchdowns this season and is a major reason for the Wolverines' push in the final month of the season.
The Wolverines had 487 yards of offense, including 297 rushing, well beyond what Ohio State had been allowing (102.3) this season. McNamara was 13 of 19 passing for 159 yards with one interception and completed passes to nine different players. Roman Wilson, Cornelius Johnson, Luke Schoonmaker, Donovan Edwards and Haskins each had two receptions, and Wilson led the team with 55 receiving yards.
It was Michigan’s ability to run the ball that wore down the Buckeyes and got them out of sync.
“You feel like they control the game when that happens,” Day said. “We were off-schedule the whole time. I’m sure that was the recipe they had to win the game. We weren’t able to stop that. That is really disappointing, especially when you know they’re going to do it. We have to take a hard look and figure out why that was.”
Michigan has prided itself on being a complete team. While the defense knew it wouldn’t be able to shut down Ohio State’s top-rated offense, which entered the game averaging 559.9 yards a game, the Wolverines wanted to get to quarterback C.J. Stroud and neutralize him and his big-play ability as much as possible.
The Wolverines held the Buckeyes to two red-zone field goals and of Ohio State’s 10 penalties, five were on false starts, which the Michigan players credited the fans. Stroud took the blame for the false starts.
"As you can tell now, I’m not using it as an excuse, but I lost my voice early in the week and I can’t really yell,” Stroud told reporters. “I wouldn’t blame my line, I’d blame it on me for getting sick. I tried my hardest to be as loud as I possibly could. When you get yourself out of whack like that, it’s hard to bounce back.”
Stroud took a season-high four sacks. One was by David Ojabo, who now has 11 sacks this season, and Aidan Hutchinson had three to set the single-season Michigan record with 13 sacks.
“We were so dominant offensively and defensively,” Hutchinson said. “The way the offense was moving the ball, they were moving that thing up and down the field. Defensively, we let up a couple big plays, which we knew we were going to let up, but we got big in the red zone on some of those drives. I thought we played good, complementary football.”
Michigan outscored Ohio State 14-0 in the third quarter and built a 28-13 lead it never relinquished. Harbaugh was confident in Macdonald’s game plan from the start of the week when it was being installed.
“It was really effective,” Harbaugh said. “I said, ‘Players, coaches, defense, don’t be discouraged when they make plays, when they move the ball, when they score touchdowns. They’re going to. That’ll be the offense’s job to respond.’
“And our offense did. And the amount of stops today, especially those two right after the half, it was a really good disguise, really good packages that we made them doubt what they were seeing. They were seeing one thing, but they weren’t really seeing that. It was really effective today.”
What Michigan saw, what they experienced was that elusive win over Ohio State, which has dominated the last two decades of the rivalry. The players said they’re enjoying it for 24 hours before moving on to focus on the Big Ten title game.
“For me, I cried. It was so emotional,” said safety Brad Hawkins, who tied Rod Moore with a team-high nine tackles each. “Such a blessing to realize all the hard work, everything you preach about, what we have inside Schembechler (Hall), ‘What are you doing today to beat Ohio State?’
“Today we beat ‘em. It’s so overwhelming and just a blessing.”