An emotional John O'Korn shoulders responsibility for defeat. Angelique S. Chengelis
Ann Arbor — For periods of Saturday's game, Michigan looked like it might finally get over the hump and pull off a stunner over Ohio State.
But the unranked Wolverines, who had a 14-0 lead early, could not generate much of a running game and stuttered offensively with backup quarterback John O’Korn at the helm. Even when Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett left the game in the second half with an injury, the Wolverines couldn’t take advantage.
Ohio State won for the sixth-straight time in the rivalry, beating Michigan 31-20 on Saturday before 112,028 at Michigan Stadium. The Buckeyes are now 13-1 against the Wolverines the last 14 meetings.
A late interception thrown by O’Korn cost Michigan a shot at taking the lead in the final minutes.
"I think,” O’Korn said, as he broke down, “the hardest part for me is you come here to win this game and our senior class wasn’t able to do it, and I hold myself responsible for a lot of that. It sucks. I can’t imagine a worse feeling right now.”
O’Korn found out Monday he would start. Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, who started the last three games, left last week’s Wisconsin game with a concussion. He was at the stadium Saturday but not in uniform, as was Wilton Speight, last year’s starting quarterback who started the first four games this season before suffering three broken vertebrae at Purdue on Sept. 23.
After the Speight injury, O’Korn took over and started four games before Peters took over in the Rutgers game. Against Ohio State he was 17-of-32 for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception and took five sacks.
Redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins came in for Barrett, who left with 6:07 left in the third quarter, and was 6-of-7 for 94 yards. He led the team on three scoring drives, including two rushing touchdowns.
Michigan finished Jim Harbaugh’s third season 8-4, 5-4 Big Ten. The Buckeyes are 10-2, 8-1 and had already clinched a spot in the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin.
“I don’t know about levels of disappointment,” said Harbaugh, who is 1-5 combined against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. “Wish we could have won. Wish we could have sent the seniors out with a victory. They gave it everything they had and played extremely hard. Great bunch of guys, great character guys. So it’s disappointing.”
The Buckeyes dominated Michigan in the running game, outgaining the Wolverines, 226-100. J.K. Dobbins led the Buckeyes with 101 yards on 15 carries. Chris Evans led Michigan with 67 yards on 11 carries and Karan Higdon had 55 yards on 11 carries.
The Wolverines had a 14-0 lead in the first half.
Wolverines coach commends the play of both teams in Ohio State's victory over Michigan. Angelique S. Chengelis
“I think, honestly, just my personal opinion, we got a little complacent,” O’Korn said. “As players we let the foot off the gas. This game didn’t have to be close. We could have ran away with it. We had plenty of opportunities. We just didn’t take advantage.”
Michigan regained the lead early in the second half after Ohio State had tied it 14-14, opening the Wolverines’ second series with a 43-yard pass from O’Korn to Kekoa Crawford, who got outstanding blocking from Mason Cole and Sean McKeon. Karan Higdon scored on a 2-yard run, but Quinn Nordin had the extra point blocked and Michigan took a 20-14 lead.
Barrett left the game on Ohio State’s next possession with 6:07 left in the third quarter. He was replaced by Haskins, who didn’t miss a beat.
“When J.T. went down, we were actually talking about the next play we were going to run,” said Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary, who had two sacks. “Going in, we knew who the second-string quarterback was. We knew what he liked to do. We was well-prepared for that.”
Haskins also got some help from Michigan, when on an incomplete pass the Wolverines were called for a holding in his first series, giving OSU the first down. The Buckeyes gained a 21-20 lead after driving 78 yards on 11 plays and J.K Dobbins scored on a 1-yard run.
Ohio State added a 44-yard field goal by Sean Nuernberger for the 24-20 lead. Nuernberger missed a 43-yard field goal wide left with 2:47 left in the game.
The Wolverines had a chance to make a winning drive and O’Korn, with an inexplicable deep throw, was intercepted by Jordan Fuller. Ohio State added a touchdown to take a 31-20 lead on Mike Weber’s 25-yard run with 1:44 left.
“John misread the coverage,” Harbaugh said of the interception.
“It was all on me,” O’Korn said.
Wolverines QB thinks team got complacent playing with 14-0 lead. Angelique S. Chengelis
Michigan’s game plan early was efficient and gave the Wolverines the big lead. But Ohio State’s offense started clicking and converted third downs — 8-of-16 for the game — and that helped slow UM.
“We wanted to get up early,” fullback Khalid Hill said. “Hit 'em hard early and stay up. After the first couple of drives we just started to coast a little bit but we started to pick it up as well.
“It was kinda hard to stay hot as an offense. We weren’t on the field as much. Ohio State did a great job of keeping us off the field because if we had gotten back on the field, we were hot, we would have scored a lot of points I think. They did a great job of converting their first downs and keeping us off the field so long.”
Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich said this one was tough to lose — again.
“There’s a phrase, it’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Winovich said. “People overuse it nowadays, but honestly, it’s the most bitter that I’ve ever had to swallow personally.
“Not a fun predicament to be in. you have adversity, and we’re going to learn from it and we’re going to look at it right in the face and say this is what it was, this is how they beat us, how can we get better and get stronger. We’re going to do that tomorrow. We’re not going to waste any time in this process.”