Photo courtesy of Michigan athletics
Just one day separates us from the latest installment of “The Game”. When Ohio State and Michigan meet, the adage is that you can throw the records out the window.
That’s obviously easier said than done, because it is the record that helps determine what is on the line. What was on the line five years ago was a chance at the College Football Playoff.
Michigan gave the Buckeyes all they wanted. In the end, Ohio State found a way for a thrilling but controversial 30-27 double-overtime victory.
Setting the Stage
Both teams were 10-1 as they arrived at Ohio Stadium on Nov. 26, 2016. Ohio State was ranked No. 2 in the country and looking to beat Michigan for a fifth straight time.
Under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines were ranked third. On the line for Michigan was the Big Ten East title and a chance to stay alive for a national championship.
An Instant Classic
Through regulation, neither team finished with more than 300 yards of offense. Fittingly, the game’s first touchdown came on defense.
After the Wolverines had taken a 3-0 lead in the second quarter, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker returned a Wilton Speight interception 16 yards for a score to give the Buckeyes their first lead. Before halftime however, Michigan regained its advantage.
Khalid Hill’s 1-yard touchdown run with just seconds left in the first half gave Michigan a 10-7 edge. Midway through the third quarter, Hill was on the receiving end of an 8-yard touchdown pass from Speight to extend the lead to 17-7.
Playing in front of the home crowd, Ohio State wouldn’t go quietly. Mike Weber’s 1-yard scamper late in the third cut the lead to three.
Midway through the fourth, tying the game seemed like a certainty for the Buckeyes, but Tyler Durbin missed a 21-yard field goal. Michigan however, could muster nothing on the ensuing possession.
Kenny Allen’s 56-yard punt pinned the Buckeyes deep with less than six minutes to play. Ohio State however, methodically marched 77 yards in 13 plays. The offense ultimately stalled and with just seconds on the clock, it was up to Durbin to atone.
With one second left, Durbin atoned for his previous short miss and calmly knocked through a 23-yard field goal to force overtime.
In the extra session, it took Ohio State just two plays to take its first lead of the half. After Curtis Samuel carried for 18 yards, quarterback J.T. Barrett went the final seven for a touchdown.
The Ohio State defense was one play away from victory as Michigan faced 4th-and-goal from the 5-yard-line. Needing a score to stay alive, Speight delivered a strike to Amara Darboh over the middle for the game-saving touchdown.
A Controversial Finish
In the second overtime, Michigan was unable to get a first down, but Allen knocked through a 37-yard field goal. Ohio State needed a touchdown to win, but first, it needed a first down.
Barrett finished with 124 yards passing and 125 yards rushing for Ohio State. On 4th-and-1 from the 16, that’s who head coach Urban Meyer called on to keep the drive alive.
Barrett made his way to the 15 where he was hit by a Michigan defender right at the sticks. Many believed that the Ohio State signal caller had been stopped short, but officials ruled that he reached the 15-yard-line. It was a first down and the drive continued.
But for just one more play.
The next carry went to Samuel, who scampered 15 yards for the winning touchdown. For the fifth straight year, Ohio State had won “The Game”.
The fourth-down spot and the officiating in general would be highly criticized in the coming days. Ohio State had been called for just two penalties for six yards in the game while Michigan was penalized seven times for 59 yards.
Neither team’s season however, would end on a high note. The Buckeyes made the College Football Playoff, but were ultimately blasted by eventual national champion Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, 31-0.
Michigan’s consolation prize was a date with Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The Wolverines rallied to take a fourth-quarter lead, but a late touchdown lifted Florida State to a 33-32 victory.
Both teams finished in the top 10 and neither won the Big Ten. When it came to best game of the year however, one might argue that “The Game” was No. 1. The Buckeyes’ controversial victory came on this day five years ago.