Michigan beats Ohio State for third straight year, first time since 1995-97

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Ever since Connor Stallions’ name first entered the college football lexicon and an elaborate sign-stealing scandal threatened to derail Michigan’s most promising quest for a national title since 1997, the lack of Jim Harbaugh’s presence at The Game loomed large over a program which had so often tried to hold its head above the fray in the sport.

From the school president down to the bluest of maize and blue fans, much of the focus by those around the program centered on getting their head coach back on the headset for one of the few games that truly mattered. Lawsuits were filed, a war of words commenced with competing talking points depending on what side of the state line you were on, and the narrative twisted and turned every 48 hours as everyone pondered just how the Wolverines would respond to their leader not being there when things got tight against the talented team draped in scarlet and gray.

As it turned out, Harbaugh’s only appearance on the afternoon — a graphic on both of the Big House’s videoboards saying the coach couldn’t hear the crowd noise — was scarcely needed. Michigan was more aggressive, more creative and simply better than Ohio State as it secured yet another  victory in The Game by a deceiving 30-24 margin. Michigan has now won the rivalry game three straight years for the first time since 1995-97.

“You talk about The Team, The Team, The Team but this team — Team 144 — is the ultimate team,” acting head coach Sherrone Moore said afterward. “This team is as good as any in the country and I think they’ve proved it every week.”

Especially this week, where the build-up to the third-ever top-three meeting between the two schools felt palpable after kickoff amid a back-and-forth affair that was fraught with tension for three and a half quarters.

Following consecutive three-and-outs to open the game from both the Buckeyes and Wolverines, the pair’s nerves wound up fading away as they traded several scores down the stretch. Long drives against the two best statistical defenses in the country became far more of the norm with the highly recruited playmakers stepping up when things mattered most. 

The problem for Ohio State? Michigan’s just stepped up more, scoring on six of their final seven drives offensively before safety Rod Moore effectively called game — picking off Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord’s pass intended for Marvin Harrison Jr. (118 yards, one touchdown) in the closing seconds. A celebratory knee on the next play then unleashed a raucous field storm by many of the 110,615 in attendance on a cold but clear afternoon.

Postgame presser: J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum & Rod Moore on Michigan’s victory over Ohio State

Postgame presser: J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum & Rod Moore on Michigan's victory over Ohio State

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who became the first signal-caller to lead the program to back-to-back wins over the Buckeyes since 1990-1991, was his normally efficient self in throwing for 148 yards and a score on 16 completions despite fewer big plays down the field compared to the victory last year in Columbus. The dual-threat’s legs were also a key part of the offense’s ability to move the ball down the field as well, with his 17 rushing yards picking up a handful of first downs in addition to the numerous sacks he was able to avoid. 

Tailback Blake Corum failed to put up the kind of numbers that he’s used to, but walked out of the Big House calling the result his best win in a Michigan uniform following a two-touchdown outing on the ground.

“It’s hard to describe, I’m just sick,” said Ohio State coach Ryan Day. “We’re all disappointed. We know what this game means to so many people, so to come up short is certainly crushing. Not only because you invest your whole year in it, but you know at Ohio State what this game means. There’s a locker room in there that’s devastated.”

Somewhere across town, however, there’s an energetic Michigan alum who also carries the title of head coach who is very much feeling the opposite after seeing that effort by the Wolverines.

Play of the game

Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore may have solidified his future as a head coach — either at Michigan or beyond — by dialing up an impressive trick play at a critical juncture to open the fourth quarter. Though the offense as a whole has been fairly risk-averse as the clock has wound down this season, that was anything but the case as the Wolverines came out of the field-position change and proceeded to have running back Donovan Edwards take a toss, roll right and fire an impressive strike to a wide-open Colston Loveland for 34 yards. 

The play not only fired up the crowd at the time but also put the team in position to score again on that same drive as James Turner’s field goal put Michigan up double-digits and allowed for many in Ann Arbor to look ahead to the three-game win streak in the rivalry.

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines Highlights

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines Highlights

Turning point

There are numerous points in an emotional game like this that one can look back at as being the lever that shifted a close contest into the win column, but it’s hard to argue that a low point wound up being Michigan’s catalyst to beat Ohio State.

On a relatively simple play during the third quarter, All-American right guard Zak Zinter had a player roll up on his left leg — immediately sending him to the turf in an injury neither broadcaster nor stadium video board dared to replay. The senior, who returned to school instead of going to the NFL last year to play in massive games like this, was down for several minutes before eventually being carted out of Michigan Stadium with an air cast on. After several chants of “Let’s Go Zak” from the more than 100,000 in attendance, Zinter raised his fist and fought to hold back tears as his teammates sent him off after gathering at midfield. 

While it can sometimes take a moment for teams to get back into action after such a traumatic injury to a key player, the Wolverines did nothing of the sort as tailback Blake Corum broke off a 22-yard run on the very next play to take a 24-17 lead and never look back to notch yet another mammoth victory in the series.

Key stat

Michigan attempted just three pass attempts combined in the fourth quarter against Ohio State in the past two editions of The Game. This year, the Wolverines had five, one by running back Donovan Edwards and four by quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

Sherrone Moore speaks on Michigan’s win over Ohio State as fans storm the field

Sherrone Moore speaks on Michigan's win over Ohio State as fans storm the field

What’s next for Michigan?

With another College Football Playoff berth in sight, the Wolverines head to Indianapolis for Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa. The Hawkeyes were shut out in their only game against a ranked opponent (Penn State, 31-0) but did win the West Division on the back of strong special teams and a defensive unit under Phil Parker — which ranked in the top five in nearly every statistical category. The meeting is a rematch of the 2021 conference title game and sees both Michigan and Iowa entering in similar roles — the former playing to lock up a playoff bid (likely the Rose Bowl) and the latter trying to play spoiler as it caps off a remarkable season for Kirk Ferentz’s crew.

What’s next for Ohio State?

The Buckeyes spent eight days in agony last season after losing The Game but saw just the right kind of results on championship weekend to allow them to back into the playoff with just one loss. That remains a possibility this season after a loss on the road to a top-five opponent, but the competition for that No. 4 seed is a bit more competitive this season. 

OSU will have to root for at least a Georgia win in the SEC Championship, an upset of Texas in the Big 12 title game, Washington to win the Pac-12 and likely Florida State losing to either Florida or Louisville in the ACC title game.

Should that not transpire, the Buckeyes can likely look ahead to a host of NFL draft declarations from those like Harrison before making an appearance in the Orange Bowl at the end of December.

Rod Moore picks off Ohio State’s Kyle McCord, sealing Michigan’s third straight victory in The Game

Rod Moore picks off Ohio State’s Kyle McCord, sealing Michigan’s third straight victory in The Game

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.


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