Ohio State made history times two Nov. 27 with a 37-7 Senior Day victory over archrival Michigan.
The Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines for the seventh consecutive year – something never before accomplished by OSU during the 107-game series – and at the same time clinched a share of their sixth consecutive Big Ten championship. That equals the conference record of six straight titles by Ohio State teams between 1972 and 1977.
Meanwhile, it was another low point in the rocky three-year tenure of Rich Rodriguez as Michigan head coach. Not only did Rodriguez became the first coach in program history to lose his first three Ohio State games, the Wolverines were held below double digits on the scoreboard for only the second time in his 36-game tenure. The only other time was a 42-7 loss to Ohio State in 2008.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “You can talk about key plays, but our guys fought all day long. Our kids prepared very hard, played very hard, and they deserve everything they have coming to them.”
What they have coming to them is a sixth straight Big Ten championship ring and another set of Gold Pants, the prize for every Ohio State player who participates in a victory over Michigan.
Tressel also has an unprecedented run of success against the Wolverines, moving his personal record to 9-1 against U-M.
“What does all that mean? It’s a feeling of accomplishment,” Tressel said. “It’s a feeling of accomplishment. You enjoy the journey. The thrill of the challenge. It’s hard to do. Our guys work. Our players and coaches, they work. And they enjoy it. … The challenge of the chase of the championship is what is fun to me.
“This one is for the 2010 team. Every team is its own team, has its own signature, has its own challenges and high points. These kids were 6-0 and then we dropped one, but they came storming back. We played hard in November and when you play hard in November good things will happen.”
After a slow start early in the game, Ohio State flexed its offensive and defensive muscles. The Buckeyes piled up 478 yards of total offense after their first two possessions netted only 13 yards. Meanwhile, the Wolverines totaled 351 yards of offense but only 93 of that came in the second half.
Junior tailback Dan “Boom” Herron led an OSU rushing attack that was good for 258 yards with 225 of that coming in the second half. Herron, who had five carries for minus-1 yards in the opening 30 minutes, finished with 22 carries for 175 yards and a touchdown and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the process. He now has 1,068 yards and 15 TDs.
Meanwhile, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor turned in a solid performance with 269 yards of total offense. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and added another 49 yards on 12 carries. He also became only the third Ohio State quarterback to beat Michigan three times. William “Tippy” Dye (1934-36) and Troy Smith (2004-06) are the others.
Pryor’s TD passes went to junior DeVier Posey and senior co-captain Dane Sanzenbacher. Posey finished the game with five catches for 82 yards while Sanzenbacher had three receptions for 71 yards. Senior tailback Brandon Saine had four catches for 11 yards and tight end Jake Stoneburner had three grabs for 33 yards.
As it has been for much of the season, Michigan had its offensive tone set by sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. He carried the ball 18 times for 105 yards, but was held down in the passing game by the Buckeyes. Robinson completed only 8 of 18 passes for 87 yards, and was largely ineffective after appearing to suffer an injury to his non-throwing (left) hand late in the second quarter.
From that point, Robinson alternated snaps with backup QB Tate Forcier, who finished 8 of 15 in the passing department for 82 yards and an interception.
Ohio State got off to an extremely slow start, going three-and-out on its first two offensive series. Meanwhile, the Wolverines were moving up and down the field with Robinson operating out of a mostly simplistic scheme that featured simple handoffs and keepers.
U-M piled up 118 yards of total offense in the first quarter and was driving inside the red zone when OSU defensive back Orhian Johnson caused Robinson to fumble and junior defensive end Nathan Williams corralled the loose football at the 9-yard line.
Three plays later, the Buckeyes got their first big offensive play of the game when Pryor connected with Sanzenbacher for 39 yards. Stoneburner also had 21-yard reception during the drive, which eventually resulted in a 33-yard field goal from senior kicker Devin Barclay on the second play of the second quarter.
That made it 3-0 in favor of the Buckeyes, and they wasted little time adding to that lead.
After a three-and-out series by the Wolverines was followed by a short 18-yard punt, OSU took advantage and drove 35 yards of its first touchdown of the game. The Pryor-to-Sanzenbacher connection was responsible for a 7-yard score, and after Barclay added the extra point, the Buckeyes had pushed their advantage to 10-0 with 12:29 left until the half.
Michigan got on the board by taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 80 yards in 11 plays. Robinson was directly responsible for 63 of the yards – 42 rushing and 21 passing – but tailback Michael Shaw did the touchdown honors with a 1-yard run. Redshirt freshman kicker Brendan Gibbons added the PAT, and the Wolverines had cut their deficit to 10-7 at the 8:02 mark of the second quarter.
Any thoughts U-M entertained about a full-scale comeback collapsed only seconds later, however, when Ohio State junior Jordan Hall took the ensuing kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown. Barclay’s extra point made it 17-7 with 7:50 remaining.
“That was huge,” Tressel said. “They had cut the lead to 10-7 and then about 20 seconds later it was back up to 10.”
The Buckeyes made it 24-7 at the 3:06 mark when Pryor scrambled out of the pocket and flipped a short pass to Posey, who turned the play into a 33-yard touchdown.
The lead swelled to 31-7 early in the third quarter after OSU cornerback Travis Howard intercepted Forcier on the first play of the second half. Six plays after Howard’s pick, Herron thundered 32 yards through the right side of the line for a touchdown.
As good as that run was, it paled in comparison to the next time Herron touched the ball. He exploded through a small crack in the line and raced 98 yards for a touchdown. The score was wiped out because of a dubious holding call against Sanzenbacher, but the play still went for 89 yards and tied the longest run ever by an Ohio State player. Gene Fekete also went 89 yards during a 59-19 victory over Pittsburgh in 1942.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone following the penalty, so Barclay came on for a 36-yard field goal to make it 34-7 with 9:12 remaining in the third quarter. Barclay added another three-pointer – this time from 23 yards – to push the advantage to 37-7 in favor of Ohio State with 1:08 to play in the third period.
Each team had a bona fide scoring opportunity in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines failed to convert a fourth-and-goal at the Ohio State 6 with 8:15 remaining while the Buckeyes took a knee at the U-M 7 at the end of the game.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were led by a quartet of seniors with eight tackles each – cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and safety Jermale Hines. Homan also forced a fumble, Rolle had two tackles for loss and Hines knocked down three Michigan passes.
Williams was one of three Buckeyes with six tackles. He also had 2½ TFL, broke up two passes and had the team’s only sack to go along with his fumble recovery.
For Michigan, sophomore strong safety Jordan Kovacs tied his career high with 17 tackles. He also had an interception that he returned 41 yards at the end of the first half.
With the victory, OSU (11-1, 7-1) shares its sixth straight Big Ten championship with Michigan State (11-1, 7-1), which took a 28-22 victory this afternoon at Penn State. The trophy could be divided three ways with a Wisconsin home win later today vs. Northwestern.