As far as Ohio State was concerned, the 108th renewal of what is known simply as The Game boiled down to a little too much Denard Robinson and not quite enough Braxton Miller.
The Michigan quarterback outdueled his freshman counterpart from OSU and rallied his team from a 24-23 halftime deficit for a 40-34 victory Saturday at Michigan Stadium. The win was the first for the Wolverines in the series since 2003.
Robinson was the star of the show, running and throwing for 337 yards and accounting for five touchdowns. The junior QB carried 26 times for 170 yards and two scores, and he completed 14 of 17 passes for 167 yards and three TDs.
As superlative as that performance was, Miller turned in one that was nearly its equal. The Ohio State quarterback totaled 335 yards of offense, rushing 16 times for 100 yards and a touchdown and completing 14 of 25 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. The attempts, completions and yardage were all career-highs.
As good as Miller was, he could have been even better. Three times in the game, he overthrew wide-open receivers on plays that could have resulted in touchdowns. The last one came in the final two minutes when he led senior wideout DeVier Posey too far. Had Posey been able to gather in that pass, he would have had an easy touchdown.
The game featured 816 yards of total offense, including 444 from the Wolverines. Robinson led the charge, of course, but Michigan also got 120 yards on 20 carries from junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint.
The performances by Robinson and Toussaint allowed each to move over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, marking the first time in Michigan program history the team has boasted two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
While Toussaint proved to be the perfect complement to the shifty Robinson, Miller did not have the same luxury. OSU tailback Boom Herron was held to just 37 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries as the Buckeyes accounted for only 137 yards on the ground.
The victory allowed Michigan to finish the season with a 10-2 record and look forward to its first major bowl game in four years. Meanwhile, Ohio State dropped to 6-6, the poorest regular-season record since an identical mark in 1999.
The Buckeyes drew first blood by taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards on only six plays. Miller completed 3 of 4 pass attempts during the drive, including a 64-yard touchdown bomb to a wide-open Brown. OSU sophomore kicker Drew Basil added the extra point and Ohio State had a quick 7-0 lead only 2 minutes and 17 seconds into the contest.
The early score seemed to fire up the Ohio State defense and it held the Michigan offense to a three-and-out series on the Wolverines’ first possession. But when U-M got the ball back after a short Ohio State punt, Robinson took a quarterback draw and raced 41 yards down the home sideline. Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons tacked on the PAT, tying the score at 7 at the 9:15 mark of the first quarter.
Michigan made it 9-7 less than a minute and a half later when Ohio State left tackle Mike Adams was called for holding in the end zone, giving the Wolverines a safety. And they made it 16-7 following a short 52-yard drive when Robinson dropped in a 26-yard touchdown pass to receiver Junior Hemingway.
The Buckeyes appeared to have something going early in the second quarter after Miller scrambled for a pair of third-down conversions. But the freshman QB misfired badly on another third-down, overthrowing a wide-open Posey, and Ohio State was forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Basil to make it 16-10 with 10:37 remaining until the half.
OSU got a huge break three plays later when Howard stripped Robinson and recovered the ball at the Michigan 11. Three plays after that, Miller faked U-M defender Craig Roh at the line of scrimmage and linebacker Kenny Demens near the 5, hopping into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.
Basil added the extra point and the Buckeyes had regained the lead at 17-16 with 7:51 to go in the second quarter.
But the Wolverines answered right back with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped when Robinson executed a perfect read option, faking to Toussaint before taking the ball up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown. Gibbons added the PAT and Michigan was back in front, 23-17 with 4:35 remaining until the break.
OSU came back less than 3½ minutes later with a 66-yard scoring drive to wrestle back the lead before halftime. The possession was marked by a coach’s challenge of a third-down pass play from Miller to tailback Jordan Hall. Officials ruled the 4-yard sideline catch just past the first-down marker, and after video replay upheld the call, Miller followed on the next play with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Posey.
Basil’s extra point accounted for the fourth lead change of the first half, giving the Buckeyes a 24-23 advantage at the 1:21 mark of the second quarter.
Michigan wasted no time getting the lead back, taking the second-half’s opening possession 80 yards in 11 plays. Robinson ran five times for 10 yards and completed all three of his passes during the drive, including a 20-yard touchdown to wideout Martavious Odoms. Gibbons’ extra point made it 30-24 in favor of the Wolverines with 9:05 remaining in the third quarter..
Ohio State sliced into that lead with a 21-yard field goal from Basil at the 12:05 mark of the fourth quarter, but the Buckeyes could have had more. Michigan punter Will Hagerup mishandled a snap late in the third quarter and OSU’s Tyler Moeller tackled him at the U-M 32.
Miller later scrambled for 23 yards to give his team a first-and-goal at the Michigan 5, but three chances to get the ball into the end zone failed before the Buckeyes settled for three points from Basil.
The Wolverines tried to put the game on ice on their next possession when Robinson engineered an eight-play, 75-yard drive during which the Michigan QB accounted for 45 yards including a 4-yard touchdown toss to tight end Kevin Koger. After Gibbons’ PAT, Michigan enjoyed its biggest lead of the afternoon at 37-27 with 8:32 to go.
And back came the Buckeyes. Miller connected on three straight passes – a 36-yarder to tight end Jake Stoneburner, a 16-yard screen pass to Hall and a 20-yard flip to tight end Reid Fragel. The Wolverines were flagged for a personal foul penalty when Fragel was tackled out of bounds, pushing the ball to the U-M 4, and Herron followed with a 4-yard touchdown run.
The drive covered 80 yards, took only five plays and 1:23, and Basil’s extra point made it 37-34 with 7:09 remaining.
That was nearly Ohio State’s final gasp. With the Buckeyes’ defense running on fumes, the Wolverines appeared to move 80 yards for another touchdown. But Toussaint’s 5-yard touchdown run was ruled by video replay to have been stopped at the one-foot line, and one the next play, Robinson’s sweep around right end to the end zone was wiped out by a pair of U-M penalties.
The first flag was for a holding penalty and the second was a dead-ball personal foul, pushed the Wolverines all the way back to the 26-yard line with a third-and-goal. Robinson threw incomplete and U-M was forced to take a 43-yard field goal from Gibbons to make it 40-34 with 1:59 remaining.
That gave Ohio State one final possession, but Miller could not engineer the comeback. He had Posey breaking free down the far sideline on a third-down play, but overthrew his receiver. On the next play, the QB converted a fourth-and-6 play with a desperation 7-yard run, but that only postponed the ending.
The next two plays garnered only 4 yards and Miller was forced to spike the ball on third down. Then on Ohio State’s final play, freshman receiver Evan Spencer tipped Miller’s pass into the air and it was intercepted by Michigan cornerback Courtney Avery with 0:39 remaining.
The Wolverines took over on downs, Robinson took a kneel-down and the streak was over.
While Michigan can look forward to a possible BCS berth, Ohio State will likely undergo a coaching change in the next few days. Urban Meyer is expected to be named the new head coach early next week.