The snapping of a seven-game winning streak against an archrival is a big deal, but Saturday's Ohio State
loss to Michigan
And it was by more than the reports about Urban Meyer taking over as head coach.
Indeed, it's never fun to fall to Michigan, as the Buckeyes did by a 40-34 score in Ann Arbor, but the fact that the streak was broken was less a subject in the postgame interview room than the fact the Buckeyes battled to the end.
"You saw the fight," head coach Luke Fickell said. "That's what this game is always about. It's not about talent, it's about heart. It's about will. Obviously we didn't get the job done today, but you can't walk away from those seniors and those guys and not say they gave it everything they had."
In many ways, the game seemed to encapsulate the entire 2011 season into one three-hour, 35-minute span. The Buckeyes, who fell to 6-6 and 3-5 in the Big Ten, made the type of mistakes a depleted and inexperienced roster might make. The staff, led by a first-year head man, made some head-scratching decisions when more aggressive calls could have led to greater success.
And in the end, the team clawed and battled only to fall short.
"That's just been the story of our season," wideout DeVier Posey said. "Just taking shots and fighting back, and I really feel like that's what we try to do and we've been in that situation before. We just tried to keep fighting."
It was clear that's exactly what the Buckeyes did. Four times in the game, the team responded to a Michigan score with points of its own, and the Buckeyes earned key short fields after a Denard Robinson fumble and a dropped punt snap by Michigan's Will Hagerup.
Finally, the hard work resulted in a major break in the final moments. It appeared Michigan had scored the game-clinching touchdown in the last two minutes, but review placed running back Fitzgerald Toussaint's knee down at the 1-yard line. One play later, Michigan committed a pair of penalties that moved the ball back to the 26, and the ensuing field goal meant the Buckeyes had life down only six with 1:59 to play.
"We had belief," Fickell said. "We asked those guys to believe in everything that we do and that's what it comes down to. You have to believe whatever the situation is that you're going to get it done. That's what you saw. You saw the eyes of those guys on the sideline, they didn't have any doubt and that's what you want."
It wasn't to be, though, as freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was intercepted on a fourth-down play with 39 seconds to play after he dove into a Michigan player and extended the ball for the first on the initial fourth down the team faced on the drive.
"We were just talking about this in the locker room, No. 5 is a competitor," Posey said. "He's going to play to the wire. That's one thing about that kid that I admire so much, at such a young age he's such a fighter. No matter what it is he's going to make some plays, he's a hell of a player."
Miller's emergence was just one of the bright spots in what was the team's worst on-field campaign since 1999. He was forced into a marquee role after the offseason loss of Terrelle Pryor, who also joined head coach Jim Tressel out the door as part of the tattoos and memorabilia scandal that rocked the program.
That also resulted in Fickell becoming the interim coach for the season in May, and he was dealt a tough deck including numerous player suspensions to a number of starters including Mike Adams, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Jordan Hall and Travis Howard.
Adding it all up, the Buckeyes – also undermanned through injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball after Nathan Williams, Andrew Sweat and C.J. Barnett went down before the game and Ryan Shazier and Orhian Johnson were banged up during – were proud of the effort shown in the loss.
"I'm certainly proud of the way they played today. They went through some new experiences," Bollman said. "They hadn't been through some things like this. The older guys had not been through this at all. So they kept working at it and coming back, which I have to give them credit for that."
Senior center Michael Brewster agreed.
"Don't get me wrong, it hurts to lose to those guys," Brewster said. "It's the first time I have, but sometimes in a game like that if you leave it all on the field at least you can step away from the game saying you left it all out there. I felt like last week some of us didn't feel like that, myself included."
That didn't mean the loss felt good, though.
"It was tough, man," Herron said. "Like I said anytime you lose to Michigan it's a horrible feeling. Hopefully the younger guys have learned something from it. You're going ot be down but you have to learn from it and go back and get better for it."
Ohio State suffered a fate Saturday that very few people in the current program had: a loss to Michigan. The loss was certainly hard to take, but the silver lining was the way Ohio State kept coming at the Wolverines in waves, according to multiple members of the team.
Ohio State's players fought until the end in losing to Michigan.