“Nothing that comes easy in this world is worth a damn.” – Woody Hayes
Ohio State freshman Tyvus Powell snared a two-point conversion interception with 32 seconds remaining and preserved a 42-41 victory for the Buckeyes in one of the wildest games in the 110-game history of the OSU-Michigan rivalry.
After the Buckeyes had taken a 42-35 lead with just 2:20 remaining, hobbled U-M quarterback Devin Gardner marched his team 84 yards in 11 plays, tossing a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Devin Funchess with only 32 ticks left in regulation.
Rather than send the game into overtime, however, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke – with his No. 1 field-goal kicker sidelined and a gassed defense unable to stop Ohio State’s running game – elected to try and go for the upset victory in regulation.
Slot receiver Drew Dileo, Gardner’s outlet receiver in numerous crucial occasions this season, tried to get loose at the goal line, but Powell had the receiver played perfectly and stepped in front Gardner’s pass to preserve the victory.
“That was an instant classic,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer told reporters after the game. “Someone asked me which was better: Our 24th consecutive win or our second win against our rival, and it’s no question. It’s the second win against our rival. They have great players and great coaches. That was a battle. Great game. A classic.”
The two old rivals combined for 1,129 yards of total offense during the back-and-forth contest with Michigan racking up a season-high 603, the second-most ever for an Ohio State opponent. Illinois totaled 659 yards during a 49-42 loss to the Buckeyes on Nov. 8, 1980.
Gardner fought off a leg injury that limited his mobility to post a career-best performance, connecting on 32 of 45 attempts for 451 yards and four touchdowns. It was the most yardage for an opposing quarterback since Drew Brees threw for 455 yards during a 31-27 Purdue win at West Lafayette on Oct. 28, 2000.
While the Wolverines were percolating on offense, so were the Buckeyes. They piled up 526 total yards, including 393 on the ground. Tailback Carlos Hyde carried 27 times for 226 yards, the most ever for an Ohio State player against Michigan.
Quarterback Braxton Miller added 153 yards and three touchdowns rushing on his 21st birthday, and also completed 6 of 15 passes for 133 yards and a pair of TDs.
The first half featured a little bit of everything, including six touchdown drives of 70 yards or more, more than 600 yards of total offense and a chippy atmosphere that resulted in three ejections early in the second quarter.
Michigan drew first blood despite being pinned down at its own 1-yard line the first time it had the ball. But Gardner marched his team out of the shadow of its own end zone, mostly on the strength of a wide receiver screen to Jeremy Gallon, who turned the short pass into an 84-yard gallop to the Ohio State 2. Gallon finished the game with nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown.
Only a shoestring tackle by OSU cornerback Bradley Roby saved a touchdown on the play, but it was a short reprieve for the Buckeyes. Two plays later, Gardner strolled into the end zone on a 1-yard option keeper to give the Wolverines a 7-0 lead at the 9:24 mark of the first quarter.
Ohio State had a quick answer with a 75-yard drive capped by a 53-yard bomb from Miller that wideout Devin Smith was able to corral at the goal line just ahead of his closest pursuer. That tied the game at 7 with 5:08 left in the opening period.
On the ensuing kickoff, Roby was forced to make another touchdown-saving tackle, this time on U-M return man Dennis Norfleet, who had exploded down the sideline for an 80-yard return inside the Ohio State 10-yard line. But much of the return was negated by a Michigan holding penalty, moving the Wolverines back to their own 30.
That didn’t seem to matter much, however, as Gardner directed a 70-yard drive that included a 37-yard pass play to a wide-open tight end Jake Butt and a 14-yard pitch to Gallon to get the ball back inside the OSU 10.
Two plays later, Gardner flipped an option pitch to running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who ran untouched into the end zone from 4 yards away to put Michigan back in front at 14-7 at the 2:11 mark of the first quarter.
Back came Ohio State with another 75-yard drive, this one taking only four plays and 76 seconds. After three straight runs from Hyde pushed the ball to the OSU 47, Miller took a quarterback keeper up the middle, put a fake on cornerback Courtney Avery at about the U-M 40 and then outraced Avery to the end zone for a 53-yard touchdown.
That knotted the score at 14-14 with only 55 seconds remaining in a frenetic first quarter that featured 208 total yards for Michigan, 50 more than the team had mustered during the entire game the week before during a 24-21 loss to Iowa.
The Wolverines wasted no time padding their yardage total to begin the second quarter, finishing off a four-play, 78-yard drive with a 17-yard pass from Gardner to a leaping Gallon, giving Michigan its third lead of the game at 21-14 with 14:28 showing on the second-period clock.
But on the ensuing kickoff, U-M backup linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone ripped the helmet off Ohio State freshman Dontre Wilson following the return, triggering an ugly melee that resulted in the ejections of Jenkins-Stone, Wilson and OSU offensive guard Marcus Hall, who had come off the bench to get involved in the scrum. Once he learned of his ejection, Hall threw his helmet to the ground in disgust before hoisting a pair of obscene gestures to the Michigan Stadium crowd before leaving the field.
On the field, the Ohio State defense finally found a way to slow down the Michigan offense before the Buckeyes finally tallied the final points of the first half.
Miller engineered a 91-yard drive that took only a minute and a half, finishing things off himself with a nifty 21-yard touchdown scramble at the 1:03 mark to make it 21-all.
Ohio State grabbed its first lead of the game midway through the third quarter after Powell pounced on a Gardner fumble. The Buckeyes got the ball on their own 44 and quickly moved 56 yards in only five plays, the final one a 3-yard touchdown run by Miller off a fake handoff to Hyde.
That made it 28-21 in favor of the Buckeyes with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter.
Michigan threatened to tie the game again when Hoke gambled on a fourth-and-2 play at the OSU 14. The Wolverines had lined up for a 31-yard field-goal try by junior punter Matt Wile, who was filling in for injured kicker Brendan Gibbons. But just before the snap, Hoke called a timeout. It was a good thing, too, because Wile sailed his three-point attempt wide of the right upright.
Then Hoke elected to go for the first down, but Gardner’s pass meant for Dileo was low and broken up by OSU safety C.J. Barnett.
Ohio State took over on downs and marched 86 yards the other way in just six plays, most of them running plays that gashed the Michigan defense. But on the sixth play, Miller faked a handoff to Hyde that froze the U-M linebackers and safeties, allowing tight end Jeff Heuerman to get behind the defense for a 22-yard touchdown reception.
That gave OSU a seemingly safe 35-21 lead with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter, but the Wolverines were far from through.
Gardner led an 11-play, 83-yard scoring drive on Michigan’s next possession, hitting Dileo with an 11-yard touchdown flip to pull his team within seven at 35-28 with 11:15 left to play.
And then the Wolverines took advantage of a rare Hyde mistake. The OSU tailback lost control of the football as he was trying for extra yardage, and Michigan linebacker Desmond Gordon pounced on the loose football at the Ohio State 41-yard line. The Wolverines took 13 plays and nearly 5½ minutes to navigate the short field, but they converted a pair of third downs and one fourth down before Gardner pitched a 2-yard touchdown pass to Butt to even things again at 35 with 5:01 remaining.
The Buckeyes got a break when Wile’s ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving OSU the ball at the 35, after which Miller hit the Wolverines with a 32-yard scramble on first down. Five plays later, Hyde ripped up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown run and the Buckeyes had a 42-35 lead with just 2:20 remaining.
But back came Michigan again as Gardner completed passes of 14, 13, 11 and 13 yards before flipping a third-and-8 screen pass to Toussaint that picked up 29 yards.
That gave the Wolverines a first-and-goal at the Ohio State 2-yard line, and after a Gardner spike with 35 seconds left, the Michigan quarterback found Funchess in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-41.
Hoke immediately signaled for a two-point conversion, after which Meyer called his final timeout.
“I would have done the same thing. No question,” Meyer said. “Go for it and win the game right there.”
After the timeout, the Wolverines went with a three-receiver stack to the right, a formation that had worked well for them throughout the game. In a short-yardage situation, however, the Buckeyes had each receiver covered well, and when Powell dived in front of Dileo to make the interception, Ohio State had dodged a huge bullet.
Roby smothered the ensuing onside kick, and the Buckeyes had extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 24 games and set their sights on next week’s Big Ten Championship Game against once-beaten Michigan State.