One week after being skewered by Illinois and barbecued by its own fans, the Ohio State defense came back with a vengeance, completely smothering Michigan and leading the Buckeyes to a 14-3 victory before 111,941 fans in Michigan Stadium.
How stifling was the OSU defense? The Wolverines were held to just 91 yards of total offense, the first time totaling less than 100 yards since getting 97 against Purdue in October 1962. Michigan had only eight first downs, just two in the second half and both came on Ohio State pass interference penalties.
With the victory, Ohio State clinched the program’s first back-to-back outright Big Ten championships for the first time since 1954-55, and won their third straight crown. That is the longest string since the Buckeyes won six in a row between 1972 and ’77.
The win also clinched the fifth Bowl Championship Series berth in seven seasons under head coach Jim Tressel. The “worst” the Buckeyes can do is make their first appearance in the Rose Bowl since New Year’s Day in 1998. The best-case scenario means a second straight appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, set for Jan. 7 in New Orleans.
For almost the outset, the Buckeyes appeared intent upon exerting themselves on defense. They allowed 55 yards in the first quarter and only 36 the rest of the way. Michigan seniors Chad Henne and Mike Hart were among those who struggled during the afternoon. Henne battled his way through a shoulder injury, but managed to complete only 11 of 34 pass attempts for 68 yards. Hart, bothered in recent weeks by a bad ankle, carried 18 times for only 44 yards.
In addition to the defensive effort, OSU got a superlative effort from sophomore tailback Chris Wells. He set new career-highs with 39 carries for 222 yards and scored both of the Buckeyes’ touchdowns. Wells’ previous career highs of 31 carries and 221 yards were set against Michigan State earlier this season.
Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman attempted only 13 passes in the game, completing 7 for 50 yards. Each of those totals represented season-lows for the junior quarterback, who also pitched an interception.
Neither team did much offensively in the first quarter. The Buckeyes had 23 total yards on 17 plays while the Wolverines were only marginally better with 55 yards on 14 plays.
U-M finally drew first blood on its second possession, moving 49 yards in 12 plays to the Ohio State 15 before getting a 33-yard field goal from kicker K.C. Lopata. That gave the Wolverines a 3-0 lead with 1:37 remaining in the first period.
The Buckeyes got on the scoreboard thanks to a short 44-yard drive that took eight plays and resulted in a 1-yard scoring run by Wells. Ryan Pretorius added the PAT, pushing Ohio State into the lead at 7-3 with 10:08 left in the second quarter.
That was all the scoring in the first half although the teams did provide some excitement in the final minutes before the break.
OSU’s defense forced a Michigan three-and-out with 1:57 left in the first half, and the Buckeyes moved to their own 44 before taking a timeout with 31 seconds left. But on the next play coming out of the timeout, Boeckman threw deep under a heavy rush and U-M safety Brandent Englemon made the interception.
Englemon returned the ball 33 yards back to the Ohio State 34-yard line, giving the Wolverines one last possession with 21 seconds remaining. But Michigan managed only 3 yards before calling upon Lopata, whose 48-yard field goal attempt fell short.
By halftime, the total yardage totals had turned in the Buckeyes’ favor. Michigan gained only 22 yards in the second period for 77 at the break while OSU gained 87 during the second quarter and had 110 for the first half.
In the second half, Ohio State never allowed the Wolverines to breathe. The Buckeyes forced six three-and-outs in eight second-half U-M possessions, and allowed only 14 yards in the final 30 minutes.
Wells provided the only second-half points when he broke over left tackle, shed Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable, ran over Englemon and turned on the jets for a 62-yard touchdown run. It was his longest career run from scrimmage, and after Pretorius added the PAT, gave the Buckeyes a 14-3 advantage at the 13:40 mark of the third quarter.
As it turned out, that was all the Ohio State defense would need.
Junior outside linebacker Marcus Freeman led the Buckeyes with nine tackles, including eight solos. Junior middle linebacker James Laurinaitis added six stops, while junior defensive end Vernon Gholston came up with five tackles, including three sacks. Redshirt freshman Dexter Larimore also had a sack.
Gholston ran his season total for sacks to 13 and that ties the Ohio State single-season mark set by Mike Vrabel in 1995.
With a 6-1 record, Tressel became the first Ohio State head coach ever to beat the Wolverines six out of his first seven tries. It also marks the first 6-for-7 showing in the series for the Buckeyes since 1957-63. Meanwhile, after beginning his career with five wins in his first six tries against OSU, Carr’s record in the series fell to 6-7 in what many believe was his final regular-season game with the Wolverines.
Ohio State has now won three of its last four in Michigan Stadium since a stretch between 1975 and ’81.