It may not have been very pretty at the beginning but the end result was a thing of beauty.
After toying around with outmanned Michigan for much of the first half, Ohio State piled up four second-half touchdowns and romped away with a 42-7 victory Saturday in Ohio Stadium. It was the largest point spread in the series in exactly 40 years – the Buckeyes rolled to a 50-14 win during its 1968 national championship run.
The win was a record fifth in a row for Ohio State in the series and gave head coach Jim Tressel seven victories in eight tries against Michigan. No OSU coach has ever had a stretch during which his teams won seven of eight games in the rivalry.
“It’s hard to believe because it’s so difficult,” Tressel said of establishing a new winning streak for the Buckeyes in the series. “I remember looking up the statistic about three or four years of what the winning streaks were because you always have to have something in the back of your mind that you’re shooting for. … It was a good job by our guys.”
More importantly, the outcome meant the Buckeyes (10-2, 7-1) clinched a share of their fourth Big Ten championship in a row. They will share the crown with the winner of the Michigan State-Penn State game, scheduled for later this afternoon. A victory by the Spartans will send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl while a Penn State win sends the Nittany Lions to Pasadena and leaves the Buckeyes hoping for an at-large bid for a BCS game.
Meanwhile, Michigan dropped to 3-9 for the season and snaps a streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances. The nine losses are the most ever in single season for the Wolverines, and U-M head coach Rich Rodriguez made a little history of his own – no first-year Michigan coach had lost his first meeting against Ohio State since Harry Kipke in 1929.
The teams sputtered at the beginning of the game, combining for negative net yardage as the clock wound under 4:30 in the first quarter. But OSU junior tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells quickly ended that with a 59-yard touchdown burst to begin the scoring.
Wells led the Buckeyes’ offensive charge with 134 yards on 15 carries, part of a rushing attack that generated 232 yards. Redshirt freshman Dan “Boom” Herron added 80 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.
OSU freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor experienced an uneven day in his first taste of the rivalry but still managed to complete 5 of 13 passes for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also had an interception, his first pick since the Penn State game in late October.
Senior co-captain Todd Boeckman came on in the fourth quarter and directed the final touchdown drive for the Buckeyes. He completed all three of his pass attempts for 64 yards and a touchdown.
All told, Ohio State accounted for 416 yards of total offense while limiting the Wolverines to 198.
After Wells got the Buckeyes on the scoreboard at the 3:57 mark of the first quarter, OSU struck again early in the second period. Pryor lofted a perfectly-timed pass to junior split end Brian Hartline, who caught the ball in full stride for a 53-yard touchdown.
Michigan threatened to make a game of it, though, driving 65 yards in 14 plays, capped by a 1-yard run by tailback Brandon Minor with 2:51 remaining in the half. That cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 14-7 at the break, and when the Wolverines drove into OSU territory with the opening possession of the second half, there were some murmurs in the Ohio Stadium crowd of 105,564.
But the defense forced U-M to punt and the offense provided the backbreaker.
Michigan downed the punt on the Ohio State 9, but Wells took a pitch from Pryor and rumbled 42 yards before stepping out of bounds. On the next play, Herron took over and exploded up the middle for a 49-yard score. That pushed the Buckeyes’ advantage to 21-7 with 11:04 remaining in the third quarter and they never looked back.
“That was the turning point, I thought,” Tressel said. “They punted us down to our 9-yard line and two plays later we scored. That was huge. That was a big run by Beanie and a big run by Boom Herron.”
Pryor added an 8-yard touchdown toss to senior Brian Robiskie at the 3:54 mark of the third period before Herron added his second score of the game, a 2-yard bolt on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes tallied their final touchdown when Boeckman hooked up with Hartline for an 18-yard score with 13:16 left to go in the game.
Michigan was led on offense by Minor, who rushed 14 times for 67 yards and his team’s only score. Sophomore Nick Sheridan was pressed into service at quarterback because of an injury to starter Steven Threet. Sheridan wound up completing only 8 of 24 passes for 87 yards, and he was sacked twice.
Defensively, senior linebacker James Laurinaitis made his final appearance in the Horseshoe a good one, leading the Buckeyes with a game-high 12 tackles. Junior safety Kurt Coleman added 10 while senior linebacker Marcus Freeman had seven stops, including 2½ for loss, to go along with a fumble recovery.
Michigan defensive end Tim Jamison led the Wolverines with eight tackles, three of which were for loss.