It wasn’t quite as easy as everyone envisioned but no less sweet.
Ohio State completed its 2009 regular season with a 21-10 victory over archrival Michigan, achieving an unprecedented sixth straight win over the Wolverines. The victory propelled the Buckeyes into the Rose Bowl on the strength of a five-game winning streak and gave the team its 10th victory of the season.
Ohio State has now won 10 or more games in five consecutive seasons, the longest such streak by a Big Ten team in more than a century. Michigan had five seasons with 10-plus victories from 1901-05.
The victory also gave the Buckeyes their third outright Big Ten championship in the last four seasons. It is the program’s 18th outright title, more than any other team in conference history. Michigan has 16 outright championships and Illinois is a distant third with eight.
Asked after the game about the outright championship, OSU head coach Jim Tressel seemed to be surprised.
"I've only been thinking about the Michigan-Ohio State game," he said, "but (an outright title) is nice, too"
On the other side of the coin, Michigan dropped to 5-7 on the season and finished below .500 for the second year in a row. The Wolverines had not suffered back-to-back losing seasons in more than 45 years – since 1962 and ’63. Rich Rodriguez also became the first U-M head coach to lose his first two games in the Ohio State series.
The game seemed to feature some rather offensive play at times although each team managed to top the 300-yard mark in total offense. Ohio State made the most of its opportunities, however, thanks mostly to the one-two running punch of Dan “Boom” Herron and Brandon Saine. The duo combined to rush for 180 yards as the Buckeyes ran the ball 53 times against the Wolverines for 251 yards.
Meanwhile, the OSU defense gave up most of its yardage early and created five Michigan turnovers. Starting quarterback Tate Forcier was picked off four times and fumbled in the end zone for the Buckeyes’ first touchdown. Forcier had thrown only six interceptions in the Wolverines’ previous 11 games.
The tone of the game was pretty well set early. After Ohio State punted away the game’s first possession, U-M took over at its own 7-yard line. Three plays later, Forcier faded into the end zone to pass and appeared to have eluded the OSU pass rush. As he neared the goal line, however, the redshirt freshman lost his grip on the football and Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward was there to make the recovery.
Heyward appeared to have recovered the ball at the 1 but officials ruled he was in the end zone and the Buckeyes had a 7-0 lead at the 10:44 mark of the first quarter.
Michigan had a chance to answer later in the opening period but kicker Jason Olesnavage left his 24-yard field goal attempt outside the right upright.
Olesnavage got another chance midway through the second quarter and nailed a 46-yarder to cut the Wolverines’ deficit to 7-3 with 7:59 remaining until halftime, but Ohio State responded on its next possession with a six-play, 80-yard march to paydirt.
Saine got things started with a 14-yard run up the middle before quarterback Terrelle Pryor scrambled left for 9 more yards. Three plays later, on third-and-1 at the OSU 46, Pryor took what appeared to be an option keeper and weaved his way through the Michigan defense for a 25-yard gain. The sophomore QB finished the game with 74 yards on 19 carries.
With the Wolverines on their heels, Saine slipped out of an off-tackle hole and then outran everyone to the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown. That pushed Ohio State’s lead to 14-3 with 5:22 left in the half.
That score held up until Michigan gave the home crowd some hope when Vincent Smith gathered in a pass from Forcier and sliced through a pair of OSU defenders for an 18-yard touchdown reception. That made it 14-10 in favor of the Buckeyes with 10:05 left to play in the third quarter.
But Ohio State again answered a U-M score with one of its own, moving 89 yards in 11 plays for another touchdown. Pryor, Saine and Herron each had runs of 13 yards or more during the drive, and Herron got the Buckeyes in the red zone with a 23-yard bolt around left end to set up first-and-goal at the Michigan 2.
Herron was caught for a 2-yard loss on first down, and then Pryor was sacked for an 8-yard loss on the next play to set up third-and-goal from the 12. As OSU head coach Jim Tressel tried frantically to call timeout from the sideline, Pryor calmly took the snap and flipped a screen pass to Herron, who turned the short pass into a 12-yard touchdown.
OSU kicker Devin Barclay added the extra point to give the Buckeyes a 21-10 lead with 4:46 remaining in the third period and set the final score.
There was still plenty of fourth-quarter action, most of it supplied by the Ohio State defense. Senior safety Kurt Coleman grabbed his second interception of the game early in the period, a play that was overturned by the replay official after it was originally called an incomplete pass.
Forcier threw his third pick on Michigan’s next possession, a pass he short-armed while trying to find receiver Junior Hemingway in the end zone. OSU cornerback Devon Torrence jumped in front of Hemingway for that interception.
And on the next U-M drive, OSU defensive end Thad Gibson grabbed Forcier’s fourth interception when the Michigan quarterback failed to get enough air under the ball on another attempt meant for Hemingway.
Forcier finished the game with 23 completions in 38 attempts for 226 yards, one touchdown and the career-high four interceptions. Ray Roundtree was Michigan’s leading receiver with game-high totals of nine receptions for 116 yards.
Most of Michigan’s yardage came through the air – Ohio State held the Wolverines to only 80 yards on 31 carries, an average of 2.6 yards per attempt. Smith was his team’s leading rusher. He had 32 yards on eight carries.
For OSU, Herron had a game-high 96 yards on 19 carries while Saine added 84 yards on 12 totes.
Pryor completed 9 of 17 passes for 67 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The pick was the Ohio State quarterback’s first in 74 attempts. DeVier Posey was the Buckeyes’ leading receiver with five catches for 38 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Ross Homan led Ohio State with a game-high 12 tackles. Linebacker/safety Jermale Hines and middle linebacker Brian Rolle added nine stops apiece, including a combined five tackles for loss.
The Wolverines were led by linebacker Jonas Mouton with 11 tackles, and defensive end Brandon Graham who had six stops, four of them behind the line of scrimmage.
Ohio State will take the next 40 days off before playing in its first Rose Bowl in 13 years. The Buckeyes’ opponent from the Pac-10 is yet to be determined.