Any fan who only watched the first three quarters of play would probably assume No. 2 Ohio State was overcome by a poor offensive display and occasionally weak defense against No. 3 Michigan. But the last half of the game belonged to the Buckeyes, including the double overtime period that saw OSU score twice.
Late-game heroics by junior H-back Curtis Samuel, redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and the entire OSU defense led the Buckeyes to one of the most thrilling victories ever in the greatest rivalry college football has to offer.
Sure, this game might not have been as great as the 2006 No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown in Ohio Stadium. But the thrilling conclusion to a gritty and intense matchup will remain in the minds of players, coaches and fans for years to come. OSU co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said he was happy for the sendoff the seniors received, and was pleased with his defense, even with 310 yards surrendered.
Drama in about every form happened in this game. From failed fake punts, missed open receivers, a few scuffles and even a Jim Harbaugh meltdown, the 113th meeting between OSU and Michigan is one for the record books.
Here are five takeaways from The Game on Saturday.
“Feed off each other”
The phrase “feed off each other” was used by Fickell in the postgame press conference immediately following the game. He was referring to the OSU offense feeding off the success of its defense. While the Buckeyes’ offense was struggling, the Silver Bullets were keeping OSU in the game.
One of the biggest plays that happened all game was a tackle for loss by redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard. For Michigan, the dynamic junior linebacker/defensive back/do-it-all player Jabrill Peppers lined up as a quarterback in the redzone. He took the snap and moved left, but Hubbard was right there.
Normally in this scenario, the defensive player, especially when it’s a lineman, would get juked out of his shoes. Instead, Hubbard stayed home, planted his feet, drove his hips and was able to get his hands on Peppers’ ankles. OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker was there to help finish the tackle Hubbard started.
“We were thinking there was going to be a sweep or something like that,” Hubbard said. “He picked the ball up and tried to get on the edge, he squared up and tried to shake me and I squared up. I just dove for his legs and got his legs. Good thing I had Malik there to help me out.”
It might have taken a few plays for OSU to capitalize on a touchdown-saving tackle, but the energy level on the sideline following the big play early on was instantly elevated. Each unit for the Buckeyes’ has been complimenting the other, and that’s when they are the most dangerous. Case in point, Saturday’s come-from-behind win.
Raekwon McMillan will most likely leave for the NFL draft
Although there are more important things on the mind of OSU coaches following a top-five win, this one should take precedence the moment the season is over. Junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan played out of his mind on Saturday, further solidifying his already high draft stock.
A standout since his freshman year, McMillan is the epitomization of an agile and hard-hitting middle linebacker — the exact reason he led the team in total tackles with 16 and was tied for the lead with seven solo tackles.
Right now, McMillan is ranked as the No. 4 inside linebacker prospect by WalterFootball.com. His speed and long arms make him an asset to any team looking for an instant starter at the next level.
OSU is not thinking of replacing players quite yet, but losing McMillan in the middle would create an enormous hole in the defense that hasn’t existed since he came to campus in 2014. The biggest downfall in his game is over the middle pass coverage, but that can be helped.
The Buckeyes are celebrating Saturday’s win for now, but it seems likely they will be without their leading voice on defense next season.
2016 OSU vs. Michigan is an instant classic
“That was the craziest this place has been ever since I’ve been here,” said redshirt senior center Pat Elflein. “That was the ultimate … it was an electric atmosphere.”
A fitting Senior Day end for a player who has logged five years in Columbus. Three quarters of dull and lifeless play were wiped away as Samuel lept across the goal line in double overtime.
To read about it, you probably wouldn’t believe all that transpired on a chilly autumn afternoon in Columbus. But, the comeback for OSU happened, and the Buckeyes have now defeated Michigan in five straight contests.
Harbaugh did his best Meyer impression by tossing his headset after a disputed call, reminiscent of the Meyer throwing his headset during the 2014 Sugar Bowl after Alabama was flagged for running into the kicker and not a personal foul. Needless to say, he was not pleased.
The game-winning play by Samuel with Elflein leading the way and the team embrace in the endzone was picturesque. Even the mob scene in the middle of the field following the game will be something remembered by OSU fans for a long time to come.
There has been more than 100 meetings between the two rivals, but this one is near the top of the list of best finishes.
Barrett’s legs are his biggest asset
After early-season discussions about a possible Heisman run for Barrett, OSU fans have had to deal with mediocre passing from the redshirt junior. In his last two game, he’s 25-for-54 for just 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Those numbers are far from the four touchdown performances against Oklahoma and Nebraska. Against Penn State, Barrett tossed a touchdown and picked up 245 yards, but ran for just 26. In a game where the offense needs a spark, it’s up to the legs of the redshirt junior to keep OSU moving forward.
Contrary to his poor passing numbers, Barrett has rushed for 230 yards in his last two appearances. His ability to tuck it and run allows OSU to free up space for other runners, and even cause the secondary to cheat up on some passes.
Saturday against Michigan is a prime example of Barrett using his legs more than his arm, as a key run in the first overtime period was crucial to OSU’s victory. With Barrett at the helm of the Buckeyes, the ability to turn to the run when the pass isn’t working is what masks him one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
OSU should have a spot reserved in playoff
This one has a lot of speculation behind it, but needs just a little thought to understand. OSU beat a very, very good Michigan team, even if the Wolverines came in with a loss. Currently sitting at No. 2, OSU has wins over the No. 3 team (Michigan), No. 6 team (Wisconsin) and No. 8 team (Oklahoma).
A close loss to No. 7 Penn State hurts, but the fact that OSU is 4-1 against teams ranked in the College Football Playoff poll makes them a very convincing case for the playoffs. Elflein said himself, “How can you keep us out?”
Barrett too, feels it’s unrealistic to keep out the Buckeyes.
“At this time, I think we are one of the top four teams in the country, personally, but I think that, like I said, it’s up to the committee to do their thing,” he said. “Hopefully everything works out in our favor.”
FiveThirtyEight.com, one of the most used online statistics websites, did a probability of each team near the top reaching the playoff. And at the top was OSU with a 90 percent chance. Alabama, the No. 1 team in the nation, has a 91 percent chance.
The stars aligned for the Buckeyes in 2014, and this year has the makings of more luck for the Scarlet and Gray. Take a look back at some of the breaks OSU had on Saturday, like Michigan miscues on offense or the spot for Barrett’s draw on fourth and inches, even though later pictures proved he did make it.
A 90 percent chance is not a guarantee, but it’s definitely going to make viewers tune in on Tuesday for the latest playoff polls. Expect to see OSU’s name in the No. 2 spot again.