The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes held No. 3 Michigan to a field goal in the second overtime. The Wolverines took a 27-24 lead. All OSU needed was a touchdown and one of the greatest installments of the century-long rivalry would be finished.
On a third-and-9, junior H-back Curtis Samuel took a swing pass and outran nearly the entire Michigan defense to gain eight yards after sprinting from one side of the field to the other in one of the day’s most improbable plays. Samuel was within a yard of the first-down marker, which prompted OSU coach Urban Meyer to make an improbable call.
He had his troops hurry to the line to snap the ball before the Michigan defense got set, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called a timeout. Meyer had more time to think about it.
Should he decide to kick a field goal and play for a third overtime, or should he roll the dice with Samuel and his leader, redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett? OSU was well within field-goal range, but with a kicker who had already missed two field goals earlier in the game, Meyer thought of an old saying given to him by his athletic director at Florida, Jeremy Foley.
“If you can’t get that far, you’re not a championship team,” Meyer said.
Barrett kept the ball and fell right at the 15-yard line — first down. On the next play, Samuel ran left for 15 yards and the game-winning score. OSU won 30-27 in a double-overtime marathon.
Meyer put his will in a team that he believes is of championship caliber. He also said he is able to make those calls because of his quarterback. However, at first, Barrett didn’t know if he made the first down when he hit the ground, although it was confirmed after review.
“When I got hit, I wasn’t 100 percent certain, to be honest with you,” Barrett said. “I looked at it. But when I fell, I fell on top of people. So I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be.”
Meyer has always been one of the few coaches in college football who like to gamble on fourth down. But never had he done it in a situation like that. On Saturday, he did it twice in do-or-die scenarios.
The OSU offense had struggled to move the ball for nearly the entire game. In the fourth quarter, something changed. Whether it was better execution by the Scarlet and Gray or a defensive lapse by Michigan (when it had been so sound), OSU and Meyer saw a grand opportunity to strike in a big way and retake the lead.
OSU was on the Michigan 13-yard line with 8:32 remaining in the game down 17-14, facing a pivotal fourth-and-1. All the Buckeyes needed was a field goal to tie the game, but with the way the offense had trended through three quarters, Meyer couldn’t rely on them getting another shot at winning. He went for it.
Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber took an inside handoff and ran it over freshman guard Michael Jordan for 4 yards and a first down.
The fourth-down gambles even began earlier than that, when Meyer called a fake punt deep in OSU territory and senior punter Cameron Johnston was tackled short of the line. So when Meyer elected to risk the entire season on a fourth-and-short, maybe it wasn’t so surprising. At least not to Barrett.
“I mean, honestly, when it’s fourth and short, I feel like we can go for it every time,” he said. “We are in those situations countless times before the season starts, and spring ball. And then when it comes to the season that’s what we do; we take risks and we have a great offensive line to go out and get those first downs.”
OSU’s defense had provided the spark for the offense on numerous occasions in “The Game.” Meyer simply tried to ignite that spark with a few risky, but calculated and confident, decisions. Meyer’s fourth-down judgment was another element that made another historic chapter in the the greatest rivalry in sports.
“That’s why you run a fake punt. That’s why we were trying to get the ball downfield and we just weren’t hitting them,” Meyer said. “That is one of the classic games of this rivalry that will forever be, because I know this rivalry as well as anybody. That game is right in there. I’m not saying it’s the greatest, because that’s disrespectful for the other players that have played in it. But that’s an instant classic between two great teams.”