BY BOB HUNT
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 22, 2004
COLUMBUS — Before boarding the buses to head back to Ann Arbor, the Michigan players knew that their bowl fate would be decided miles away, and that they would not be able to watch as their holiday plans were being made.
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That didn’t really matter for the Wolverines. Saturday presented them with the opportunity to win the Big Ten championship outright for the second consecutive year and write their own ticket to Pasadena.
Instead, Michigan was thoroughly outplayed by Ohio State, losing 37-21, allowing the worst offense in the Big Ten — statistically speaking — to compile 446 yards of total offense and amass back-breaking touchdown drives of 99 and 97 yards. It then had to hope for Iowa to beat Wisconsin for it to receive a bid in this year’s Rose Bowl.
No matter what else would transpire on Saturday, the Wolverines were hurt physically and emotionally.
“I don’t think it will ease (the loss) at all,” senior captain David Baas said of Michigan’s Rose Bowl prospects. “It’s Michigan-Ohio State.”
After Michigan had left for home, Iowa dominated Wisconsin 30-7 in Iowa City, and the Wolverines earned the right to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. Michigan (7-1 Big Ten, 9-2 overall) shared the conference championship with Iowa, but received the invitation because it defeated the Hawkeyes 30-17 in September. If Wisconsin had won, it would have gone to the Rose Bowl because it owned the tiebreaker over Michigan, due to its overall record. Wisconsin and Michigan did not play each other this season.
“We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We’ve had an outstanding year.”
Like last year, the Wolverines finished the regular season with two losses, won the Big Ten championship and are going to the Rose Bowl. But losing against their biggest rival — which owned a subpar 6-4 record entering the regular-season finale — put a major cloud over the Wolverines season.
The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry over the years has developed into the gatekeeper for a trip to Pasadena, and this season is just the third time ever the loser of the game has gone to the Rose Bowl.
This is the first time since 1992 that Michigan has gone to the Rose Bowl without defeating Ohio State. The two schools tied that year. The only time the Wolverines have headed to the Rose Bowl after losing to the Buckeyes was in 1982. They went on to lose to UCLA in Pasadena. Ohio State lost to Michigan in 1996 and went on to defeat Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.
This Michigan team looked like it would not join that group in the first quarter when it took a 14-7 lead. After Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Gonzalez over the top of the Michigan defense on the Buckeyes’s first possession, the Wolverines briefly took control of the game. True freshman quarterback Chad Henne led an 87-yard drive that he finished by finding Jason Avant in the back corner of the endzone to tie the game at seven.
After Ohio State went three-and-out, Michigan quickly scored again when it drove 43 yards in just over two minutes. Things still looked positive for the Wolverines minutes later when they downed a punt at the Ohio State one-yard line, but it was at that point that the Buckeyes would start to dominate.
Smith capped off a 99-yard touchdown drive when he snuck the ball in from the two to tie the game at 14. Ohio State would then spend nearly the entire second quarter in Michigan’s half of the field. But it scored just six points, earning three points on two Michigan goalline stands. Although the Wolverines offense had gone stagnant, they found themselves down by just one possession at halftime.
The game changed when Ohio State freshman Ted Ginn fielded a punt in the third quarter and returned it for a touchdown. Michigan punter Adam Finley kicked the ball well, and the coverage appeared adequate as sophomore Anton Campbell almost had Ginn wrapped up. But Ginn juked through the pack and found himself alone along the Michigan sideline. It was Ginn’s fourth punt return for a touchdown this season, tying an NCAA record. Ginn also led the Buckeyes in receiving with five catches for 87 yards.
After the return, Michigan was constantly trying to play catch up, but Chad Henne couldn’t withstand the varying pressure that the Buckeyes brought as he was expected to throw the ball.
“They were bringing pressure from everywhere,” Henne said. “So (we) just seemed a bit confused.”