Fourth-quarter slump sinks No. 3 Michigan's hopes

Saturday, November 26, 2016 - 7:10pm

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight acting irritated by an incomplete pass in the the fourth quarter against OSU.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight acting irritated by an incomplete pass in the the fourth quarter against OSU. Buy this photo
Grant Hardy/ Daily

 

COLUMBUS — Jourdan Lewis scooped up the squib kick and ran.

If he could find the right holes and cut the perfect path, he would give the Wolverines their first win over the Buckeyes in five years. After a disappointing fourth quarter that saw No. 3 Michigan go three-and-out on all three of its possessions and collect just five total yards while No. 2 Ohio State (8-1 Big Ten, 11-1 overall) found new life through quarterback J.T. Barrett, Lewis had the chance to save the day.

He sprinted down the field as Ohio State fans who had assumed overtime held their breath. There was no time left on the clock, and with the game tied at 17, anything could happen. Lewis cut left across the field after weaving through defenders for 40 yards, and then, finally, the Horseshoe exhaled. Cornerback Joshua Norwood took him down on the Buckeyes’ 43-yard line, and the game would indeed go to overtime.

As Lewis picked himself up, he shook his head in disappointment of what could have been. His run was a fitting cap to a disastrous quarter, and Ohio State would retain its momentum through two overtimes, ultimately coming up victorious, 30-27.

The game didn’t have to end in disappointment for the Wolverines, though. Had they continued to play the way they did throughout the first three quarters of the game, the Buckeyes would have had to put up a much better fight to win.

“We were just playing lights out that first three and a half quarters,” said defensive end Chris Wormley. “They got some plays, they have good players — I mean, they go to Ohio State, they have good players. So, we need to make a few plays at the end and the outcome probably would have been a little different, but I thought we played pretty well for the most part of the game.”

The Wolverines headed to the locker room at halftime with a 10-7 lead after pure defensive domination held the Buckeyes to just 81 offensive yards in the first half. Ohio State had converted only one of seven third-down attempts, and J.T. Barrett was 5-for-11 for no touchdowns. The Buckeyes’ lone score came off of a pick-six that Malik Hooker took 16 yards to the house.

But Ohio State looked minimally better after the break, and then like a completely different team in the final quarter. In the fourth quarter alone, Barrett rushed for 71 yards and threw for another 59, and running back Curtis Samuel caught two passes for 23 yards.

“J.T. didn’t start out very good,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. “We had some misfires. We weren’t playing very well. … We had some protection issues. And the pass game is a constant. It’s either protection issues or a misfiring, and I thought the receivers played decent. … They just keep swinging. It’s a very, very good defense we faced.”

Meanwhile, Michigan’s offense stopped producing. All three of its fourth-quarter possessions amounted to just 3:53 of game time, allowing Barrett to wear out the defense further. Cracks in the Wolverines’ defensive armor began to show as the Buckeyes gained seven first downs in the fourth quarter (Michigan had none) and 127 yards.

Both units faltered in the final frame, but the Wolverines thought their defense was strong enough to lead its team to victory.

“It’s a bummer, you know,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight. “I feel like I let the defense down with the game that they played. It stings.”

When asked if he thought Michigan played well enough to win, he responded right away.

“Yeah, absolutely.”

But as he said it, Buckeye cheers traveled from the concourse and permeated through the walls of the press room 45 minutes after the end of the game.

The Wolverines may have done enough to win in the first three quarters, but not in the fourth.