Despite first-round projections in the NFL Draft last season, senior edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson returned to Michigan for one reason: to beat Ohio State.
“I told you guys at Big Ten Media Days that we were emphasizing this game more,” Hutchinson said. “Everyone seemed to have a lot of questions about that, in terms of how we were doing it, but I told you to trust me, we were doing it.”
He was right — pretty much nobody outside Schembechler Hall bought his optimism. It wasn’t Hutchinson’s own abilities that people doubted; it was the ability of his team to actually beat the Buckeyes. At the start of the season, national media gave the Wolverines no shot in The Game. This publication unanimously picked Ohio State.
And still, Hutchinson persisted. On Tuesday, he reiterated that the Buckeyes had been a focus since January. He opined that, while a lot of teams play Ohio State “fearful,” his defense would have no fear against the Buckeyes’ top-ranked offense. Once again, no one listened — this publication included, of course.
Saturday, though, Hutchinson realized his vision. In the fifth-ranked Wolverines’ 42-27 upset of the second-ranked Buckeyes, he recorded three sacks — including his 13th of the season, which set the Michigan all-time record — on Ohio State quarterback and Heisman frontrunner C.J. Stroud.
Over those three-and-a-half hours, as the Wolverines solidified themselves as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender, Hutchinson himself solidified his position as one of college football’s top players, and maybe even stole some of Stroud’s hype along the way.
“(Hutchinson’s) performance was … dominant,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Single-season sack record already — definitely should be in strong consideration for the Heisman Trophy.”
In every moment where the Wolverines needed a play from their defense, Hutchinson was there to deliver it. After a first quarter interception sparked a long Buckeyes drive and a 3rd-and-goal at Michigan’s eight, Hutchinson recorded his first sack and forced Ohio State into a field goal. That stop preserved the Wolverines’ one-score lead and helped the team carry its momentum into the second quarter.
In the third quarter, with Michigan nursing an eight-point lead and the Buckeyes again finding some rhythm offensively, Hutchinson notched another sack that forced Ohio State to punt. On the next defensive possession, with the Wolverines up 15, he recorded another sack.
Even when he wasn’t sacking Stroud, Hutchinson’s drive was present on virtually every defensive snap. On one fourth down, as the Buckeyes worked to mount a comeback, Hutchinson was seen visibly jawing with the left tackle prior to the snap. As soon as Stroud took the snap, Hutchinson ran directly over the lineman into the backfield (Ohio State still converted, thanks to a borderline miraculous throw from Stroud).
Even beyond the Heisman comments, Harbaugh continued to sing Hutchinson’s praises after the game. He named him among a group of players he called the “foundation” of the team — players who had been with Michigan through the struggles of 2020 and beyond and refused to give in.
“If there was a train, like a locomotive going down the tracks, they literally stopped it, picked it up onto their backs, turned it around and started pushing,” Harbaugh said. “(Saturday), the rest of us started pushing, too.”
More than anything, though, Hutchinson’s performance represents a clean resolution to a truly historic Michigan career. An athlete raised in Wolverine tradition — his father, Chris Hutchinson, was a Michigan captain and All-American defensive lineman in the early ’90s — Hutchinson had already achieved just about every individual accolade he could hope for entering Saturday. Like countless Wolverine greats in recent years, he only lacked the elusive win over the Buckeyes.
Saturday, he sat grinning and shaking his head at the postgame press conference, as if in disbelief of what his team had just achieved. With his Michigan journey almost complete, he allowed himself to reflect on that sack record and the elusive rivalry win:
“Man. It was crazy. I can’t really put it into words. I really just wanted to beat my dad, and I went a little farther. It’s so cool, and it’s a moment I can’t wait to share (with) my dad.”