By the end of Saturday’s game, most of the remaining fans in the Big House wore red, and their voices were louder than those of the Michigan fans. The game, a 42-13 victory by Ohio State, was nothing short of a beatdown.
And with that, the Wolverines’ surprising season ended with a thud. Here are five things we learned from Saturday’s blowout:
1. Michigan still has ground to gain on its rivals.
Entering Saturday’s game, the gap between Ohio State and Michigan, at least in the College Football Playoff rankings, was razor-thin. The Wolverines were ranked 10th in the country, and the Buckeyes were ranked eighth.
Ohio State’s superiority, it appears, is actually quite large. The Buckeyes bested Michigan in nearly every facet of the game Saturday. They rushed for 369 yards, running the ball mercilessly through the middle of the Wolverines’ defense. Michigan didn’t have a prayer.
The gap between the Wolverines and their other chief rival, Michigan State, was smaller when they played last month. The Spartans won the game on the infamous botched punt, a play that wouldn’t have happened again if they simulated the game a thousand more times.
But Michigan State has surged ever since that near defeat. The Spartans will play for a Big Ten championship next weekend in Indianapolis, a chance Michigan hasn’t had since the league championship game was created five years ago.
The Wolverines still have a long way to go.
2. Ohio State is still very good.
Reports of the Buckeyes’ demise after their loss to Michigan State last weekend were debunked by their performance Saturday. Ohio State looked like a very good football team, not one that was riddled by turmoil in the locker room and dissatisfaction with the coaching staff.
The Buckeyes closed out Michigan easily in the second half, outscoring the Wolverines, 28-3. If any Michigan fans were hoping Ohio State was on the decline, they were disappointed Saturday.
3. The injuries to Michigan’s defensive line were too much to overcome.
The Wolverines lost three players on their defensive line to season-ending injuries during the course of the 2015 campaign. First came sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Mone, who broke his ankle during fall camp. Then came senior defensive end Mario Ojemudia, who suffered an Achilles injury against Maryland. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow rounded out the trio by suffering a pectoral injury in Michigan’s blowout victory against Rutgers.
At first, the injuries were manageable. The Wolverines recorded three straight shutouts earlier in the season, and the front seven played a large role. But after Glasgow’s injury, the depth in the front seven started to wear thin.
Michigan allowed more than 300 yards on the ground in two of the last three games of the regular season. The Wolverines capitalized on Indiana’s porous defense on the first occasion, but that wasn’t the case against Ohio State. Michigan couldn’t score frequently enough to keep the game close. Injuries to the front seven made their mark.
4. Jake Rudock can’t have a happy ending.
Rudock didn’t deserve the fate that befell him in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. His shoulder injury, courtesy of a crushing blow from high school teammate Joey Bosa, ended his regular-season career at Michigan.
For the last month or so, Rudock had carried the Wolverines. When the running game wasn’t working and the defense struggled, Rudock was sharp. He surpassed 250 passing yards for the fourth straight week Saturday, marking a sharp turn from the beginning of the season when his frequent interceptions hurt Michigan.
Rudock isn’t unfamiliar with sad endings. He ended his career at Iowa on the bench, choosing to transfer instead of being the backup.
On a day that started off with his family receiving more cheers than any other on Senior Day, the end wasn’t what Rudock had hoped for.
5. Bold prediction: Michigan will win in either Columbus or East Lansing next season.
The Wolverines face a daunting schedule next season. They will travel to Columbus, East Lansing and Iowa City to face teams currently ranked in the top 10. If Michigan loses all three of those contests, as might be expected, the Wolverines’ record would not reflect any improvement from this season’s.
But Michigan showed that it had a knack for hanging close in road games this season. Even at Utah, the lone road game the Wolverines lost, Michigan’s margin of defeat was just seven. The team did not lose a single Big Ten road game and, more impressively, persevered in close road contests.