COLUMBUS — A couple of minutes after 4 p.m. Saturday, with a sea of gleeful Ohio State fans forming around him and chanting his name, Urban Meyer was doubled over. After defeating the Michigan football team for the fifth time in five years, the Buckeyes’ coach collapsed in relief, stood back up and paused for a moment amid the delirium.
He walked slowly from the northwest corner of the field at Ohio Stadium to just outside the southeast tunnel, with a police officer on either side of him, each holding his back in support. Meyer, who took the Ohio State job after taking the 2011 season off due to health concerns, waited to do a postgame interview with ABC. “Shelley,” he whispered to the police officers, asking for his wife. They echoed her name, trying to find her in the chaos.
Meyer looked exhausted. Everyone did. The second-ranked Wolverines pushed the Buckeyes to the brink in a four-hour war Saturday afternoon. And yet Ohio State escaped in double overtime, 30-27, on a 15-yard touchdown run by Curtis Samuel on the final play.
“I thought our guys have worked incredibly hard,” said a dejected Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. “They have done everything that they could, and they’ve done it so very well. I’m really proud of our players, yes.”
Michigan, with its best team since 2006, lost for the 12th time in 13 editions of this rivalry. Few of those, if any, will hurt more than this one.
The Wolverines’ last and best chance to put away a monumental win came on the penultimate play of the game. Ohio State took the ball second in double overtime, after Michigan scored on a Kenny Allen field goal to take a 27-24 lead. The Wolverines forced a 4th-and-1, a down and distance that has rescued them before.
This time, Barrett faked a handoff and kept the ball, taking a hit from Michigan safety Delano Hill and running into a block at the 15-yard line. The officials reviewed the play, one of many on Saturday that will live in the memories of those who saw the game. But the call stood. On the next play, Samuel scampered in untouched for the win.
Michigan and Ohio State traded touchdowns on the first possession of overtime, with the Buckeyes needing just two plays to reach the end zone. But only late in the game did they begin to show that firepower, after the Wolverines controlled most of the game.
As it has for most of Harbaugh’s tenure, Michigan relied on its defense. Even against the electric trifecta of Barrett, Samuel and running back Mike Weber, coordinator Don Brown’s unit dominated. The Wolverines gave up just 206 yards on 50 carries. They sacked Barrett eight times, piled up 13 tackles for loss and added an interception.
But the offense could never deliver the clinching blow. Down 3-0 in the second quarter, having gained 26 total yards on its past four drives, Ohio State intercepted a pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight and returned it for a touchdown. Early in the third quarter, the Wolverines had a chance to take a 17-7 lead when Speight fumbled the snap on the Buckeyes’ 1-yard line. And after Michigan did take a 17-7 lead, it gained just 30 yards on its last four possessions when it could have put the game away.
The Wolverines led for more than 56 minutes of regulation, sent the game to double overtime and could have ended the game on multiple occasions. If they had, they would be heading to the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday night with a chance to advance to the College Football Playoff from there. Now, Michigan’s playoff hopes are all but gone.
“We make our case on the field, if you’re going to make any arguments or cases,” Harbaugh said. “We feel like they’ve done everything they can possibly do, and they’ve done it very well.”
Harbaugh’s team shuffled off the field after the game, trying to elude the masses as the opponent’s fans rushed the field for the second time in three weeks. In the postgame mayhem, Meyer couldn’t meet up with his wife, though he did embrace his son in a long hug. Then, when he took the podium at his postgame press conference, his wife called him. “She said, bring a gallon of milk home on the way home,” he quipped.
He said he did not remember what happened after the game, only the Samuel touchdown, one few will ever forget: “We motioned the tight end across, two backs in the backfield. We expected them to be bear, bear defense, and pressure. And the left tackle, Jamarco (Jones), did a nice job sealing it. Tailback led, Mike Weber, and Curtis scored, and we won.”
Curtis scored, and Ohio State won. Michigan was as close as it has been in a while. But the Buckeyes’ dominance lives.