The Michigan football team couldn’t have dreamed of a better start, but No. 9 Ohio State didn’t let the dream last very long.
Michigan led by two touchdowns early in the second quarter, but just as Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett began getting into rhythm, the Wolverines began to blow their own lead.
The result? A 31-20 loss — the sixth-straight loss to the Buckeyes — and an 8-4 record to end the regular season.
Michigan’s mistakes arrived early, but their implications didn’t appear until it was too late.
Fifth-year senior quarterback John O’Korn overthrew open receivers all game. He finished with 195 passing yards on a 53-percent completion rate.
Sophomore safety Josh Metellus dropped a potential second-quarter interception in Michigan’s red zone, and Ohio State scored its first touchdown on the next play.
Ohio State blocked redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin’s extra point in the third quarter, and when the Wolverines trailed by four on a late fourth-quarter drive, they had to play for a touchdown — not just a field goal.
“We got a little complacent,” O’Korn said. “As players, we let the foot off the gas. This game didn’t have to be close. We could’ve ran away with it.”
The game was close indeed, because aside from all the missed throws and botched opportunities, the Wolverines’ offense was getting contributions from all over at the start.
Fifth-year senior Khalid Hill hammered across the goal line for the Michigan’s first score, and sophomore tight end Sean McKeon caught a touchdown pass early in the second quarter.
Sophomore running back Chris Evans boosted Michigan with 67 rushing yards, and freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones broke five tackles on a 42-yard punt return that gave the Wolverines advantageous field positioning for their second touchdown.
The Wolverines maintained possession for over 10 minutes in the first quarter, as the defense shut down Barrett, running back J.K. Dobbins and the rest of the Buckeyes. They held the Buckeyes to three consecutive three-and-outs, sacked Barrett three times and even forced Ohio State to negative total yards.
In the second quarter, though, the Buckeyes amped up their play for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Barrett ran in the first for 21 yards and tossed the second touchdown 25 yards to tight end Marcus Bough.
While Ohio State’s offense was finally clicking, Michigan’s barely saw the field — playing for less than six minutes in that quarter and losing the opportunity to keep momentum going.
“After we were up 14-zip, we really didn’t touch the field most of the second quarter,” Hill said. “When you’re hot, you’re hot. You get your momentum going, and everybody’s in rhythm. That’s when you score points, but when you keep the offense off the field so long, it’s kind of hard to keep that up because you’re just sitting there.”
Michigan’s offense scored again soon after halftime, when junior Karan Higdon punched a two-yard run into the end zone, but after that, more Michigan mistakes followed, and the game quickly fell in Ohio State’s favor.
Nordin’s extra point was blocked, Dobbins ran in a touchdown and then Ohio State hit a field goal.
The Wolverines had one last-ditch effort, but O’Korn misread coverage and saw one of his final throws at Michigan Stadium land in the arms of a Buckeye.
One more touchdown from Ohio State’s Mike Weber sealed the deal, but the game was already over.
“It’s the most bitter pill that I’ve had to swallow, personally,” said redshirt junior defensive end Chase Winovich. “Coming here, four years, and not beating these guys once. It’s tough.”
The errors amounted, and the Wolverines couldn’t hold on to their 14-point lead.
O’Korn mentioned afterward that the game didn’t have to be close. It was never expected to be, either.
Ohio State was expected to run all over Michigan, but for one-and-a-half quarters, it was just the opposite.
But games don’t come down to just one-and-a-half quarters.
“We had to compete the whole four quarters,” Hill said. “But we just came up short.”