In Jim Harbaugh’s first game coaching against Ohio State, it was Ezekiel Elliott who stole the show.
Elliott set the tone for the game, running for 214 yards and two touchdowns in a statement performance as the Buckeyes (7-1 Big Ten, 11-1 overall) beat No. 10 Michigan, 42-13, at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.
J.T. Barrett added 113 yards passing and 139 yards on the ground, accumulating four total touchdowns, but the star of the day was Elliott.
After criticizing his coaches for giving him just 12 carries in a 17-14 loss to the Michigan State last week, Elliott shouldered the workload early and often against the Wolverines (6-2, 9-3). He had 75 yards by the end of the first quarter, 66 of which came on one long rush to set up Ohio State’s first touchdown. He only got stronger from there.
The Wolverines were still within striking range of the Buckeyes at halftime, trailing just 14-10, but Elliott and Barrett made quick work of them in the second half. The win marked Ohio State’s fourth consecutive win over Michigan, and the 11th time in the last 12 meetings that the Buckeyes have come out on top.
Barrett threw his only passing touchdown of the day to Jalin Marshall on the first possession of the third quarter, and after Michigan’s next drive, Ohio State wore down the Wolverines.
Barrett and Elliott led a 16-play, 84-yard drive that took 7:05 off the clock. Ohio State converted three third downs and a fourth down on the drive, demoralizing the Michigan defense. Three of those conversions belonged to Elliott.
“I don’t lobby or anything, but (I think) he should be in New York. He’s one of the best players in America. He should be a Heisman (finalist),” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. “I don’t know if he should win it, I don’t know the other players … He’s one of the best players I’ve ever been around.”
The Wolverines simply had no answers for Ohio State’s star running back, especially carrying the emotions of his comments last week with him. Meyer said after the game that Elliott apologized 37 or 38 times for his comments last week — he lost count — and Elliott certainly played like a man fighting for his reputation on Saturday.
He averaged 7.1 yards per carry and said after the game it felt like he could do whatever he wanted to a Wolverine defense that hasn’t been the same since it pitched three straight shutouts earlier this season.
“To come in here and get a win like we did today just means the world to this whole team,” Elliott said. “We came in here into the Big House and we dominated. We dominated (on) the offensive line, and the run game was very effective.
“I think it’s something we should do every week, honestly.”
Even when it was Barrett running the ball, Michigan simply didn’t have an answer for the Buckeyes on the ground. Ohio State totaled 369 yards rushing on Saturday, more than any of the Wolverines’ opponents all year.
Barrett scored three rushing touchdowns, taking advantage of the constant attention Elliott demanded to break off big chunks of yardage.
Early in the game, Michigan appeared capable of hanging with the Buckeyes. The Wolverines forced a stop on Ohio State’s first possession, and appeared to have forced a three-and-out on the Buckeyes’ second drive as well. But on fourth down, freshman safety Tyree Kinnel was flagged for roughing the punter, allowing Ohio State to extend its drive.
The Buckeyes eventually scored on the drive, and they did not punt again until there were five minutes left in the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand. Ohio State scored on five of the next six drives following the penalty, the only outlier being a drive that was ended by halftime.
Michigan’s only touchdown came near the end of the first half, when fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Rudock hit Jehu Chesson for a six-yard score. It made the score 14-10, the closest the Wolverines would come the rest of the game.
Rudock had to exit the game early in the fourth quarter after injuring his left shoulder, but by then, the Buckeyes already lead 35-13. Redshirt freshman Wilton Speight relieved him, quarterbacking the offense as the clock ticked down on the loss.
“We got beat,” Harbaugh said. “Didn’t play well enough in the game to win it, but we’ll regroup, come back with the same drive and aspirations that we’ve had — win the next game.”
Michigan finishes its season in third place in the Big Ten East division, a far cry from its fifth-place finish a year ago. Even after the blowout loss — the largest the Wolverines suffered all season — Harbaugh’s team exceeded expectations for his first season.
But on Saturday, in his first game against the Buckeyes, he was far from center stage. That distinction belonged to Elliott, and Harbaugh made sure he knew it.
“He played really good,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a heck of a player. (I) congratulated him on a good game.”