COLUMBUS – To earn its Fiesta Bowl bid, Ohio State did what it had been doing all season: holding tight defensively and getting just enough points to squeak out a victory.
After the Buckeyes’ Will Allen intercepted John Navarre’s last-gasp pass attempt in the endzone to preserve Ohio State’s 14-9 victory, Buckeyes fans rushed the field in jubilation. Much less jubilant were the security personnel on-hand, who pepper sprayed the celebrators as they tried in vain to pull down the goalposts.
Soon after Michigan players hurried off the field, running back Chris Perry had to be yanked off the field as fans taunted him while he watched the festivities of another Ohio State win.
The victory was Ohio State’s second consecutive in the rivalry, and with it, the Buckeyes again send the Wolverines to central Florida for New Year’s Day. Last season, Michigan ended the season in the Citrus Bowl after losing to Ohio State 26-20. This season, the Wolverines will either play in the Capital One Bowl (formerly the Citrus Bowl) in Orlando, Fla. or the Outback Bowl, played in Tampa, Fla.
The bids for the two bowls will likely go to Penn State and Michigan, with the Capital One Bowl getting first choice.
Despite the disparity in the prestige of the bowls that Michigan and Ohio State will attend, the two teams were not much different on the field. Michigan was better than the Buckeyes in nearly every offensive category – most significantly, time of possession and total offense. Michigan possessed the ball almost 10 minutes longer than Ohio State and outgained the Buckeyes, 368 yards to 264 yards.
For the Wolverines, the fact that they played well enough to win makes the loss all the more frustrating.
“Yeah we did some good things, but you are disappointed when you don’t come away with a win,” Navarre said.
Ohio State took the lead 14-9 on a Maurice Hall 3-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter as Michigan remained stuck at its halftime score despite moving the ball well.
The drive was set up by running back Maurice Clarett, who missed the past two games with a shoulder injury and was the lone bright spot on offense for the Buckeyes. Clarett finished with 119 yards and one touchdown.
“He’s the real deal,” cornerback Marlin Jackson said. “He’s got great vision for a running back.”
Both touchdown-scoring drives were Clarett-heavy as the freshman gave Ohio State a dimension that the Buckeyes’ other backs could not provide. His performance is made all the more impressive given that Clarett was not playing at 100 percent and came off the field, visibly in pain, several times.
After losing the lead, Michigan had two chances for a game-winning score, but both drives ended with a critical turnover by Navarre – a fumble with under three minutes remaining in the game and the game-ending interception.
On the final play, there was apparently some miscommunication as the Wolverines ran a different play than the coaches intended.
“We should have been three wide there throwing the ball to the end zone,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.
“Somewhere the communication of the signal to John was not what it needed to be. So we ended up with a formation there we really didn’t want to be in.”
Although Michigan had a chance to win in the end, it can still look to missed opportunities in the first half.
On all three of their drives in the half, the Wolverines soaked up the clock and moved the ball deep into Buckeyes’ territory, but could only come away with an Adam Finley field goal each time.This season marks the first time Michigan has lost to Ohio State twice in a row since the 1981 and 1982 seasons.