COLUMBUS – Everyone knew Ohio State’s offense was a force to be reckoned with. But few could have anticipated the shellacking the Buckeyes’ ‘O’ would put on Michigan’s once-proud defense.
Led by Heisman frontrunner quarterback Troy Smith, Ohio State racked up 503 total yards and 42 points – both season-worsts for Michigan’s defense.
“It definitely was a lot of points scored,” senior co-captain LaMarr Woodley said. “Nobody probably expected the (score) to be that high. They probably thought it was going to be a low-scoring game. It kind of shocked everybody.”
The Buckeyes beat up the Wolverines with a lethal combination of big-play ability and back-breaking, methodical drives.
In 11 games prior to the Ohio State contest, Michigan’s defense allowed just 10 plays of 30 yards or more from scrimmage – all passes. But against the Buckeyes, Michigan gave up four plays of more than 30 yards, including two 50-plus yard rushes.
With the game deadlocked at 7-7 early in the second quarter, Ohio State began its big-play parade. Working out of shotgun on second-and-four at the Buckeyes’ 48-yard line, Smith handed off to backup running back Chris Wells on a draw. Smith’s fake rollout may have fooled Michigan’s defense, because Wells burst through the Wolverine front, beat the safeties and sprinted to the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown run.
On the Buckeyes’ next drive, Smith struck twice with monster plays through the air. First, he fired a 39-yard completion to receiver Brian Robiskie to get Ohio State past midfield. Two plays later, Smith pulled off a picture-perfect play-action fake, freezing safety Ryan Mundy. Smith then fired over the top to wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. for a 39-yard touchdown, giving Ohio State a 21-7 second-quarter lead.
But the most crushing play for the Wolverines came in the third quarter. Michigan had all the momentum early in the second half, scoring 10 straight points to cut Ohio State’s lead to 28-24. But then Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman stormed up the middle for a 56-yard touchdown run, dealing Michigan a back-breaking blow.
“What I believe is that you can’t give up big plays and be successful,” Carr said. “We’ve done a great job of that throughout this season, but we just didn’t do that today. And that was, in my mind, the difference.”
Huge gains were just one weapon in Ohio State’s offensive arsenal. The Buckeyes proved adept at stringing together long, thoroughly dominating drives.
Fourteen-play, nine-play and 11-play Ohio State touchdown drives ate a total of 13:18 off the clock, demoralizing the Maize-and-Blue defense.
It stiffened a bit in the second half, when Michigan gave up 183 yards, compared to 320 yards in the first half. And the Wolverines took advantage of Buckeye mistakes to pick up three turnovers.
But even when the Wolverines slowed Ohio State, they found ways to allow the Buckeye offense to continue rolling. Linebacker’s Shawn Crable’s fourth-quarter personal foul, in particular, deflated Michigan’s defense. The 15-yard penalty erased a huge third-down stop and led to the Buckeyes’ critical sixth touchdown.
“We just had mistakes,” Woodley said. “Just as far as the defense, too many mistakes. When you have mistakes, the other team capitalizes on them. You give up big plays and stupid penalties, it allows the team to continue their drive.”
Smith’s performance iced his Heisman-worthy season. Spreading out Michigan’s defense with four- and five-wide receiver sets, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel allowed Smith to slice and dice Michigan’s overmatched nickel and dime packages.
After burning Michigan with his legs in the previous two Michigan-Ohio State contests, Smith used his mobility to buy more time for throws on Saturday, instead of taking off downfield. He finished with just 12 yards rushing, but completed 29-of-41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s definitely a great player,” Michigan quarterback Chad Henne said. “He proved that today, that when there is pressure on him, that he can get out of the pocket and make plays happen. So if he’s leading the polls already, then I’m sure he’s going to get (the Heisman). He’s a heck of a player.”