With hopes of winning another Big Ten East division title looking unlikely, Ohio State entered Saturday coming off a loss to Michigan State and a hope to bounce back against the Michigan Wolverines. The Buckeyes got exactly what they were looking for with a huge win on the road and another victory in the rivalry, as well as retaining an outside shot at sneaking into the Big Ten championship game thanks to incredible performances from running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback J.T. Barrett.
The classic Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Michigan included plenty of what you'd expect from the run-heavy teams. Plenty of fullback action on short yardage situations, handoffs galore to Ezekiel Elliott, and stiff defenses. J.T. Barrett would get the scoring started after a 65-yard scamper from Elliott with a tough run near the goal line to put Ohio State up 7-0. The scoring drive was set up after the Buckeyes went three and out, but a roughing the kicker penalty against Michigan gave Ohio State another shot. Michigan would add a field goal a short time later, but the damage was done.
The Buckeyes took their next possession and had an impressive drive in which Barrett and Elliott would tag-team the Michigan defense, gashing holes left, right, and up the middle for big gains before Elliott would stroll in for a touchdown late in the second quarter to put Ohio State up 14-3. Michigan would respond with only a minute remaining in the first half, as Jake Rudock was able to find Jehu Chesson in the endzone with a trailing Darron Lee to cut into the lead, 14-10.
The second half proved to be just hard fought. Ohio State would fire first, as Elliott started the drive with a long rush down the sideline setting up a Barrett touchdown pass to Jalin Marshall, who made an unbelievably tough grab over a Michigan defender for the score, bringing Ohio State's lead to 21-10. After another stop by the Buckeye defense, Ohio State would start a seven-minute scoring drive led by J.T. Barrett. Barrett kept plays alive and found a couple of receivers including Braxton Miller and Curtis Samuel, while Ezekiel Elliott would convert a fourth down on a short run, resulting in a 13-yard rushing touchdown dive from Barrett to put Ohio State up 28-10.
The momentum never let up from there, as early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State would continue rolling on all cylinders. J.T. Barrett would find Michael Thomas down the sideline for a 38-yard pass, and the Buckeyes would feed Ezekiel Elliott from there, as Elliott found the endzone for the second time upping the lead to 35-13. Barrett added insult to injury as he shimmied his way in for another Ohio State touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, putting Ohio State up 42-13. Joey Bosa would add the only turnover of the game for both teams with only minutes remaining in the game, tipping and picking off a pass, taking it to the Michigan 10-yard line. Michigan would take over on downs after the Buckeyes failed to punch it in the endzone, but the damage was done.
Here are three things we learned from Ohio State's 42-13 win.
3 things we learned:
1. Ezekiel Elliott shines bright in final Michigan game. Playing in his final Ohio State-Michigan game, Ezekiel Elliott was back in to his Heisman form, as he ignited the Buckeyes in the first quarter with a 65-yard run down the left sideline that would setup the first touchdown of the afternoon from J.T. Barrett. Elliott would also work with Barrett on their next possession to gash the Michigan defense as they took turns running the ball in and around the Wolverines as Elliott would finally take a handoff up the middle on his way into the endzone to put Ohio State up 14-3.
By the end of the first half, Elliott had 99 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown to his name. It wouldn't take long in the second half for him to reach the century mark, adding to his legacy at Ohio State. On the opening drive of the second half, Elliott would rush for nearly 50 yards, breaking down the sideline yet again, adding to his rushing total on the day.
One of the top backs in Ohio State's history would continue to prove his worth, as the Buckeyes rode on Elliott's shoulders (with some help from J.T. Barrett along the way) and the two-headed monster rushing attack was alive and well on the road. Elliott would finish the afternoon with over 200 yards rushing and two touchdowns after finding the endzone again in the fourth quarter. Elliott finishes his career against Michigan with an exclamation point, moving into second place for most rushing yards in Ohio State history, passing Eddie George and only trailing Archie Griffin all-time.
2. J.T. Barrett looked like J.T. Barrett. Barrett might not be slinging the ball left and right, but the offense looked a lot more like it did in 2014, when Barrett was at the top of his game. Before his injury against Michigan last season, Barrett was a force both on the ground and through the air, and although he and Cardale Jones haven't met expectations as passers this season, Barrett showed why the coaching staff elected to start him over Jones the past couple of weeks. Shaking off an ugly performance against Michigan State last week, Barrett rushed for 64 yards on eight carries and a touchdown in the first half. He was patient in the pocket, looking for receivers, and although only threw for 18 yards in the opening half, looked a bit more confident in his decision-making.
After a big run by Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett would fire from the pocket to find a well-covered Jalin Marshall in the endzone. Marshall showed off his strong hands with a difficult catch over the Michigan defender and held on for the touchdown as Barrett took to the air for the score. The offensive balance provided Barrett perfect opportunities to make plays and provide the Buckeyes with legitimate scoring chances on every drive. The offensive line performed at a much higher level than they had all season, opening holes for both Elliott and Barrett as well providing enough time for some key passes.
Barrett would add a rushing touchdown later in the third quarter, after a fourth down conversion from Ezekiel Elliott set up Barrett with a 13-yard keeper and the quarterback diving into the endzone to add to Ohio State's lead entering the fourth quarter. Barrett also engineered a drive in the fourth quarter setting up Ezekiel Elliott with a rushing touchdown by throwing for a 38-yard floater to Michael Thomas. Barrett would finish with over 100 yards passing and rushing, respectively, as well adding four touchdowns on the day. Three of his scores came on the ground, with one through the air in a fantastic performance.
3. Ohio State-Michigan is still the best rivalry in all of sports. The Urban Meyer-Jim Harbaugh era of The Game started with a bang, as Ohio State and Michigan entered as top 10 teams in the College Football Playoff poll. The game lived up to expectations (perhaps more so on the Ohio State side), as both teams traded blows back and forth. Two of the top defenses in the country had trouble containing both offenses, but still provided plenty of hard hits and big stops all around. Always a physical game, the game had significant meaning beyond the rivalry for both teams, as it often does. Both Michigan and Ohio State needed a Michigan State loss to Penn State if the two teams wanted a chance at meeting Iowa in the Big Ten championship game.
Though the Buckeyes rolled in the second half, the threat from Michigan was there, and it's likely safe to say that the Wolverines are still a tough, talented team that will provide Ohio State a tough game at the end of each season no matter what the score would have been on Saturday. With Harbaugh at the helm, it seems like Michigan is well on its way to being back, already reentering the top 10 once this season, and proving their place among the Big Ten elite once more.