Admit it: you were starting to give up.
Early on, it was hard not to feel like Ohio State was going to subject its fans to an Iowa-esque performance in the Big House. The Buckeyes managed to move backwards in the first quarter, finishing the first 15 minutes with fewer yards than they had when they started.
Paired with that offensive impotence, was a nightmarish defensive showing for Ohio State. They couldn't seem to make a tackle, especially when Chris Evans had the ball in his hands, and they were making John O'Korn look awfully competent under center.
Somehow, they managed to settle in and score a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to answer Michigan's, and took it to halftime at 14-14. Injuries to key contributors on both teams, most notably QB J.T. Barrett, added to the high drama of the third quarter. But despite all that, the talented team from Columbus started to nose ahead on the scoreboard, taking a 21-20 lead under the command of backup QB Dwayne Haskins and a monstrous performance from the defensive line.
After that, it was all Buckeye. Ohio State dominated the fourth quarter and walked away with its 13th victory in The Game in its last 14 tries. Let's take a look at who made that happen.
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Denzel Ward, DB: Give Denzel Ward credit. On a day when the Ohio State linebackers and defensive backs didn't seem to be able to buy a tackle, Ward showed that he came to play. He tracked down and broke up a pair of John O'Korn passes and got in on eight total tackles, but he did seven of those all by himself.
But perhaps the finest moment of Ward's day was on special teams. After Michigan retook the lead, No. 12 came off the edge and got a hand on Quin Nordin's extra point attempt, giving the Buckeyes a much-needed boost. By taking away a gimme point, Ward helped force the Wolverines into need-a-TD territory once Ohio State got up 24-20. It was a huge moment that won't get enough burn on the highlights.
Sam Hubbard, DE: There's a chance John O'Korn is going to start seeing Sam Hubbard in his nightmares. The junior defensive end found his way into the Michigan QB's grill over and over on Saturday, finishing his third go-round in The Game with 2.5 sacks and five total tackles. Hubbard's biggest play of the day—immortalized in the photo above—was a strip-sack of O'Korn that torpedoed Michigan's chances to retake the lead down 21-20 and driving. They wouldn't score again.
J.K. Dobbins, RB: Hey, there he is! The freshman phenom RB reappeared in the Buckeye game plan in a big way on Saturday, rushing for 101 yards on 15 carries and finding the end zone late in the third quarter to give the Buckeyes the lead for good. Once Dobbins got going—and it was frustratingly late that he started getting the ball with any kind of consistency—he proved to be too much for a Wolverine defense that had their way with the Buckeyes in the first half.
Dwayne Haskins, QB: There's no bigger stage to enter as a Buckeye quarterback than the Michigan game. Dwayne Haskins rose to the occasion. After J.T. Barrett went down with an aggravation of his season-long meniscus injury in the third quarter, Haskins came in facing a six-point deficit and a hungry Michigan defensive line. As a passer, he was almost perfect, going 6-of-7 for 94 yards and adding a dimension to the Ohio State offense that had been missing all game.
Those crisp passes, a handful of which came on crossing routes to pick up big first downs, also opened up lanes for the running game. Dobbins and Mike Weber found their spots after that, and Haskins added a crucial scamper of his own, taking the ball 21 yards and ending up just shy of the Wolverine end zone. Haskins didn't always make the right reads in the read-option attack, and he's not the runner that Barrett is, but the Ohio State offense looks to be in good hands for the future.
(Guy-you-avoid-at-the-bar voice) Michigan! Ayyyyyyyyyyy. No, seriously, it's a shame that a defense as good as the Wolverines' is being wasted to the degree that it is. Pair that unit with an offense that can sustain drives and complete mid-range passes and the Buckeyes might've lost this game by 20. Instead, it looked like Michigan used up everything it had on offense in the game's first 22 minutes or so—the Ohio State tacklers started tackling, and John O'Korn crashed back down to earth after an admittedly excellent first quarter.
The Wolverines will finish the regular season 8-4, good for 4th in the Big Ten East and 6th in the conference overall. Jim Harbaugh isn't on the hot seat and shouldn't be, but will that stop us from reveling in the Schadenfreude? No, no it will not. We'll see you on the message boards!
BUY: J.T. Barrett as Ohio State's best option. It's silly that we have to talk about this, but calls for a QB change happened earlier in the season and are sure to happen again now that Dwayne Haskins looked so good in relief of J.T. Barrett. Haskins undoubtedly has the potential to open up some excellent passing plays for the Buckeyes. But the offense that Ohio State runs—the one that got them to 10-2 in the first place—is predicated upon consistently making the right reads in the read-option. Barrett, for all his foibles, is still the right guy to run that offense.
SELL: Ohio State's playoff chances. That's not to say that the Buckeyes can't make the playoff; they're certainly still in the hunt, though Auburn's win over Alabama on Saturday complicated the picture a good deal. What we're talking about here are Ohio State's chances even if they get in. This is a team that does a lot of things well and is, at times, a joy to watch. But there are so many things big and small that the Buckeyes have not managed to overcome or work out among themselves this season, be it play-calling or kickoff coverage or the linebacking unit.
This is a very, very good team. But I'm not sold on them being a playoff-caliber team. And that's okay!