A joyous, explosion of offense, and a shocking amount of solid enough defense led the way to Ohio State’s massive upset over Michigan on Saturday afternoon. Take that in for a second. Ohio State, in 2018, lit up an elite defense with a great balance of explosive and efficient plays. In the same game, Ohio State’s defense certainly wasn’t great, giving up 39 points to the Wolverines, but it was more than solid enough to help the Buckeyes win easily.
When was the last time that you could say that about Ohio State this season? You’d really have to go back to the Tulane game back in mid-September. Since then, the Buckeyes have alternated between solid defensive performances (Michigan State, Minnesota) elite offensive games (Maryland, Indiana) and complete trash (Purdue, Nebraska).
That’s shown on the final stat lines, as well as in the advanced metrics. Ohio State beat Penn State by one, Nebraska by five, and Maryland by one in overtime. The Buckeyes struggled to put Minnesota and Indiana away. The closest that the Buckeyes have gotten to an all-around performance like this one since the calendar turned to October was the 26-6 win over Michigan State, and even that was a tight, defensive battle into the fourth quarter.
So many close contests (and a blowout loss to Purdue) certainly make today’s result that much more satisfying. Every win over Michigan is great, sure, but this one feels extra special, because it was the realization of Ohio State’s potential. It was the breakout win we’ve been waiting for all season long, and it came against Michigan, completely ruining their season. That is a beautiful thing.
But, with this breakout win — this full realization of potential — comes questions about Ohio State’s season to this point. The excellent game-plan on both sides of the ball, picking apart the previously microscopic chinks in Michigan’s armor, comes on the heels of an entire season full of half-baked game-plans.
One week after being completely unable to stop any kind of run after a motion, Ohio State held Michigan’s Karan Higdon to just 72 yards on 15 carries. After being gashed by big plays all year long, Ohio State kept Michigan in check all day, forcing the Wolverines into tricky third down situations. The defense wasn’t perfect, but it was more than good enough to get a dominant win, just one week after allowing 51 points to a 5-6 Maryland team.
Give credit where it’s due to Greg Schiano, Alex Grinch, and the rest of the staff. They designed a game-plan for this one, and their players executed it. We haven’t been able to say that for months now, and a win this convincing makes it even more pressing to wonder why.
The same can be said for the offense called by Ryan Day, Kevin Wilson, and no matter how much he denies it, Urban Meyer. After a full season of misusing talent, calling strange gadget plays at bad times, and winning with talent rather than coaching, the Buckeyes finally used all of their weapons correctly today. They let Dwayne Haskins cook, getting receivers open in space. They fed J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber evenly, and they used tight ends and running backs to help the offensive line.
So, where in the hell was that all year? Where in the hell did a defense that wraps up tackles, an offense that can move the ball on the ground and in the air, and a game-plan perfectly designed to take down Michigan come from? Will it stay for Ohio State’s Big Ten Championship matchup with No. 19 Northwestern? Was this a one-off, or a return to form for the Buckeyes?
I don’t know. I don’t really know what to think of this team right now, and really won’t until we see them play next weekend in Indianapolis for a shot at the College Football Playoff. What I do know is that for the seventh straight year, Ohio State beat Michigan, and for the second time in three seasons, they knocked the Wolverines out of playoff contention. And, whatever types of questions still need to be answered about this team, for now, they don’t really matter, because this victory feels pretty damn great.