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Opinion: Memories of the 2016 OSU-Michigan game

The 2016 edition of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry was a game that will never be forgotten by Buckeye fans.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN had originally been planning on showing “The Spot Game” from 2016 between Ohio State and Michigan, but at the last minute TWWL decided to call an audible and show the conclusion of their H-O-R-S-E competition instead. I guess this just shows more of ESPN’s anti-Ohio State bias, amirite? At least a silver lining, Buckeye fans can root for Mike Conley to win on Thursday night.

The Big Ten Network has picked up the slack and will be showing the 2016 edition of The Game on Friday afternoon at 4 pm EST. While the rivalry has been rather lopsided in favor of Ohio State for the past two decades, every now and then the teams play a game that will be remembered years down the road. 2016 is one of those years. Even watching the replay feels like it takes years off my life. Watching it live in late November in 2016 was excruciating. So I figured, why not relive all the pain and pleasure that came with the classic from three and a half years ago?

For the past seven years my plans for The Game have been the same. A good friend of mine in Worthington hosts a party for his friends and neighbors. Since The Game now falls a couple days after Thanksgiving, some people bring over leftovers, while others bring over some of their favorite dishes and best cooked meats. And the drinks, oh the drinks. Zak brews his own beer, so there is three taps in his garage dedicated to beer, and inside there is plenty of ammunition to make mixed drinks. With food and drink taken care of, all we have to do is root for a Buckeye win, and so far the tradition is perfect.

Over the last seven years, there haven’t been many moments of doubt in the rivalry for Ohio State. Even in 2014 when J.T. Barrett broke his leg, the doubt was more about what lied ahead after the Michigan game for the Buckeyes. The one year with the most stress was undoubtedly 2016. The season leading up to The Game was a roller coaster ride for both teams, and things would get even weirder on the last Saturday of November.

Since The Game was in Columbus, Zak’s party wasn’t quite as populated as the previous year, as some of the normal attendees had tickets to the game. The setup has a TV going inside, where a lot of the parents with children hang out so they can also keep an eye on the kids. We also open up the garage and set a TV up out there, and that’s where I usually watch. You know me, gotta stay close to the beer.

Over the last decade, more often than not we have been spoiled with relatively warm weather for The Game. 2016 wasn’t particularly cold, but for some reason I was freezing. Even though I was sufficiently layered, to me it felt like it was closer to zero than 40 degrees. In the second half and overtimes I was even bundled up in a big blanket. It probably would have helped my struggle to stay warm if the game didn’t hang in the balance until the end.

As if the usual battle for bragging rights between the rivals wasn’t enough, 2016 saw both times fighting for a College Football Playoff spot. With both teams having already lost once heading into The Game, we knew that only the winner had a shot at being a part of the playoff field. Ohio State was looking for the second appearance in three years, while Michigan was looking for their first CFP bid.

After Michigan scored first with a field goal early in the second quarter, the Buckeyes responded with a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown from Malik Hooker. That would be the only scoring Ohio State would do for a while. The Wolverines took a 10-7 lead into halftime, and extended the lead to 17-7 in the third quarter. This was a position I was unfamiliar with during The Game. When was the last time Michigan led the Buckeyes by 10 points? It felt like decades.

Since Ohio State’s offense couldn’t get going, I knew the defense was going to have to pick up the slack and possibly put up another touchdown to get back in the game. Even though it wasn’t a touchdown, Jerome Baker returned a Wilson Speight interception 22 yards to the Michigan 13-yard line with just over a minute left in the third quarter. The Buckeyes would cash in a couple plays later to cut the deficit to 17-14.

By this time I’m about pulling my hair out, since Michigan leading Ohio State heading into the fourth quarter is something I’m not used to. I got even more heated when Tyler Durbin missed a 21-yard field goal with around seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter. At this point I’m wondering if Urban Meyer is going to lose his first game to Michigan as head coach of Ohio State. Durbin was able to redeem himself, hitting a 23-yard field goal as regulation expired. I’m pretty sure I was so nervous during that kick that I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the field goal, instead just waiting to hear if the kick was able to go in.

Nerves were kicked into an even higher gear in overtime after Ohio State scored on just two plays into their first possessions. Michigan took a little longer to score, not reaching the end zone until the Buckeyes pushed them to 4th & goal. Things would only get crazier from this point.

With Michigan again having the football in the first possession of the second overtime, Ohio State’s defense was at least able to hold the Wolverines to a field goal, which would give the Buckeyes a chance to end the game with a touchdown. Urban Meyer knew he couldn’t allow this game to go much longer, and that’s why he took a chance on 4th & 1 from the 16-yard line.

What would happen next would be one of the most memorable plays in the history of the rivalry. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett slammed into the back of tight end A.J. Alexander and looked to have made the line to gain. Initially, I thought Ohio State had the first down, but the fact that the referees were going to replay made me a little nervous since we all know just how bad college football referees can be.

After what seemed like hours, it was finally ruled that Ohio State made the first down. The Buckeyes would waste little time securing the victory, with Curtis Samuel punctuating the game-winning touchdown by jumping into the end zone with his arms outstretched. Not only had the Buckeyes beat their rival, but they also ended up securing a spot in the College Football Playoff. While Ohio State would go on to lose to Clemson, at least Buckeye fans could hold countless “the spot was good” jokes over Michigan for years to come.

Since I moved to Columbus in 2005, there have been a few memorable close calls, but I don’t think I’ve sweated an Ohio State-Michigan out like 2016 since I became a Buckeye. 2005 was a tremendous comeback, but not quite as much was on the line as 2016. 2006 was an instant classic, but even that game was a little easier to handle since Ohio State led pretty much the whole way. 2016 was a whole different animal in a rivalry that is unlike any other in the country.