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10 things to remember about Michigan-Ohio State, 2016’s greatest college football game

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It was almost impossible to live up to the massive hype, but this instant classic did just that.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

If college football’s rivalry week is ever a one-game weekend, the sport didn’t do its job. The sport brought its A game with last-second finishes (Georgia Tech 28, Georgia 27), upsets (Kentucky over Louisville, NC State over UNC, Memphis over Houston), comebacks (Missouri 28, Arkansas 24), and exits (Texas’ Charlie Strong, probably Oregon’s Mark Helfrich, and others).

Still, one game mattered over all else.

ESPN’s College GameDay gave Ohio State-Michigan a five-hour run-up before its noon kickoff, an almost unprecedented feat of preview bloat. And yet, after a week of promotion set the bar unbelievably high, the Buckeyes and Wolverines cleared it.

They played the game of the year, one complete with plot twists, controversy, and all the nervy instability that makes college sports so uniquely awesome.

Before we dive fully into Championship Week, let’s let this one linger a bit longer. Here are the 10 most awesome things about Ohio State 30, Michigan 27.

10. Michigan had so many chances to win

Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines had their hands on the controls for much of the game, but that isn’t automatically a good thing. They made most of the game’s best plays (in regulation) but made most of the worst, too.

After driving 72 yards on its opening possession, Ohio State’s offense fell stagnant. The Buckeyes gained just 21 yards on their next four drives and fell behind 3-0. But a 60-yard Cameron Johnston punt pinned Michigan at its 6 with 4:10 left, and Michigan’s Wilton Speight gifted the Buckeyes seven points by throwing a pick to OSU’s Malik Hooker, who raced 16 yards for a Buckeye touchdown.

Michigan still took a 10-7 lead into halftime despite the pick six and started the second half perfectly. Jabrill Peppers picked off a J.T. Barrett pass at midfield, and the Wolverines drove to the OSU 1. But Speight mishandled a second-and-goal snap, and Davon Hamilton recovered.

With each mistake, Speight bounced back. He led a touchdown drive after the pick six, then did so again following the fumble. He had completed 11 of his last 12 passes, and Michigan had expanded its lead to 17-7, when Speight completely lost track of OSU's Jerome Baker.

Late in the third quarter, Baker stepped in front of a slant route at the Michigan 35 and returned the interception to the 13. Two plays later, Mike Weber plunged in from the 1, and Michigan's lead was just three points.

Three turnovers almost directly handed Ohio State 14 points and took seven off of the board for Michigan. Do you think that might have made a difference in a three-point decision?

Speight came back earlier than expected from a collar bone injury suffered in the loss to Iowa two weeks earlier. From a passing perspective, he was easily the more successful of the game’s quarterbacks, averaging 5.3 yards per pass attempt (including sacks) to Barrett’s 2.4 and completing 64 percent of his passes to Barrett’s 47 percent. But three mistakes were deadly.

9. Ohio State did, too

That 72-yard drive? It ended in a missed 37-yard field goal by Tyler Durbin. And when the Buckeyes, down three, ate up three and a half minutes driving 61 yards in the fourth quarter, that drive ended in a missed 21-yarder.

Durbin was 16-of-17 heading in. His only miss was a blocked kick against Penn State. And with a different finish, this could have been a Kyle-Brotzman-versus-Nevada moment for the senior from Fairfax, Va.

But after a Michigan three-and-out, the Buckeyes got one more chance. And after 13 plays, 77 yards, and 5:36 of game clock, Durbin knocked in a 23-yarder to send the game to overtime.

8. Imagine how big a moment has to be in order to make Urban Meyer look nervous

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The three-time national champion spent a good portion of his afternoon looking like he was struggling to hold his emotions together.

Meyer called a couple of nervous timeouts. He looked sincerely unsure of himself late in the game when trying to navigate down, distance, clock, and a suddenly erratic kicker.

And when Michigan’s offense came onto the field in the first overtime, Meyer was trying to pump up the crowd like a towel-waving walk-on.

You already had GameDay and the College Football Playoff rankings to let you know how important this game was. And it’s Michigan-Ohio State; it’s always big.

But just in case you were still unsure, Meyer’s face and actions painted the picture.

7. The defenses wrecked the script

This was an old-school, Michigan-Ohio State brawl. Neither offense could sustain much of a rhythm, and when one team had the dagger, the other dodged it.

Games follow certain rhythms — here’s where Team A takes control, here’s where Team B goes deep and lands the knockout blow, etc. — and this game refused all of them.

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

One example: After Speight’s second interception, Weber’s touchdown cut Michigan’s lead to just three points despite the Wolverines controlling most of the second and third quarters. UM began the fourth quarter with two incomplete passes and punted, and game rhythm suggested that this was a prime opportunity for Ohio State to go deep and seize control.

Barrett faked a draw play and looked deep. And Chris Wormley sacked him. (Wormley also fought off a block to blow up Ohio State’s third-quarter fake punt.) Mike McCray sacked Barrett two plays later. In 40 Barrett attempts, Michigan brought him down in the backfield eight times.

Every time an offense thought it saw an opportunity, the other defense said, “Nope!”

6. Jerome Baker’s peek-a-boo interception

That second Speight interception? There was a pretty good reason why he didn’t see Baker: he was hiding behind the umpire.

5. Barrett had to grind for every yard

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

“The five big mistakes in football are the fumble, the interception, the penalty, the badly called play, the blocked punt — and most of these originate with the quarterback. Find a mistake-proof quarterback and you have this game won.”

That’s one of many well-known quotes by former Buckeye coach Woody Hayes.

Speight lost a fumble and threw two picks, and Michigan committed seven penalties to Ohio State’s two. (Yes, Michigan fans, some of that disparity was questionable.)

Barrett was anything but mistake-proof. He threw the pick to Peppers, and while the line takes a lot of the blame when you’re getting sacked in one of every five pass attempts, it’s at least a little bit on you, too.

But when the game was on the line, Barrett ground out yards. Ohio State basically had two game-tying drives late — the first that resulted in the missed FG, and the second one that didn’t. Over the first 50 minutes, he had managed just 71 rushing yards and 57 passing yards. In these two possessions, he rushed eight times for 65 yards and completed five of eight passes for 59.

4. Michigan’s zero-percent fourth quarter

Ohio State-Michigan advanced box score
Football Study Hall

To say the least, this game turned late.

In the fourth quarter, Michigan rushed four times for 11 yards, and Speight went 0-of-4 passing with a 6-yard sack. Success rate: zero percent. Speight may have moved on from his first two big miscues, but the third seemed to suck the life out of the offense. In terms of both play-calling and execution, they went into a shell.

They emerged briefly in overtime, scoring a touchdown in seven plays on their first possession, but from the beginning of the fourth quarter, that was their only possession that included a first down. They went three-and-out in their second OT possession, settling for a field goal and opening the door for Ohio State’s legendary game-winner.

3. Michigan’s 83 percent win expectancy

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

Win expectancy looks at all the key Five Factors stats from a game — efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, turnovers — and announces, “With these stats, you could have expected to win this game X percent of the time.”

Despite the turnovers (and bad turnovers luck), and despite the fourth-quarter 0-fer, the Wolverines still won the field position battle by nearly 9 yards per possession and limited OSU to three touchdowns in seven scoring opportunities. They were still the only offense capable of converting on passing downs (a 36 percent success rate on PDs to Ohio State’s 23). And win expectancy said they would have probably still won this game five of every six times.

They didn’t.

2. The greatest 8-yard reception ever

If not for Curtis Samuel, we wouldn’t have ever gotten a fourth-down controversy we could forever Zapruder.

Here’s how it looked in the box score: “OSU 3-9 at Mich24, Barrett, J.T. screen pass complete to Samuel, Curtis for 8 yards to the MICH16 (Hill, Delano).”

Here’s how it looked from the stands:

Not sure the box score did that one justice.

This looked like a short gain with a 40-yard field goal (from a suddenly shaky kicker) imminent. Instead, Samuel shimmied his way into a fourth-and-short.

Samuel earned the right to score the game-winning touchdown, following Barrett’s controversial fourth-and-1 conversion.

And he earned the embrace from Meyer in the locker room.

1. History repeated

This was one of the best games in the history of one of football’s best rivalries.

And it drew precedent from one of the series’ other most classic moments. Durbin’s misses were even more egregious than the two kicks that Mike Lantry missed in 1973, for instance.

That year, Ohio State controlled the game for three quarters on the road (check!) in the battle of top-five teams (check!), milking a 10-point lead that could have been larger (check!). The momentum swung in the fourth quarter, and the home team came all the way back (check!). It would have gone to overtime had overtime existed, but that might not have been the case if the home team’s fantastic kicker hadn’t missed two field goals (check!).

(If we want to stretch the parallels, shoulder injuries for Michigan’s quarterback almost played a major role in both games. Speight nearly missed the game with his collar bone injury, and in 1973, Dennis Franklin broke his collar bone late in the contest. Check!)

In Lantry’s defense, his were much longer. He barely missed a 58-yarder wide left late in that game, and he pushed a 44-yarder just wide right at the buzzer.

2016 and 1973 saw almost perfect role reversals, but one detail remained the same: It was the Michigan head coach most angry afterward.

Jim Harbaugh says he's "bitterly disappointed" about the officiating in Michigan-Ohio State. Legit beef?

Nai-post ni SB Nation College Football noong Sabado, Nobyembre 26, 2016

Harbaugh’s ire at officials was one of the main story lines from Saturday, and not completely without justification. At worst, the Wolverines were the victims of quite a few 50-50 calls.

In 1973, UM’s Bo Schembechler was set ablaze when Big Ten athletic directors were asked to vote on who should attend the 1974 Rose Bowl; UM and OSU were both unbeaten with one tie in conference play, and in the 1970s, votes were still common tiebreakers. The assumption was that Michigan — the team with the longer Rose Bowl absence — would get the nod, but Franklin’s injury (and, if you believe Schembechler, a massive anti-Michigan conspiracy) made some ADs hesitant, and OSU won the vote, 6-4.

Schembechler went to his grave still angry about that vote. We’ll see how long Harbaugh holds onto this one.

One thing’s certain: we will hold onto it for quite a while. It was spectacular.


Ohio State's questionable first down against Michigan