Buckeyes come back to pull out victory in double overtime … Dormant offense comes alive in fourth quarter and extra sessions … Ohio State should be part of College Football Playoffs
COLUMBUS — Every square inch of the Ohio Stadium field was covered afterward with jubilant players and fans. Somewhere, in the midst of that sea of humanity, was coach Urban Meyer, so emotionally exhausted and overcome with joy that he slumped to the turf and had to be helped up to keep from being trampled.
The marching band played, and the masses belted out “Carmen Ohio” in unison. Never has the Ohio State alma mater been sung with such fervor.
In a four-hour, drama-filled game that lived up to the hype and will rank among the greatest in the storied rivalry of Ohio State-Michigan, the No. 2 Buckeyes pulled off an improbable, 30-27 victory in double overtime before a stadium-record crowd of 110,045 Saturday.
Put J.T. Barrett in the pantheon of all-time best Ohio State quarterbacks after he improved to 3-0 in the rivalry, joining Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor and Tippy Dye as the only players to pull off that feat.
And if he didn’t already have a spot among the top college football coaches in history, reserve a place for Meyer. He made one of the gutsiest calls ever in gambling on fourth-and-1 from the 16-yard line in the second OT while trailing by three. And Barrett picked up the first down by the slimmest of margins (a replay review was necessary, which no doubt meant pulse rates were spiking).
One play later, Curtis Samuel ran for the decisive TD to complete the comeback and almost assuredly propel the 11-1 Buckeyes to the College Football Playoffs.
They’ve made a convincing case for themselves with wins over three top-10 teams — Michigan, Wisconsin and Oklahoma — and perhaps another Top-25 pelt if 9-3 Nebraska stays in the ratings. Even without a league title, that ought to be enough to put them among the top four teams in the nation.
A lot can happen in the next week. While conference championships are going on, the Buckeyes will be sitting at home. And sometimes in that process, it’s out of sight, out of mind.
But I’ve been impressed with the selection committee’s batting average for picking worthy national semifinalists, and I don’t see any conceivable rationale for keeping the Buckeyes out.
Even third-ranked Michigan probably will be rated ahead of No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State in Tuesday’s poll and stay there even after those two play for Big Ten title Saturday.
The 10-2 Wolverines, though, have to be stinging after letting that one get away. For nearly three quarters, they were a vastly superior team.
Ohio State kicker Tyler Durbin — poor Tyler Durbin — seemed destined for a place in infamy after missing a 20-yard field goal with 7:01 left in regulation that would have tied the game. He also missed a 37-yarder on the opening possession that appeared as if it would be costly.
But the Buckeyes got a quick stop and motored down the field again. An offense that seemed so overmatched suddenly imposed its will on the No. 1-ranked defense in the nation.
Given a reprieve, Durbin connected from 23 yards with one second left to force OT. And the Wolverines should have known they were in trouble.
Ohio State is 5-0 when forced into extra sessions under Meyer. And Barrett’s mastery in the red zone makes him the perfect OT quarterback.
The Wolverine defense owned the line of scrimmage for most of the day, and the offense did just enough behind QB Wilton Speight to build a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter. Given how anemic the Buckeye offense had been, that 10-point cushion seemed perfectly safe.
But the Ohio State defense, an elite unit despite all its youth, rose up. The Buckeyes’ first seven points came courtesy of safety Malik Hooker’s third interception return for a TD this year, and linebacker Jerome Baker came up with another pick and returned it to the Michigan 13-yard line, leading to a TD that made it 17-14.
After gaining just 153 yards in the first three quarters — 72 of those coming on its opening drive — Ohio State put up 127 yards in the fourth quarter to Michigan’s five.
The Buckeyes’ offensive line had been getting pummeled, giving up eight sacks on the day. But they showed some backbone when it counted, and Barrett simply wouldn’t let them lose.
They scored in two plays in the first OT, while Michigan valiantly converted on fourth-and-goal from the 5 with a TD pass, officially elevating the game into “epic” territory.
After holding the Wolverines to a field goal, the Buckeyes stormed to another TD in the second OT when Samuel swept around left end untouched.
Even before he reached the end zone, the stands were starting to empty.
That’s five wins in a row, 12 in 13 games and 14 out of 16 for the Buckeyes in the rivalry. And there’s no reason to think this dominance can’t continue, although Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has infused confidence and attitude into that program.
Based on recruiting rankings, the Buckeyes should have had a distinct talent advantage. In the 247 Sports composite ratings of the last four classes, they’ve finished fourth, seventh, third and second nationally. The Wolverines have been sixth, 37th, 20th and fourth.
But most of those former blue-chip recruits are raw. Michigan started 18 seniors, while Ohio State started just one (center Pat Elflein).
It was Senior Day at Ohio Stadium. The pregame ceremony may have been the shortest in history.
You could say Michigan needed to win this one with all the starters it’ll be losing, and you could sense Harbaugh knew it, based on his sideline antics.
After a defensive holding call, he took several steps on the field, flapping his arms.
After a possible pass-interference penalty was overlooked, he ran down the sideline to scream at an official.
After the refs decided to call an off-sides penalty against Michigan instead of a false start on Ohio State in the third quarter, Harbaugh came unhinged. He threw his clipboard in the air as its contents scattered on the field and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Afterward, he ripped the officials and blamed the outcome on them.
Woody and Bo would be proud.
Harbaugh, though, wasn’t just engaging in gamesmanship as many thought in saying Speight might play. The 6-6, 243-pound sophomore, who reportedly fractured his left (non-throwing) collarbone two weeks ago, started and went 23-of-36 passing for 219 yards and two TDs with two interceptions.
But he was exactly as advertised — an immobile QB prone to mistakes when pressured.
Barrett’s passing stats were pedestrian (15-for-32 for 124 yards with one interception), but he rushed for 125 yards on 30 attempts, a total that includes his 27 yards in losses on eight sacks. And he has that certain intangible that all leaders have, an ability to exude calm when the walls are collapsing around him.
He came through when it counted most. And so did Meyer, who took the least experienced team in the nation and transformed it into another powerhouse.
Of that fourth-down gamble, the coach said: “If you can make it that far (holding his hands two feet apart), you’re not a championship team.”
The Buckeyes aren’t a championship team yet. But based on the heart they showed and the résumé they’ve built, they’ve certainly earned a chance to play for one.