ANN ARBOR, Mich.: Supporting a fellow member of the college coaching fraternity, Urban Meyer agreed with the decision of Michigan’s Brady Hoke to risk defeat by going for a 2-point conversion with Ohio State leading the Wolverines 42-41 with 32 seconds to play in Saturday’s annual showdown.
The strategy went awry when safety Tyvis Powell intercepted Devin Gardner’s pass to ensure the Buckeyes’ 24th consecutive victory, extending OSU’s all-time record.
“I would have done the same thing, no question,” said Meyer, who completed his second undefeated season in a row after beating Ohio State’s hated rival.
Maybe he would have, maybe not. But after Michigan amassed 451 yards passing to propel the Ohio State defense into a state of vertigo, why not kick the extra point and head to overtime?
The Wolverines had just gone airborne for 84 yards, with Gardner completing 7-of-10 passes for 91 yards (he was sacked once for a 7-yard loss) to score the equalizing touchdown. Yet Hoke was worried that his offense couldn’t move the ball if the game lasted more than 60 minutes?
“We played the game to win,” Hoke said, as if to indicate that his team would have lost in overtime.
The Buckeyes should have been the ones showing fear and trepidation. Instead, they seemed almost giddy when they saw Michigan line up, because they correctly anticipated what play they would be asked to defend.
“We pretty much knew what was coming,” said stellar linebacker Ryan Shazier, who rang up 14 tackles but not the last one. “It was either that or another one they run [on 2-point conversions].”
Before Michigan could run the play, Meyer called a timeout, thinking his defense had been on the field for what seemed like days and needed a break.
“I took the timeout to take a deep breath,” he said, sensing that asking his defense to stop the Wolverines for 32 plays in the fourth quarter might be taking a toll.
Crunch time then proceeded with the Wolverines lining up with stacked receivers on the right side. It was a play that had worked twice in the first half to the left.
It also was an alignment that OSU defenders had studied. During the timeout, the coaching staff reminded its pupils of the play.
“That’s the last thing I remember before going back on the field,” Powell said.
When Gardner looked to his right and cocked his arm, Powell slipped a block, dived in front of the intended receiver, Drew Dileo, and gathered in the pass.
“It kind of shook me,” Powell said. “He really threw that ball. I guess that’s their play on the 2-point conversion. We practiced it all week. The only thing I can do is thank the coaching staff. … I just think coach [Kerry] Coombs is a genius.”
Apparently, Coombs has Mensa members on speed dial to chat about astrophysics or biogenetics when he isn’t tutoring Buckeye defensive backs.
The game might not have come down to one do-or-die play by an overloaded defense if not for Carlos Hyde’s fourth-quarter fumble that gave Michigan the ball at the Buckeye 41 with 10:30 to play in the fourth quarter. By the time 5½ minutes had elapsed, Gardner had cut the OSU lead to 35-28 on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jake Butt.
“I was real disappointed with the fumble,” Meyer said.
On the plus side, the Buckeyes would have been in dire straits if not for Hyde, who gained 226 yards (an 8.4 average), rushing for more yards than any Ohio State player in a game against the Wolverines.
“That means a lot,” he said. “I have to credit my offensive line. They did a great job. They helped me make history. … We’ve got the best offensive line in the country.”
The Buckeyes fell short of 400 rushing yards by only 7, with quarterback Braxton Miller backing Hyde with 165 yards (a 9.6 average) on the ground.
On reflection, Meyer said he should have put more trust in Miller’s passing ability, but it’s difficult to criticize a strategy that produces 393 yards on the ground.
And whether Ohio State threw or ran, big plays were the order of the day. Eleven Buckeye plays netted 17 yards or more, including a 53-yard touchdown run by Miller, a 53-yard scoring pass from Miller to Devin Smith, a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman and a 21-yard scoring dash by Miller.
“I feel like that was the best defense we faced all year,” said Miller, incredulously.
The OSU defense was hammered for 603 yards, as Hoke wisely elected to keep the ball in the air rather than put Michigan’s weak ground game to the test.
What was expected to be a lopsided Buckeye win — OSU was a 16-point favorite — turned into another improbably tense drama, the kind that so often has marked this long series.
“An instant classic,” Meyer said.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Ohio State blog at https://ohio.com/blogs/buckeyes-blogging. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.