Smith, Ginn Lead OSU Over Michigan
Troy Smith had a career day, Ted Ginn Jr. tied the NCAA single-season record for returning punts for touchdowns and Ohio State saved its best game for last as the Buckeyes overcame an early deficit and rolled to a 37-21 victory over Michigan before 105,456 fans in Ohio Stadium.
The loss ruined the Wolverines’ perfect conference record, and depending upon what Wisconsin does against Iowa later today, could dump Michigan all the way from the Rose Bowl to the Capital One Bowl. If the Badgers defeat Iowa, Wisconsin will get the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl because of a better overall record than UM, which also lost to Notre Dame this season.
The win was the third in four tries against the Wolverines for OSU head coach Jim Tressel. Only three previous Ohio State head coaches have achieved that feat – Francis A. Schmidt, who won his first four games against UM from 1934-37; John W. Wilce, who lost his first meeting with Michigan in 1918 and then beat them three in a row between 1919-21 and Earle Bruce, who won three of four between 1979-82.
While Tressel is now 3-1 against the Wolverines, UM head coach Lloyd Carr fell to 6-4, including 2-3 in Columbus.
“We always hope we’ll play our best game against Michigan,” Tressel said. “Offensively, defensively and special teams were in concert today. We work night and day to become better and better and better, and we try to get to the point where we can play our best game of the year in the final game of the year, and that’s what it’s all about. As far as how we feel – we have 112 players and 15 coaches, support people, secretaries and whatnot who have all worked hard, and on this day, everything feels just right.”
Smith had the finest running and passing day an Ohio State quarterback has ever had, rushing 145 yards and one touchdown while throwing for 241 yards and a pair of scores. No OSU quarterback has ever rushed for more than 100 yards and thrown for more than 200 in the same game, and Smith came within a single yard of breaking the school record for most yards gained in a game by a quarterback. That record had been held since 1974 by Cornelius Greene, who went for 146 yards in a 52-7 win over Wisconsin.
“I really credit my offensive line,” Smith said. “We won the trench fight today. As a whole, we all stepped up as a unit with one goal in mind – sending our seniors out on a positive. Michigan is a good team, but I think us coming together as a team was what did it. I didn’t really realize what this rivalry is really about until you’re in it and get a ‘W.’ Our hats are off to Michigan, but we were the better team today.”
Smith’s big day allowed the Buckeyes to pile up 446 yards of total offense against the Wolverines, their second-largest total of the season, coming within 16 yards of the 462 they gained in the season opener against Cincinnati. It was the team’s best Big Ten showing in total offense since 603 last season against Indiana.
The win also virtually clinched a berth in the Alamo Bowl for the Buckeyes. Alamo Bowl officials, who indicated they had narrowed their choices to OSU and Purdue before the game, would not confirm the Buckeyes would get the invitation but indicated that was the way they were leaning. The Alamo Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. Eastern and will be played in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Ohio State got up on the Wolverines early when Smith connected with flanker Tony Gonazlez on a 68-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute and a half gone in the first quarter. But Michigan came right back with a 4-yard scoring pass from Chad Henne to Jason Avant and a 1-yard TD run by Michael Hart to grab a 14-7 lead with 6:03 left in the first quarter.
But it was all Ohio State after that. The Buckeyes embarked on a 99-yard drive – their longest offensive march in more than four years – and Smith scored on a 2-yard run to tie the score. Then, kicker Mike Nugent booted field goals for 21 and 42 yards to give OSU a 20-14 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Ginn electrified the sellout crowd with a bobbing, weaving, 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. It was his fourth punt return for a score this season, equaling the NCAA single-season mark and setting a new career record at Ohio State. Later, the Buckeyes marched 97 yards on the Michigan defense, getting a 12-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Santonio Holmes to move ahead by a 34-14 score.
The Wolverines made some noise in the fourth quarter, getting within two scores when Henne hooked up with Braylon Edwards for a 38-yard touchdown at the 10:56 mark. But Nugent added another field goal – this one from 48 yards out – and then the OSU defense held Michigan on downs with 7:34 remaining and again with 4:18 left in the game before Henne was intercepted by OSU safety Nate Salley in the final seconds.
Michigan totaled 399 yards in total offense, but only 71 of those came on the ground. The Buckeyes stuffed Hart, who came into the game as the Big Ten’s leading rusher. The UM freshman was limited to just 61 yards on 18 carries. That was his lowest output since he became a starter early this season.
Henne was forced to throw 54 times in the game, and he completed 27 of them for 328 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But the freshman QB was also pressured mercilessly by the OSU defense and pitched a pair of interceptions.
In addition to Smith’s afternoon, Ginn also caught five passes for 87 yards while Holmes and Gonzalez combined for five more, 127 yards and a touchdown apiece. Senior fullback-turned-tailback Branden Joe was the second-leading rusher for the Buckeyes with 52 yards on 14 carries.
Ohio State fans rushed the field in jubiliation following the game but appeared to be celebrating in an orderly fashion, milling around the middle of the field several minutes after the game had ended and the Buckeyes had gone to the locker room. Police and security guards encircled each goal post, but it didn’t seem that anyone was intent on getting at them.
“I about got my neck broken when I was coming off the field,” Smith said. “I know this means a lot to a lot of people – not just this team. We were glad to get the win for all of them today.”
The Buckeyes finished their regular season with a 7-4 record and tied for fifth in the Big Ten with a 4-4 conference mark. They will likely head to the Alamo Bowl where they will take on a Big 12 team. On the bowl game’s radar at the current time are teams including Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.