"Sometimes, there are people standing on third base that think they hit a triple...but they didn't."
The words Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh echoed following his 42-27 win last season against Ohio State in The Game. Harbaugh's famous quip had a chance to become a permanent fixture in this rivalry if his Wolverines delivered a win in Columbus, something Michigan hadn't done since 2000.
For many of the Ohio State faithful, the shear dominance since Jim Tressel took over as Ohio State coach winning 17 of 20 contests, gave Buckeye faithful unbridled confidence heading into this season's clash with "The Team Up North" and dismissing the physical dominance in last season's game deeming it as a fluke.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said postgame, “I thought we were in it and we were fighting there at the end. It obviously got out of control down the stretch, but it wasn’t like we were outmatched in terms of overall play, I don’t think." Day was referencing the position the Buckeyes were in when they were up at the half 20-17, and at a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter trailing 31-23 following a Noah Ruggles 27-yard field goal at the 7:23 mark.
While a mixture a faith, confidence, and hope Ohio State could rally back against Michigan was taken away on the very next series when Michigan running back Donovan Edwards ran for a 75-yard touchdown to put the Wolverines up two possessions.
On the ensuing possession, Ohio State, feeling the pressure of an expiring clock, was able to get into the red zone. From the Michigan 16-yard line, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud saw his Heisman hopes evaporate on a desperation heave under duress as Michigan EDGE rusher Taylor Upshaw came up with the interception. Michigan quickly capitalized on the late-game miscue by Ohio State when Edwards went 85 yards to the end zone for a touchdown to put the final nail in the coffin of any Ohio State comeback.
Day was pressed postgame if the Buckeyes deserve to be the second Big Ten team in the College Football Playoff, “So yeah, as we get to those decisions, I think you gotta look at the body of work and what we’ve done. We’ve got a lot of good pieces on this team and came up short today, but I think if we were able to get a shot in the top four, we’d be a dangerous team.”
The resume Day speaks of has impressive points. Entering this week, Ohio State was one of two teams to beat every opponent by double digits. However, seven of those opponents were 75th or worse in scoring offense entering this week (Wisconsin -75th, Arkansas State - 83rd, Michigan State - 86th, Indiana - 94th, Rutgers - 118th, Iowa - 124th, and Northwestern - 128th).
The reason they brought in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was to improve the defense. But while Knowles' defenses feasted against inferior offenses, his unit has struggled against offensively competent teams.
Ohio State faced three of the Big Ten's Top 4 offenses other than theirs this season. In those games, each opponent put up 30 or more points, averaging 35.3 points against the Ohio State defense, and in each of those games, the opposing offenses outgained the Ohio State offense and averaged 471.3 yards of total offense. In the 9 other games, the Buckeyes' defense allowed 248.2 yards per game.
While Knowles' defense contained an explosive Michigan ground game in the first half, allowing only 10 yards at halftime, Michigan was able to make adjustments. So even while 160 of the Wolverines' 242 second-half rushing yards came on two explosive Donovan Edwards touchdown runs, the defensive breakdowns Knowles recognized during postgame,
“Knowing that the second half when they hit a couple, obviously there at the end they had a couple of big runs. That’s the difference, it was just disheartening. Obviously, I have to take the blame for that. Surely, you know, just got to do a better job. It’s a story of explosive plays. I thought we matched well, and nothing was lost like that. We matched through the course of the game, but too many explosives. And that’s what is disheartening, you know, for not just the defense, but the team, the fans and I have to take responsibility for that.”
—Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles
The stakes of the Ohio State and Michigan game are huge. It makes or breaks a career, and the loss to Michigan now has Ryan Day with a 1-2 record against Michigan. The last Ohio State coach to be 1-2 against Michigan was John Cooper.
The emotions of the game got to Day visibly toward the end of the game, and during postgame Day tried to explain how he is feeling after a second consecutive loss to the Wolverines, “Hard to say right now because this is not the outcome we all envisioned. I thought we had really good preparation. I thought we were building towards playing really well in this game. We were fighting there in the first half. I felt really good going into the second half and we just didn’t execute well enough in the first half. I thought we played hard, I thought we were fighting out there, but in the end, we came up short.”
The tide of the rivalry has clearly turned. Michigan demonstrated physical superiority for a second consecutive season against the Buckeyes, something that was unfathomable during the long successful runs of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.
Ohio State's discipline was especially poor in this contest, racking up nine penalties for 91 yards, including on one second-half drive being forced into a first and 35 down and distance situation.
Michigan now controls its destiny for this season. They have a Big Ten Championship Game berth against Purdue, a game they should win with ease and reach their second consecutive playoff.
“So proud of them, couldn’t be more proud,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said postgame. “I knew the team was focused and determined all season, and this was a locker room of heroes. We talked about that last night — how we don’t need one or two heroes but a whole team of ‘em. This was a great team win.”
During FOX Big Noon Kickoff, Michigan legend Charles Woodson revisited the now infamous Jim Harbaugh quote on set with Ohio State legend Urban Meyer, alluding to Day being on third base from the hard work and foundation Meyer left him.
It was that sort of backhanded compliment from Woodson to compliment Meyer but threw some shade at Day.
After Michigan's exclamation mark this weekend in Columbus, Day is stranded on third base, as his team is more made up of his recruits and with staff changes being Day's call, this is his team.
A call that has Buckeye fans irate, in the sequence where on back-to-back plays Ohio State committed a holding and unsportsmanlike penalties to set up a first and 35, the Buckeyes managed to claw back to get it to a fourth and five from the Michigan 43 yard line, C.J. Stroud pleaded to keep the offense on the field, but Day elected to punt and for most of Buckeye Nation and some in the press, negative reactions to the call:
The call to punt is only exacerbated by the fact the Wolverines would score on a J.J. McCarthy touchdown run to put Michigan up 31-20.
Day is now in a situation that hasn't been seen since the Cooper days. So while another massive set of talent will be sent off to the NFL Draft, how will he address the shortcomings of his 2022 Buckeyes?
The seat is lukewarm for Day, a third consecutive loss in Ann Arbor in 2023 raises the temperature on his seat.
For now, Harbaugh's quote is immortalized in this rivalry. And Day still hasn't hit his triple.