All Hail (Michigan 45, Ohio State 23)

Michigan throttles Ohio State to claim the east division. Again.

Photos: Zoey Holmstrom

This wasn't supposed to happen.

Everything was supposed to go back to normal. No one...NO ONE...outside of Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson on the network pregame shows predicted Michigan to win. Ohio State was favored by 8...they were playing in "The Shoe" where Michigan hasn't won since the W Bush administration...the weather was nice...Ryan Day was going to get revenge for Harbaugh's 3rd base dare he disrespect Coach Day?! How dare Desmond Howard disrespect CJ Stroud on the Heisman telecast?! Ohio State is going to hang a hundred on Michigan for sure now!

Ryan Day went out and hired Jim Knowles during the off-season, the defensive coordinator from Oklahoma State, specifically for this game because of what happened in Ann Arbor a year ago. He was going to stop Michigan from doing what they do the ball down your throat and keep your vaunted Heisman QB and all his weapons on the bench.

And for 30 minutes on Saturday, he was pretty successful – limiting the Wolverines ground game to just 10 yards on 11 carries and keeping Michigan's defense on the field for 19 minutes. Michigan was in a bind in the first half...aside from two huge JJ McCarthy touchdowns to Cornelius Johnson for 69 and 75 yards, the Michigan offense was struggling. Michigan had only run 25 plays to Ohio State's 46. Time of possession was almost double for the Buckeyes. Michigan had 4 three-and-outs. It was not going well early on.

See our full photo album from The Game here!

Defensively, Michigan struggled to contain Ohio State's high-powered offense through the first half. CJ Stroud had ample time to make passes to his top targets, including touchdown throws to Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. Michigan's defense had the horses on defense to stop Ohio State, but not in a shootout...which is what the first half quickly turned into, and was exactly the kind of game the Buckeyes wanted to play.

But those two touchdowns throws from JJ McCarthy to Cornelius Johnson had kept it only a 3-point game going into the half. Aside from a few more scores than Michigan is used to, this game was following the script from so many earlier games in the season. Score once or twice, give up a score or two, keep it close at halftime...and then drop the hammer in the second half. It's what Michigan did against Ohio State last year, and exactly what Ohio State didn't want to have happen again.

Spoiler alert: It happened again.

Oh my god did it happen again.

Here's some fun second half stats...Michigan outgained OSU 242 to 19 on the ground, averaged 9 yards per play to OSU's 5.7, had zero penalties to OSU's 6 for 71 yards, possessed the ball for 5 more minutes but only ran 4 more plays, was 50% on 3rd down compared to 14% for Ohio State and of course outscored the Buckeyes their The Game...on a warm and sunny day...with everything on the line...EVERYTHING on the line.

Halftime adjustments have become a staple for Harbaugh's Michigan teams the last two season in big games. For reasons passing understanding, Michigan just gets way better in the second half. Playcalling, defense, the overall energy of the team is just increased to a level far beyond what we see in the first half. It was like watching Rocky Balboa fight Ivan Drago in Rocky IV...Michigan's goal on Saturday was just to absorb Ohio State's punches early, see what they were going to do, don't get knocked out, and then just come back with total destruction after the Buckeyes wear themselves out. It's just what Michigan does.

Like we've said all season long, it's just a horribly demoralizing way to lose a football game. And it's not like Ohio State had any injuries or did anything different in the second half...they just couldn't do the things that worked in the first. Michigan simply adjusted to what Ohio State was showing them, and was able to get the running game going thanks to an incredible day by the offensive line. Blocking was substantially better in the second half thanks to more sustained drives and the gutsy play by an injured Donovan Edwards who finished the game with 22 carries for 216 yards and pair of beautiful 75 and 85-yard touchdown runs late to seal the win – all while wearing a hefty cast on his right thumb.

So much was on the line in this game. 

A loss would've been a huge blow to this program, which was just starting to regain its footing in the rivalry and on the national stage. Another Ohio State win would've signaled a return to the status quo of the last 20 or so years, where Ohio State has largely dominated this rivalry, and thus, the conference as a whole. But that's not what happened.

Michigan silenced all of the doubters...on the biggest front of 17 million TV viewers – the biggest audience on a FOX CFB broadcast ever and the biggest audience for any regular season game since 2011. It was a masterful performance. It maybe wasn't as cathartic or monumental as the upset in Ann Arbor a year ago...that was a game on another level for multiple reasons...but the 2022 edition of The Game will forever be remembered by Michigan's resilience. 

A resilience led by first year starter JJ McCarthy, who had the game of his life. 

Time after time, the camera would find McCarthy on the field or on the sideline, and he just seemed...good. He was all smiles on Saturday, even in the first half in the face of all the adversity of a big game in a tough environment. JJ never got rattled or made a poor decision. Okay...maybe the intentional grounding in the first half when he was spun around and about to get sacked...that was his one poor decision (even though it wasn't really grounding). But it never phased JJ...who kept his head on straight and delivered the performance Michigan fans had been waiting for since he was named the full-time starter in week 3. 

Jim Harbaugh will never make his offense all about the QB position like Ohio State does, but what JJ did to keep Michigan afloat in this game when things got tough will forever be remembered as one of the best performances by a QB in The Game in a long, long time.

I don't know what happens in Columbus now. Obviously, whatever was done to fix what happened in 2021 didn't take. Michigan throttled Ohio State, in their house, with no weather-related excuses this time. The Buckeyes knew exactly what was coming, and had zero answers. CJ Stroud is a great passer who is surrounded by amazing receivers...but what I never saw from Stroud on Saturday or even a year ago, was a grittiness – a will to win by doing more than what is asked of you. He's a competitor to be certain, but he's not leader. Ohio State has had their share of great leaders at quarterback...and thus, they've had tremendous success versus, well, everyone. But Stroud is not that guy.

Ryan Day is now a dismal 45-5 since becoming head coach. It's a little insane to say someone with a .900 winning percentage could possibly be on the hot seat...but when you make your entire world about beating one team and you don't do it for two years in a row, when all you know is winning this one game...then yeah, he might be on the hot seat down there. He had a bad day on Saturday. Some play-calling and punt decisions in the second half were head-scratchers for sure, including the fake punt which wasn't a fake punt but was definitely a fake punt on 4th and 11 with 6:11 to go in the 3rd. Yeah...I dunno man...not saying that wins the game or anything for the Buckeyes, but it would've helped. But that's the sort of day-after whatcouldabeenism that plagued us for the better part of 20 years in this rivalry. So I guess it's just nice to see Buckeye fans get to share in it now.

I suspect the toxic Buckeye collective will be feasting on him for a while. Calls for Urban to return could be heard on the FOX postgame broadcast outside the stadium as Meyer was breaking down the game to chants of "We want Urban" coming from the mix of Michigan and Ohio State fans gathered. I'm not even going to speculate on that one.

For Michigan, this win signaled that we're entering a new era for the Big Ten and perhaps college football in general. This was win was a clear changing of the guard. This win will change the narrative. Last year, Michigan ended the losing streak and got the win they so desperately needed. This year, Michigan went into The Shoe and slayed the dragon. Both wins were blowouts, and felt satisfyingly similar. Success can be fleeting in sports, but this is now the time for Michigan to be on top. 

November 26, 2022 will forever be a day to remember for the east division champion Wolverines, who improved their record to 12-0 for the first time since 1997 and achieved just the 4th 12-win season in program history (2022, 2021, 1997, and 1905).

Now, it's back Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy for a shot at back-to-back Big Ten titles this Saturday night at 8PM. Michigan, the home team this time as it alternates even/east and west/odd years, will face 8-4 Purdue who managed to rise to the top of the heap of the mediocre Big Ten west division. Odds are, Michigan will still be hobbled by some injuries, but I don't suspect any to be enough to keep Michigan from coming out of this game without a trophy. That said, it's the next big challenge and one that this Michigan team is more than ready for.

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