ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The latest installment of the Game Between No.2 Ohio State and No.5 Michigan is believed to be another coronation by the four-time defending Big Ten champion.
Instead, the decades-long hell of the werewolf froze in the snow.
A strong running game will help. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh eventually made The Game a 365-day obsession, and the Wolverines used that time-tested heavyweight formula to overtake the Buckeyes in a 42-27 victory at the Court. Michigan campaign. The Wolverines dashed for 297 yards, and Hassan Haskins took his place in the competition alongside the likes of Jamie Morris, Tim Biakabutuka and Chris Perry with 169 yards and a record five TDs.
That broke an eight-game losing streak against Ohio State, the 8.5-point favorite. That gave Harbaugh his first win over the Buckeyes as a coach. That puts Michigan (11-1) into its first Big Ten championship game with a chance to appear for the first time in the College Soccer Playoffs.
“The will is very strong on our team,” Harbaugh said. “The way it feels now; it’s the same as in the beginning.”
A competition that has turned 116 needs that fresh start and begins in earnest in January. Harbaugh reinstated the coaching staff. Defender Aidan Hutchinson and defender Josh Ross have made the decision to skip the 2021 NFL Draft. McNamara takes over the leadership role. Every day, Ohio State, the team that werewolves won’t play in 2020, comes to mind.
“It’s been too long since we’ve beaten them,” McNamara said. “It’s just the accumulation of all that we’ve done and all the work we’ve put in. We knew we could beat them, and now we know what we have to do. Now we have to do it every year. They’re human too, and we proved it today.”
Ohio State (10-2) suffered its second loss, meaning there was no place for the College Football League. Third-year coach Ryan Day lost his first game in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have real questions about a wobbly defense unable to stop a losing run against Oregon and Michigan. That was despite a high-flying strike built around midfielder CJ Stroud, who overcame 394 yards and lost two TDs.
“When you make this game 365 days a year and fall short, it’s a failure,” Day said. “It hurts, it hurts a lot.”
Michigan reversed the irreversible trends that had haunted the show for two decades using the same philosophy.
The Wolverines set the tone with a TD drive that started the first quarter and a stop in the red on the first of three Hutchinson sacks. Michigan didn’t let a red zone interception from Cade McNamara turn into a crisis in the first quarter. The Wolverines kept their composure during the jostling and shoving starts and took a 14-13 lead after halftime. McNamara mentions “What did you do to beat Ohio State?” video images in the locker room, the 6am training session and the openness with which the werewolf confronts the problem.
However, how many times did this game turn Ohio State around at halftime?
Ohio State had the ball, but the Michigan defense was forced past three. Haskins then scored at 13 yards after a 55-yard run from Blake Corum, who was back from a leg injury. The Wolverines scored on the next drive, and McNamara hit Mike Sainristil on a flea blink to set up another Haskins TD run. Michigan leads 28-13 with 5:49 left in the third quarter. Instead of settling, which led to a collapse in the legendary 2016 loss, the Wolverines continued to pound after a dominant offensive line.
Even as Ohio State scored two more TDs with Stroud and his world-leading trio of receivers in Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11 catches, 127 metres) and Garrett Wilson (10 catches, 119 metres) , TD) and Chris Olave (7 catches, 88 yards) to score, it took precious seconds on the clock.
Michigan closed with Haskins, who scored in the next two drives in a bully ball performance that Harbaugh famously did at Stanford. Buckeyes are limited to 30 reps in 64 yards. TreVeyon Henderson (131 yards total, 2 TDs) is good, but Haskins is better.
Haskins piloted a workload of 28 vehicles. He got past the defenders. He talks slyly. He is the one who makes the difference.
“I told myself I wasn’t going to go down,” Haskins said. “I put that in my mind. It’s the determination to win.”
“They thought they had seen ghosts, but they weren’t,” Harbaugh added. “It’s Hassan Haskins. It’s number 25. He’s incredible. Great determination. Great focus.”
Harbaugh cited a group he calls “The Ones,” a group of veteran players that includes Haskins and Hutchinson that suffered heavy losses against Ohio State in 2018 and 2019 that raised the approx. interval between programs. That long-awaited celebration has happened, and the moment is well worth the wait.
“It was just watching the rest of our teammates rush out onto the field and watch the snow and all,” McNamara said. “The rest of the crowd poured into the field. It was something we had dreamed of.”
“I want the goals down,” says Hutchinson. “I don’t think they’re down.”
Leave them. The game is back. Michigan could win its first Big Ten championship since 2004, and Harbaugh was right. After a five-game loss to the Buckeyes, the coach insisted a fresh start revolved around an improved staffing team, including new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Hutchinson has heard the chatter of the season, and now it’s Ohio State’s turn.
“These guys disrespected us, stepped on our shirts, talked about hanging us 100 times,” Hutchinson said. “We talked about that today.”
As for Harbaugh, he covered up his criticism, a comment ostensibly made for Day.
“There are some people standing at third base and thinking they’ve hit number three,” Harbaugh said. “They did not.”
For competing historians, call it a clumsy version of, “I can’t go three.” Ultimately, Harbaugh admits there will be fun at Ann Arbor all night long, and he’s not shying away from where this victory ranks.
“It was the best feeling,” Harbaugh said. “It certainly is. We will be ready for next week. We will continue with humble hearts. Greatness is not afraid of consequences. Not afraid but not careless. That is the feeling.”
It felt like a fresh start in Ann Arbor, and a heavy snowfall covered Michigan Stadium on Saturday night.
Isn’t that what happens when hell freezes over?