COLUMBUS -- Ohio State struck first, but Michigan got the last laugh Saturday as the Wolverines stunned the Buckeyes 45-23 at Ohio Stadium.
“I knew our team was focused and determined, as they have been all season. This is the locker room of heroes,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I talked about it last night, we can’t have one or two heroes — we need a whole team of them. It was a great team win. Just can’t say enough about the players and the coaches. They are incredible. It’s a happy locker room as you can imagine. They’re happy, they’re celebrating, but they’re giving thanks.”
Here are five things to know about 118th playing of The Game:
1. Ohio State mostly dominated the first half but had just a three-point lead.
The Buckeyes outgained the Wolverines 315-214, including a 124-10 advantage on the ground, in the first half.
They had 16 first downs to four for the visitors and had the ball for almost eight more minutes.
Michigan had scoring drives of three and one play in the second quarter, though, and took the lead before Ohio State struck back with a quick touchdown drive of its own late in the second quarter.
That three-point lead wouldn’t prove to be nearly enough.
2. Coverage breakdowns were vital on all of Michigan’s scores in the first half.
That allowed the Wolverines to hang around while the Buckeyes were clicking on offense.
J.J. McCarthy found Cornelius Johnson for touchdown passes of 69 and 75 yards in the first half, taking advantage of different mistakes by the Buckeyes. An all-out blitz forced McCarthy to throw fast on the first, but Johnson caught it and broke a tackle before racing free to the end zone with no safety available to help. On the next one, no OSU DB followed Johnson over the middle and McCarthy hit him for an easy score.
Michigan also had a field goal early set up by 33-yard pass on a coverage bust.
3. Michigan took control of the game in the third quarter and never looked back.
The Wolverines took the ball after halftime and went 75 yards in seven plays without much difficulty. McCarthy found tight end Colston Loveland open on a play-action pass for a 45-yard score to cap it and give them a 24-20 lead.
The visitors ended up outgaining Ohio State 144-47 in the third quarter as the Buckeyes managed only one first down.
Michigan finished the third on another march, and McCarthy gave them a commanding 31-20 lead with a 3-yard touchdown run with 13:10 left in the game.
4. Ohio State likely failed to achieve any of its season goals for a second season in a row.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day made no bones about the fact that he viewed losing to Michigan and not being able to play for a Big Ten title as failures last season.
He wasn’t sure how to assess this one right after it ended.
“Hard to say right now because this is not the outcome we all envisioned,” Day said. “I thought we had a really good preparation. I thought we were building towards playing really well in this game and fighting there in the first half and then just didn’t execute in the second half.
“So I don’t really know how to answer that other than I thought we played hard. I thought we were fighting out there, but we came up short.”
The loss likely will keep the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff for a second straight season, too, barring chaos elsewhere in the country.
5. Stroud did not say if he will be seen in an Ohio State uniform again.
The Buckeyes’ third-year quarterback is eligible for the NFL Draft and projected to be a potential first-round pick.
He did not deny the possibility he will take that option in the coming weeks or that he could join the growing trend of players skipping their bowl games to begin draft preparations and protect their stock.
“I don’t know if this is my last time playing in The ‘Shoe, but I’ve enjoyed every second I’ve gotten in there,” Stroud said. “I think I’ve earned everybody’s respect as time has gone on and I’ve fallen in love with Columbus, Ohio and Buckeye Nation. I don’t think one game defines us. I don’t think that this game defines this team. I would take this team over anybody in the country every week, so I’m blessed to be a part of this fraternity and this brotherhood.”
McCarthy had a lot on his shoulders, and he delivered with 263 yards through the air, 27 on the ground and four total touchdowns. He had struggled to hit deep balls throughout the course of the season but did not against the Buckeyes.
Stat of the game
Michigan averaged 8.83 yards per play, a record for an Ohio State opponent in a single game. The previous record was 8.63 for Maryland in 2018.