He didn’t back off when it was fourth-and-one and the game was on the line in the second overtime.
He had his quarterback, J.T. Barrett, run the ball straight into the teeth of arguably the best defense in the nation. His Ohio State team got the first down and with just one more play they had beaten Michigan 30-27 in an Ohio Stadium that was literally shaking from a record crowd of 110,045 that was over-amped from the roller coaster of emotions that had come with the nearly four-hour game.
It was afterward — after the No. 2 Buckeyes had come from 10 down to edge the No. 3 Wolverines and further state their case as one of the two best teams in the country — that OSU coach Urban Meyer backed off a bit even though he had every right to be bold.
When it was suggested to him in the postgame press scrum that this was one or the greatest games in the 113-year history of the rivalry, maybe the greatest when you consider the finish and what was on the line with the College Football Playoffs, he hedged just a second:
“So it’s a game — and I’m not being disrespectful — it’s one of the classic games of this rivalry that (will) forever be. And I know the rivalry as well as anybody.
“(But) I’m not saying it’s the greatest because that’s disrespectful for the players who have played in it. But that’s an instant classic between two great teams.”
Because they have the unfettered exuberance of youth and don’t have the viewpoint of their 52-year-old coach who grew up a Buckeyes fan, first coached at OSU 30 years ago and now, in his fifth year as the head coach here has turned them into a perennial national power again, Meyer’s players weren’t as hesitant afterwards.
“This is my favorite game of all-time,” gushed linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who had a game-high 16 tackles. “That’s the greatest I ever played in. (Even with) winning the national championship, the Sugar Bowl, beating Penn State on the road and at home as a freshman — all that stuff — THIS is the best game of my life.”
Better than beating Alabama for the national title?
“This is the rivalry. The game that everybody who is an Ohio State fan or a ‘Team-Up-North’ fan will remember for the rest of their lives. We won in double overtime in The Shoe. No. 2 and No. 3. It’s one of those games where people will look back and say ‘THAT was a great game!’ ”
There have been other classics — a few with just as much on the line — but none with any more of a thrilling finish.
After Meyer passed up the option for a game-tying field goal in the second overtime, Barrett burst forward on a short carry that barely made the first down.
It took a video review by officials to confirm it and even then Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who was in full meltdown mode part of the game because of his displeasure with the calls, wouldn’t concede. He was still irate about the call after the game.
What made it sting all the more was that one play after that call, OSU tailback Curtis Samuel burst 15 yards into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
And that sent thousands of fans streaming onto the field to celebrate with the 11-1 Bucks.
McMillan was right. All of them would remember this one: The game had everything.
It had heroes for OSU — like Samuel, Barrett, McMillan and safety Malik Hooker, who returned an interception 16 yards for a score — and it had sweet redemption for a guy with Dayton-area ties who could well have been remembered as one of the all-time goats of the game.
And then there are the two coaches, who were a show in themselves.
They are stirring the ghosts of their iconic counterparts, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, who put a face on this game for a generation.
Meyer, the manager who likes everything just so, paced the sideline much of the game like an expectant father.
Harbaugh, meanwhile, was so distraught at times, he ripped off his headset, threw his game plans — and a few tantrums, including one that ended up getting him penalized.
The coaches seem to find sport in needling each other and Meyer put in a not-so-subtle jab during his postgame press session when his cell phone suddenly rang.
He listened and grinned as he hung up. He said it had been his wife: “She said bring a gallon of milk home on the way.”
Harbaugh is especially fond of milk.
If Meyer knows how to tweak, he also knows when to embrace, which is what he did with kicker Tyler Durbin, who missed two field goals, a 37-yarder in the first quarter and a 21-yarder in the fourth.
Those two failures could have permanently derailed anyone, especially a guy like Durbin, who never kicked in a football game before this season.
He was a soccer player studying civil engineering at James Madison University. Before he came to Ohio State he had never played in front of more than 3,000 people.
He had transferred from JMU because the school only offered a general engineering degree. As he looked for a new school, he was mentored by a kicking specialist — in case there was a chance to play football.
He sent out tapes and was drawn to Ohio State, in part, because the parents of his then-girlfriend and now wife, Centerville High School graduate Kristin Reitzel, were OSU grads and big Buck fans.
He transferred to OSU in January of 2015 and began working out with the team as a walk on.
He suddenly was pushed into center stage this preseason when returning starter Sean Nuerenberger was injured. Coming into Saturday’s game he had made 16 of 17 field-goal attempts.,
After the two misses he stood off to one side of the team on the sidelines, which is where Meyer found him:
“I just hit him on the rear.”
That was a subtle show of support.
Barrett was more emphatic:
“I told him forget the past. We’ve got to move on and play forward… we believe in you. You go right out there and put it through the pipes.”
And that’s exactly what Durbin did with one second left in regulation. His 23-yard field goal tied the game 17-17 and set the stage for the Buckeyes’ overtime heroics.
When the game ended, the players were engulfed by a sea of fans and that’s when OSU sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker, who also had an interceptions, said he dropped to his knees:
“I prayed and then I just started working my way through the crowd to find my parents and my sister and my uncle. I took lots and lots of pictures. I got a lot of hugs and a lot of ‘Good game! …Good game!’ ”
“Mostly I just felt a lot of love.
“It was the best feeling ever.”
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