All year long, Ohio State fans waited for their super-talented team to put it all together.
It could not have happened at a better time.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes demolished No. 4 Michigan — their hated rival — on Saturday to clinch the Big Ten East title and knock the Wolverines from College Football Playoff contention. The 62-39 win was, by far, Ohio State’s best performance of the season and its seventh straight win over Michigan, meaning Jim Harbaugh has still not defeated OSU during his time as head coach in Ann Arbor.
On top of all that, the win, which sets up a Big Ten title game matchup with Northwestern, legitimately puts the Buckeyes back in the CFP conversation.
The Wolverines had been surging, winning 10 in a row since opening their season with a road loss to Notre Dame. But as Michigan cruised through October and November, Ohio State loomed and stood between Harbaugh’s team and a chance for UM’s first Big Ten title since 2004.
But the Wolverines had no answers for Ohio State on either side of the ball on Saturday. The Michigan offense that had punished teams with its physical rushing attack all season long could not get established, forcing quarterback Shea Patterson to throw more passes than in any other game this season.
On the other side, Michigan’s top-ranked defense struggled with the speed of Ohio State’s playmakers, especially at wide receiver. Speedy (and seldom-used) freshman Chris Olave got free for two first-half touchdowns to help the Buckeyes build a lead. Olave was one of nine different receivers to catch a pass from Dwayne Haskins, who threw for 318 yards and five touchdowns while meticulously picking apart the Michigan secondary.
Parris Campbell led the way with five catches for 114 yards and a score, and put the game away with an electric 78-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
OSU would not have built the lead without its much-maligned defense
OSU dominated the first half, but two Michigan touchdowns in a six-second span made it a close game — 24-19 in OSU’s favor — at halftime. From there, the Ohio State defense — the same defense that gave up 51 points to Maryland last week — made the plays needed to build up a more comfortable lead.
Ohio State forced a Michigan punt to open the third quarter, tacked on a field goal, and then blocked a Michigan punt and returned it for a touchdown to extend the lead to 34-19. On the third play of Michigan’s next drive, Patterson was intercepted by Jordan Fuller.
Two plays later, Mike Weber scored from two yards out to cap off a dominant quarter. Michigan would score to open the fourth, but Campbell’s 78-yard burst ultimately put the game out of reach.
How can Ohio State reach the College Football Playoff?
Let’s get this part out of the way: Ohio State needs to beat Northwestern to win the Big Ten in order to really be in the conversation when the final rankings come out. The Buckeyes will need some help, too.
Michigan held the No. 4 spot, but OSU’s win pushes the Wolverines aside and out of the CFP race. Assuming Alabama beats Auburn, No. 2 Clemson beats South Carolina and No. 3 Notre Dame beats USC later on Saturday, the top three will stay the same.
No. 5 Georgia, which beat Georgia Tech earlier Saturday, will likely jump up one place to No. 4 ahead of the SEC title game against the Crimson Tide. If UGA loses to Alabama, it would likely be knocked out of the CFP race.
From there, Oklahoma sits at No. 6 ahead of the Big 12 title game against Texas and is in better striking range than Ohio State. No. 7 LSU has two losses and is not a factor. No. 8 Washington State lost to Washington Friday night, so WSU is out of the race.
Meanwhile, undefeated UCF, the No. 9 team entering the weekend, lost star quarterback McKenzie Milton to a serious injury in the win over South Florida. The Knights have room to move up, but Power Five teams hold an obvious strength of schedule advantage over UCF — even if it finishes off yet another undefeated season with an American Athletic Conference title.
OSU will likely move ahead of UCF in the rankings. But we won’t know by how much until Tuesday.
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