COLUMBUS — Was it the greatest game in the history of one of college football’s greatest rivalries?
Greatest ever might be debatable, but Ohio State’s 30-27 double overtime win over Michigan on Saturday at Ohio Stadium certainly has to be among the games in that discussion.
No. 2 Ohio State (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) continued its dominance over its biggest rival by winning for the 12th time in the last 13 years and the 14th time in 16 seasons.
But more importantly, it remained in the running for a spot in the College Football playoff with its win over No. 3 Michigan (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten).
And, while the football wasn’t always at a high level, the drama unfolding in front of an Ohio State record crowd of 110,045 definitely was top flight.
OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett wasn’t sure if it was the greatest of all time, but he said it was No. 1 in the four years he has been a Buckeye.
“I’ve been part of some crazy football games here and that one was No. 1,” Barrett said.
Crazy as in Ohio State going for it on fourth and one instead of kicking a game-tying field goal in the second overtime.
Crazy as in the Buckeyes holding their breath until a replay confirmed that Barrett had just barely made the yard on that play.
Crazy as in the storm the field ending of a game that at times it seemed there was no way Ohio State could win.
Michigan dominated the Buckeyes for much of the game before OSU began to slowly turn things in its direction from late in the third quarter and on through the fourth quarter and overtime.
Michigan led 17-7 after fullback Khalid Hill scored on an 8-yard throw from quarterback Wilton Speight with 6:37 left in the third quarter in what was probably the low point of the game for OSU.
The Wolverines’ TD had been set up by an unsuccessful fake punt by Cameron Johnston from OSU’s 19-yard line. And Ohio State’s offense was struggling.
But after an interception by Jerome Baker, followed by a Michigan off-sides penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, OSU needed only two plays to cut the lead to 17-14 on a 1-yard run by Mike Weber with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
When kicker Tyler Durbin missed a chip-shot 21-yard field goal with 7:11 to play, his second miss of the day, Ohio State’s defense stopped Michigan and Durbin responded by kicking a game-tying 23-yard field goal with six seconds to play.
After the teams both scored touchdowns in the first overtime, Michigan had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Kenny Allen.
OSU chose not to attempt a 33-yard field goal to tie the game again the next time it had the ball and had Barrett run for the first down. On the next play, Curtis Samuel sprinted 15 yards for a touchdown to win it.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said, “It was not very far. My athletic director at Florida used to tell me if you can’t get that far (one yard) you’re not a championship team. That crossed my mind that if we couldn’t get that, we weren’t a championship team.”
Barrett said, “It’s what we do. Honestly, when it’s fourth and short, I feel like we should go for it every time.”
Even though he was confident, he was a little nervous waiting for the replay decision.
“When I got hit, I wasn’t 100 percent certain. When I fell, I fell on top of people. So I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be,” he said.
Barrett led Ohio State with 125 yards rushing on 30 carries and was 15 of 32 for 124 yards.
After gaining only 81 yards total offense in the first half, OSU had 249 yards in the second half and overtime.
“In the first half we had good things called but we just weren’t executing it. In the second half, it was like the defense was doing their job, we have to do our part,” Barrett said.
Meyer said Ohio State’s defense provided a spark when the offense was struggling.
“We needed a spark. Our defense kept hanging in there and hanging in there and then our offense kind of took over in the fourth quarter,” he said.
Turnovers hurt Michigan badly. OSU’s only touchdown in the first half came on a 16-yard interception return by Malik Hooker. The Wolverines lost a fumble at Ohio State’s 1-yard line early in the second half. And Baker’s interception led to OSU’s other TD in regulation.
And now, with Penn State and Wisconsin playing in next week’s Big Ten championship game, Ohio State will wait to see what the future holds.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.