Editor’s Note: After each Ohio State football game, Beat reporters Joey Kaufman and Bill Rabinowitz discuss ongoing storylines and other important developments.
It was Ohio’s second consecutive state collapse at the hands of Michigan.
Rather than advance to the Big Ten championship game and more or less secure a berth in the college football playoffs, it was undone again by its archrival over Thanksgiving weekend.
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This is uncharted territory for the Buckeyes, who have reigned supreme in The Game for two decades. They hadn’t lost consecutive games to the Wolverines since the end of the John Cooper era in 1999 and 2000.
There is no greater hurdle for the Buckeyes now than Michigan, which has become the dominant program at the conference.
Merchant: Narratives in this rivalry can change quickly. Jim Harbaugh was once the coach who couldn’t beat Ohio State. He began his tenure at Ann Arbor with a 0-5 record against the Buckeyes. Now it’s Ryan Day who can’t beat Michigan. After a win in his debut season in 2019, the Buckeyes have lost back-to-back. (2020 has been canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan). Fair or not, that is the perception. But there are always more layers to this stuff. What do you think was plaguing Ohio State with those losses?
Rabinwitz: Obviously a lot of things. The Buckeyes’ powerful passing game was never consistently neglected, and their running game, while better than last year, wasn’t enough. It didn’t help that TreVeyon Henderson wasn’t available and Miyan Williams wasn’t fully healthy. But Michigan’s Blake Corum, the Wolverines’ best player, didn’t matter, and the Wolverines were undaunted. In both games, the Buckeyes cracked in the second half. Jim Knowles’ defense allowed five big plays that resulted in touchdowns. The breakdowns on these plays were outrageous.
Merchant: I also think the Buckeyes didn’t show enough composure. They’ve been penalized a total of 19 times in back-to-back losses, while Michigan has been flagged just seven times. Intangibles can swing the game, and for the second straight year, the Wolverines looked like they were more composed in the second half. How else to explain two penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct imposed by the state of Ohio? The scene where tight end Gee Scott Jr. headbutted Michigan safety Rod Moore at the end of a play was a particularly ugly scene. To add: The Buckeyes were outplayed by a 56-17 lead in the third and fourth quarters in the two losses.
Rabinwitz: What must be particularly annoying for Ryan Day is that ‘competitive endurance’ – the ability to stay calm and perform in the face of adversity – has been a mantra all year. All the things they had been working towards were falling apart. Day didn’t hire Jim Knowles to shut down Indiana. He hired him to beat Michigan. Knowles’ blitz in third and ninth when OSU’s defense was in control allowed a short pass to Cornelius Johnson, which converted into a touchdown and opened the floodgates. He had isolated reserve Cam Martinez on Johnson in space, and Michigan took advantage of that with a double pull to be wide open for a second hit. And Donovan Edwards’ two long touchdown runs? Ugly.
Merchant: If Knowles could get a mulligan on a play call starting Saturday, I’d bet it was the fierce blitz that gave Michigan’s first touchdown. It was one of the early turning points. Michigan was ineffective throughout the first quarter. Couldn’t keep it going without Corum, and quarterback JJ McCarthy had only completed three of his first 10 passes. The 69-yard score breathed life into their offense. McCarthy went on to throw two more touchdowns from 75 and 45 yards. What has to be particularly demoralizing for the Buckeyes after their recent loss is the way they were beaten. Last year they were pushed around the line of scrimmage. This time they were nullified by glitches in the cover, perhaps an over-aggressiveness at moments. The Buckeyes are said to be the more explosive. It was as if they had been beaten at their own game.
Rabinowitz: Unless Ohio State somehow makes the CFP — Buckeye fans need to back Kansas State vs. TCU, and Utah vs. USC in particular — it’s going to be a long offseason for OSU. A loss can be dismissed. Two in a row is a trend that is unbearable in this country. Then consider that CJ Stroud and many other key players from this team will almost certainly move on and that makes this loss even worse. This was to be the year of the state of Ohio. If the Buckeyes don’t make the CFP, the bowl game they’re going to, likely the Rose Bowl, will be little more than a preview of 2023.
Merchant: It would be premature for us to write the season obituary this week given the potential for the Buckeyes to get into the playoffs through the back door. This is truly a look at the new reality coming to college football. Once the Big Ten and the playoffs expand, the latter possibly as early as 2024, a loss to Michigan won’t be fatal. A shot at a national championship will no longer depend solely on The Game. There will be many more opportunities for the Buckeyes to get back in contention for the title.