Rewind: “The Game” — Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes 2016

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In the college football world, hardly anything can compare to the roots of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. The utter hatred and dispute between the two programs are displayed in the last week of every season, otherwise known as “rivalry week.” Although the Wolverines and Buckeyes have had their fair share of clashes, the matchup in November of 2016 stands out as perhaps the greatest game in the rivalry’s history. 

For the Michigan Wolverines, this was a game of opportunity. The team had only beaten Ohio State once in the previous ten years, adding to a decade of hardship for the maize and blue. However, second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh had given Michigan hope for the first time in a long while. Leading Michigan to just a one-loss campaign, a victory in Columbus would give the Wolverines a spot in the Big Ten Championship game. 

In 2016, Michigan had arguably the most consistent roster in the country, especially on defense. Captain Jabril Peppers and the Wolverine defense played their way to a number three ranking in the country before “The Game.” Cornerback Jourdan Lewis along with linebackers Rashan Gary and Ben Gideon rounded out the Michigan defensive unit that finished fifth in the country in yards allowed. Offensively, things were less high-powered. Although quarterback Wilton Speight was a game manager, he had a plethora of weapons such as Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson, and Amara Darboh. This offensive attack was steady for Michigan all season and gave the team yet another component of excellence.

On the opposite sideline, the Ohio State Buckeyes were extremely confident. Playing at home, the team was looking for its eleventh win in the past twelve years against its rival from the north. Led by head coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes were a collegiate powerhouse for yet another football season, ranking just above Michigan at number two. This game would decide the fate of both teams.

Ohio State had a surplus of talent in 2016, and it showed. Junior quarterback JT Barrett was playing at a considerably high level along with other members of the offense. Running back Curtis Samuel entered the game with over 1,000 yards on the season, and he was joined in the offense by two 1,000-yard receivers in Parris Cambell and K.J. Hill. On the defensive end, the Buckeyes were just as stout. Raekwon McMillan and Nick Bosa established a dominant front seven, while Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker took care of the opposing team’s passing game. Heading into game time, the matchups of pure talent were set. 

Playing for a spot in the Big Ten Championship, both teams battled to an incredible extent in the first quarter. Neither side scored, labeling the start of this game as a defensive brawl. However, Michigan landed the game’s first points with a chip shot field goal to take a 3-0.

After getting the ball right back, Michigan made its first mistake of the game. An errant pass from Wilton Speight was intercepted by a roaming Malik Hooker. The future first-round draft pick was able to find enough blockers and a lane to the endzone, scoring the Buckeyes’ first points on the defensive end. However, the Wolverines responded. A hard-fought, arduous drive put them in position to score; a one-yard slip pass to Khalid Hill put Michigan right back up by three. The score at halftime was 10-7 in Michigan’s favor.

Coming out of the locker room, Michigan kept rolling. The defense picked up multiple stops, including a Jabril Peppers interception. With just over six minutes remaining in the third, Khalid Hill found the endzone yet again on an eight-yard pass from Speight. The Buckeyes needed to find some offensive identity, and they did just that. Ohio State marched right down the field and scored on a beautiful drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from Mike Weber. It was a brilliant answer from the Buckeyes.

As the game came down to its final minutes, both defenses remained sturdy. Ohio State kicker Tyler Durbin missed two fairly short field goals, keeping the lead for the maize and blue. In the driver’s seat, Michigan needed just one stop to win the game. Alas, they were unable to stop the Buckeyes from getting into Wolverine territory and kicking a game-tying field goal as the clock hit triple zeros. This game would need overtime to be settled. 

After getting the ball first to start the overtime period, Ohio State scored on just two plays. With its back against the wall, the Michigan offense needed a touchdown to stay alive. On fourth down and goal, Wilton Speight tossed a gorgeous pass to Amara Darboh in the endzone on a game-saving touchdown pass and catch. 

In double overtime, the Wolverines took possession first. After struggling to run the ball, Michigan was forced to kick a measly field goal to take a three-point lead. Needing a touchdown to win, Urban Meyer dangerously decided to go for it on a fourth down and a short-yard scenario. Although it was exceptionally close, JT Barrett gathered enough forward progress to gain a first down, extending the drive for the Buckeyes. Before Michigan could get its wits together, Curtis Samuel took a sweep to the left side and turned the corner, finding the endzone and sending Ohio State to the Big Ten Championship game.

As one of the all-time great rivalries, this certainly deserves the honor of one of the great all-time games in history. With so much on the line, two of the best football programs in the country competed against one another in an absolute bloodbath. Although Ohio State emerged as the victors, neither team can be sold short of its efforts on this particular Saturday afternoon.