Wolverines Stymied in The Shoe

<p>A game Buckeye squad buried Michigan at home behind a herculean performance from quarterback Troy Smith. The <strong>37-21 loss</strong> drops the Wolverines into a first place tie with the Iowa Hawkeyes. The two teams split the Big Ten championship but <strong>Michigan is still slated for the Rose Bowl.</strong></p>

The seventh ranked Michigan Wolverines traveled to Columbus as the Big Ten's top ranked scoring offense. The Ohio State Buckeyes, on the other hand, entered the contest with an offensive attack that many described as anemic. However, when the two teams hit the field to face one another Saturday, it was a tale of ultimate role reversal as Jim Tressel's club turned into a juggernaut on their way to a rout of the their favored arch rival.

Signs that things were going to be different emerged on Ohio States first offensive drive of the game. The Buckeyes, who entered the game as the league's worst passing offense AND with the league's worst third down conversion rate, came up with a big play. On 3rd and 12 the Wolverines attacked with a three man rush, dropping eight defenders into coverage. That gave OSU sophomore passer Troy Smith all day in the pocket. He found Tony Gonzalez wide open behind the defense for a 68-yard touchdown strike to put the home team up 7-0.

The Michigan offense has done an excellent job of answering early drives by their opponents this year. Their first offensive series against the Buckeyes would provide more of the same. The series was almost cut short when Tyler Ecker was flagged for a false stat that turned a 3rd and 1 into a 3rd and 6. A poised Chad Henne found Braylon Edwards near the sideline for 16 yards. That set up a beautiful backside screen play to Mike Hart down the opposite sideline. A big block from Reuben Riley helped spring the Big Ten's leading rusher for 39 yards down to the OSU eighteen. After Henne hit Edwards again (this time across the middle) for thirteen more yards, he sprinted outside the pocket and lofted a pass over Buckeye defenders to Jason Avant in the back of the end zone to knot the score at seven.

When the Ohio State got the ball back, the Michigan defense had regrouped. They forced the Buckeyes into a three and out thanks in large part to a big play by Lawrence Reid on second down. The junior linebacker knifed in for a tackle the backfield on a misdirection direction play. Smith's third down pass fell incomplete and they were forced to punt.

Michigan's special teams unit was looking to go after the kick and lined Braylon Edwards and MArlin Jackson up on the same side of the formation. The two seniors baring down on him obviously distracted punter Kyle Turano, which caused him to shank it. The ball traveled 21 yards giving the Wolverines excellent field position on the OSU 43.

Mike Hart went back to work on Michigan's next drive, rushing 3 times for 21 yards, including a one yard touchdown plunge. It seemed at that point that the Wolverines could do whatever they wanted offensively. When the Michigan defense forced their second straight three and out, the partisan crowd became extremely nervous.

The Buckeye defense managed to slow the maize and blue on their next drive and forced a three and out. Then from his own 40, Adam Finley put his foot into a beautiful punt that rolled all of the way to the Buckeye 1 yard-line. With the Wolverine defense now on a roll, the ensuing Buckeye drive seemed doomed to fail. That, however, is not how it would turn out as Smith led OSU offense on one of its most impressive drives of the day.

The Buckeyes gained breathing room on their first two offensive plays when fullback Branden Joe took the ball right up the middle for 17 yards. They moved all of the way out to the 41 yard-line before they were put into another third down situation (3rd and four). Marlin Jackson was locked in man coverage against Santonio Holmes, but was beat off of the line of scrimmage. Smith lofted a beautiful pass down the sideline, hitting Holmes in stride. A timely dive by Jackson at the Buckeye receiver's feet stopped him after a gain of 34 yards down to the Buckeye 25. Smith then used his legs to cover 21 of the remaining yards on three rushes,which included a 2 yard rush for the tying score.

Another three ad out by Michigan on offense put Smith right back on the field. A 42-yard pass to Ted Ginn followed by a 20-yard pass to tight end Ryan Hamby put the Buckeyes right back at the endzone's doorstep on the 2 yard-line. Sensing the gravity of the situation, the Michigan defense dug deep and put together a tremendous goal line stand. The threat was halted when Jackson knocked away Smith's pass attempt to Holmes on 4th and goal.

Unlike the Buckeye's when they started on their one yard-line, Michigan's offense was only able to muster two yards, which forced Finely to punt from his own endzone. The excellent field position set up the first of two field goals that sent Ohio State into the locker room with a 20-14 lead.

The Ohio State defense turned up the pressure on Henne in the second half and snuffed out Michigan's first drive with a safety blitz for a sack on 3rd down. The three and out continued OSU's momentum from the first half, but Michigan's defense did their part to try to stem the tide. Lamar Woodley pressured Smith into an incompletion, forcing the Buckeyes into a three and out of their own.

The Michigan offense could not take advantage of the opportunity given it by the defense, moving the ball only 16 yards before punting. Adam Finley had been hanging good ones all day, and his ensuing punt was no different. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Ted Ginn showed just how special he was. He evaded a host of Wolverine tacklers before cutting to the outside and racing 82 yards up the sideline for the touchdown to make the score 27-14 with just under 10 minutes left in the third.

If Ginn's lighting bolt didn't demoralize the Wolverines, the Buckeye's next offensive drive certainly did. After the offense failed yet again to put together a time consuming drive, Finley again pinned the OSU deep in their own terrotory...this time at their own 3. A methodical 97-yard march, prolonged by an impressive scramble by Smith out of the arms of Pierre Woods, made the score 34-14. That score almost put the game out of reach.

To their credit, the Wolverines ignored the scoreboard and continued to fight. They put together their best drive of the second half ...spanning from late in the third to the beginning of the fourth quarter. Henne engineered a march all of the way to the eight yard line, but the Buckeyes slammed the door to the endzone. The freshman QB threw a late pass to Edwards running toward the sideline. Buckeye cornerback Ashton Youboty came off his man to pick it off and effectively put the game out of reach.

Michigan would later add another touchdown on a bomb from Henne to Edwards, but it was too little too late. The Buckeyes went on to win 37-24 and Troy Smith's performance became the stuff of legend. On the day he rushed 18 times for 150 yards and one touchdown and threw for 241 yards and two more scores.

For more on the game click the following links: Boxscore, Notes.

With the loss the Wolverines fell into a first place tie with the Iowa Hawkeyes (who blew out Wisconsin 30-7). The two teams will share the Big Ten title, but the Wolverines hold the tiebreaker (thanks to their victory over Kirk Ferentz's club back in September. That means that Michigan is ticketed for a return trip to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl.


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