Ohio State and Michigan first met on a gridiron on Oct. 16, 1897.
The game was different then, almost unrecognizable to its current form. The teams played 20-minute halves, and each touchdown was worth four points. Michigan had a head start when it came to building a dominant football program and ran roughshod over Ohio State, sending the Buckeyes to the train back to Columbus with a 34-0 loss.
The game, of course, eventually became The Game. Both Ohio State and Michigan became heartland powers, champions and Big Ten bulwarks in their own right. Legends would play for the two schools, and by the mid-1930s, the Buckeyes and Wolverines began to suit up at the end of the year, usually to determine the conference’s title.
The passion built and built, eventually exploding in the Ten-Year War, the battle of iron wills between Woody Hayes and his one-time assistant coach, Bo Schembechler. The Game became The Only Game each year in the Big Two and Little Eight, a yearly battle of supremacy that consumed those who took part.
The history grew and grew – from the Snow Bowl to the Earle headbands, through the Cooper years to “310 Days” – but it was all mere prelude for what took place Nov. 18, 2006.
Ohio State and Michigan met at 3:44 p.m. under partly cloudy skies with a temperature starting at 48 degrees and dropping as the sun set behind the western rim of Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes entered ranked No. 1 in the nation with Michigan at No. 2, the first time in 103 contests played through war and peace, gilded ages and great depressions, that matched the two best teams in the country according to a national vote.
It was the Game of the Century, and it delivered. The two teams hit one another with haymaker after haymaker, thrilling the 105,708 through afternoon sun, gathering dusk and finally darkness. When all 60 minutes were played, it was an instant classic, with Ohio State holding on for a 42-39 victory that clinched a Big Ten title and a spot in the national title game.
With the 10-year anniversary of the game now here, Buckeye Sports Bulletin has talked to some of the major players from the historic contest to discuss their memories and how well the game has aged. We interviewed players on each side of the ball for Ohio State as well as those who experienced the game in a variety of capacities.
Each section starts with details and quotes from 2006 for historical context before shifting to memories of the contest. All quotes in each “Looking Back” section were said to BSB for this article in 2016 unless noted.
At the start of the season, the two teams were on opposite wavelengths. Having swept through the end of the 2005 season on a roll, capping the campaign with a win at Michigan and then a thrashing of resurgent Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State entered the season as the No. 1 team in the nation thanks to offensive firepower including quarterback Troy Smith, backs Antonio Pittman and Beanie Wells, and receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez.
Michigan, meanwhile, was coming off a disappointing campaign, finishing the 2005 season at 7-5 with a loss to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. While the Buckeyes started atop the polls, Michigan – which boasted a strong offensive core itself in quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart, receivers Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham, and future No. 1 overall pick Jake Long at tackle – was 14th.
Each team had an early victory that turned heads. Ohio State went to Texas in the second game of the season and cemented its No. 1 ranking, downing the Longhorns by a 24-7 score. Michigan, meanwhile, leaped into the top 10 a week later with a 47-21 beating of Notre Dame.
Each team kept on winning when the Big Ten schedule started, with Michigan reaching No. 2 after a 17-10 win at Penn State on Oct. 14. OSU had little trouble with its slate, winning its first nine games by at least two touchdowns before a 17-10 win at Illinois. A 54-10 win against Northwestern moved OSU to 11-0 going into The Game, while Michigan had no trouble dispatching Indiana by a 34-3 count in Bloomington the same day. 1 vs. 2 was a reality.
“Well, it's finally here, what you've been talking about for six weeks,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said to begin his weekly press luncheon, which was moved from Tuesday to Monday for the week. “We're excited to be at this point, to have the privilege of being in the Ohio State-Michigan game and having it right here in our stadium, and the whole world will be watching two outstanding football teams.
“It's a tremendous feeling. You can feel the electricity and the energy and you can't quantify it, but you can feel it.”
The matchup on paper was as good as could be. Ohio State had plenty of stats to back up its No. 1 ranking, including the nation’s best scoring defense (7.8 points per game) as well as top-10 national rankings in scoring offense, total defense, passing efficiency and turnover margin. Completing 66.4 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns, Smith was the odds-on favorite for the Heisman going into the game.
Michigan, meanwhile, was defined by its rugged nature including a rush defense that was best in the nation allowing just 29.9 yards per contest. More opponents had actually finished with negative rushing yards than with more than 100 on the year, and teams were averaging 1.3 yards per carry against the Wolverines. UM was also in the nation’s top 10 in scoring defense, total defense, tackles for loss, third-down percentage and time of possession.
The week was full of the usual pageantry for The Game from the Buckeye side. Former coach Earle Bruce delivered what had become his traditional game week address under Tressel, while Senior Tackle was held the week of the game during practice. Two days before kickoff, thousands of Ohio State students flooded toward Mirror Lake for the annual jump. The game attracted the eyes of the nation as well – more than 1,100 media credentials were issued, more than any game in school history.
Ohio State was installed as a 6½-point favorite, and many figured the Buckeyes would have the trump card in the duo of Tressel and Smith. The coach had started to develop a reputation as a Wolverine killer with a mark of 4-1, and two of those wins came with Smith under center.
“He wants to have the ball in his hands,” Tressel said of his quarterback. “He wants to make a difference. He cares and maybe the first word that should have popped into my mind because I think it's so true is that he cares so deeply for his teammates and he wants something good to happen for them. And I guess that's the leadership part, but he wants the ball in his hands and he wants to get going.”
Ohio State fullback Stan White Jr.: “Early in the year we beat Texas, they beat Notre Dame, and I think it was like, ‘Oh wow, we’re both pretty good and the Big Ten will most likely come down to that game.’ And then we kept watching and we both kept winning and then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Holy crap, this could be No. 1 vs. No. 2, both undefeated.’ Ohio State-Michigan is always a season unto itself, and that just became a once-in-a-generation-type thing.”
Ohio State wide receiver Roy Hall: “Coach Tressel, when you played the Michigan game, I think there was an extra 25-pound plate on each side of the bench press when he’s in the weight room. He gets locked in, he gets focused, doing extra miles on the elliptical. He was locked in like no other during Michigan week.”
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock: “In the offseason, we spent a lot of time on the Michigan game trying to make sure we covered all bases, didn’t leave any stones unturned. I would imagine we probably broke down more film throughout the year of them. Usually, during game week, we just broke down the last three games of our opponent, but that one we probably would go through all of the games in the season and see if there was anything different or any trick plays. You might do a little more work like that. I’m sure we spent a few later hours and probably got in a little earlier and maybe spent he night there, but it was the same way for every other Michigan game. We were going to do everything we could to make sure our kids were prepared and we were prepared to be ready to go. But I don’t remember sleeping a whole lot.”
White: “I remember that we all did our very best to just shut out the outside world. Usually for a big Ohio State game, by Friday there is a kind of circus around the campus. It was like that by Monday. There was so much hype and cameras everywhere. I think we all stayed (at the facility) and did extra prep because of the game, but I think part of it was just to keep our minds away from everything else and just galvanize as a team to try to shut out all the hoopla.”
Ohio State safety Brandon Mitchell: “This was pre-Big Ten Championship Game. We knew going into that game, ‘OK, the Big Ten championship and the national championship are going to be on the line.’ We knew, ‘OK, this is why you come to Ohio State. This is what it comes down to.’ There was so much pressure and so much focus on that. I had already graduated and was taking graduate classes, so I was really able to take that week and almost sleep over at the facility just making sure I had watched every single play and broke down the film as much as possible so nothing would be unfamiliar.”
Ohio State offensive lineman Jim Cordle: “I can remember on Thursdays we’d have captains’ meetings after practice, and they’d give a little pep talk for the game. Doug Datish was always saying something funny, but he was like, ‘Forget these guys. They’re really good, but we’re going to kick their ass.’ We certainly felt like, ‘Hey, we have to go after them. They’re really good, but we’re going to get after them and take it to them. Who cares how good they are?’ We knew we were better.”
Hall: “I remember at the time Jack Tatum was around. He came in and spoke, and the late John Hicks, he was in there. Coach Earle Bruce comes in with his crazy Michigan speech. I have no idea what Coach Bruce was talking about because he’s telling you like eight different stories in one story, and it’s the best story in the world. His passion was crazy. It was like, 'Coach Bruce needs to lead us on the field.' It was awesome, man. You never forget those games.”
Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith: “The Big Ten Conference and I had a conversation about it being at 3:30, and my staff and I were resistant at first because of the grand tradition of playing at noon. The more we looked at what else was happening that day and the magnitude of that game, we decided it was probably too great of an opportunity to pass up being in that television window since we certainly weren’t going to do prime time. The Big Ten office had a conversation with Michigan, and they were OK with it. It was more about thinking what was best for the institutions as far as the unbelievable international publicity, and I can’t remember the ratings of the game but it was ridiculous. It was making sure that we had the best opportunity to put our best foot forward, and it worked. I don’t recall any major incidents after the game from a security point of view. It worked pretty well for us.”
The atmosphere for the game changed the day before kickoff. At a television studio in suburban Detroit where he filmed his weekly television show, former Michigan coach and OSU assistant Schembechler collapsed at about 10 a.m.
Schembechler had battled a heart condition for much of his life, and as the news spread, fans began to fear the worst. The former coach was rushed to the hospital, but at 11:42 a.m., his death was confirmed by Mike Dowd, chief investigator for the medical examiner’s office in Oakland County. The cause: heart failure.
The irony of the 77-year-old Schembechler passing the day before the game he had in many ways lived for and represented was not lost on many. In fact, Schembechler had been a presence the week of the game, meeting with the Michigan media on Monday to give his thoughts on the matchup and addressing the Wolverines team the day before he died.
“I tried to convince him not to talk,” Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr said, “because when I went down to get him, about 2:20, he said he was having a hard time breathing. He said he had a hard time breathing since he had the pacemaker put in (during October).
“But he said, ‘No, I’m going to talk to them.’ So he went down and he spoke to them for 10 or 12 minutes.”
The news hit almost as hard in Columbus as it did in Michigan considering Schembechler had been an assistant under Hayes at one point and was a fixture in the rivalry. Former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce was hosting a “Beat Michigan” rally previewing the game on the OSU campus when he heard the news, promoting him to deliver a heartfelt remembrance to the assembled crowd of OSU fans.
“The state of Michigan and the state of Ohio lost a fine coach and a fine dad,” Bruce said. “I always thought he was the best coach Michigan ever had. What he has done for students and that university is unbelievable. Even after he retired, he was No. 1. … He’s just something. He’s going to be missed. It’s a sad day for me. Bo was really good. He was good for Michigan and he was a good man.”
Schembechler’s passing also had a large impact on one of the biggest sideshows related to the game in Columbus. The night before the game, a band named The Dead Schembechlers – a local punk band that sang anti-Michigan anthems – had scheduled a “Hate Michigan Rally” at the Newport Music Hall near OSU’s campus.
With the actual death of Schembechler, the rally went on, but not quite as scheduled. The marquee of the Newport Music Hall was changed to read “God Bless Bo,” and some of the lyrics of the band’s songs were edited given the situation at the time. Still, 1,500 fans turned out for the show, with the band and lead singer Bo Biafra announcing the proceeds would be donated to a charity of the Schembechler family’s choosing.
Ohio State quickly made plans for a moment of silence before the game, and many fans were moved to action by the news. As Michigan’s bus made its way down the highway to Columbus for the game after learning of Bo’s passing, supporters hung signs on highway overpasses saluting the former coach.
How the event’s impact would play out during the game, though, remained to be seen.
“When I spoke to the team on Friday, I tried to tell them that he would not have wanted to be a distraction,” Carr said. “And I told our team we weren’t going to use Bo and his passing away as a motivational deal. That would have been to dishonor him. I simply told them the way we could honor him is to coach and play in a way that would have made him proud. … All I can say about him is I loved that man.”
New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon, who co-wrote “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” with the coach: “For Michigan fans, I’m sure the whole thing is colored by Bo’s passing the day before. Even a victory, I don’t think, would have been held in the same regard at Michigan as it would be at Ohio State. Bo’s passing eclipses everything. Even though the guy was 77, even though he had had two heart attacks and had multiple heart operations, somehow we all thought the guy was going to live forever. Perhaps it should not have been shocking, but it was. For one thing, Bo had a long and happy retirement, which is not the rule with those guys. It’s pretty rare. And that made him a far more avuncular figure among Michigan fans. He had become more than a football coach.”
Dead Schembechlers frontman Bo Biafra: “Bo himself, when he was first showed our website, couldn’t believe we existed. The writer who showed it to him, a fellow by the name of John Niyo of the Detroit News – John told me after that, he cleaned up the quote for the articles, but Bo looked at our website and he looked up at his son not mad but triumphantly and said, ‘See, I still (expletive) matter in Columbus.’ I think that for how much we hate Bo, in certain ways, I think he maybe understood us more than everybody else. He understood that there is a part of the rivalry that is nothing but blind hatred, and when tapped into in the correct way, it can be utilized in some wonderful ways. There are some Buckeye fans who hate our guts. They think we’re like the crazy uncles chained up in the attic that only come down for Thanksgiving weekend, and that’s fine, too. But I honestly think Bo got it.”
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock: “From my standpoint, I had grown up with the Woody and Bo era. I had great respect for Bo and always appreciated what he did for the game of football and how he coached the game and his passion for the game. When that happened the day before the game, I wasn’t close friends with him by any means – maybe met him one time – but it was a guy that you knew what he had done and had been through. It certainly made me think a little bit and got my attention.”
Ohio State fullback Stan White Jr.: “My dad (Stan Sr.) had played for Woody, so I had heard about the Ten-Year War and the rivalry from the time I was 4, 5 years old. It just made the whole thing surreal. How is it possible that all of these things could be happening? It was probably what a lot of people are feeling with the election. How did all of these things line up to be a once-in-a-generation thing?”
Biafra: “We were on the way over to the theater (for the show) and we’re all sort of lost in thought and we’re in shock. We’re in traffic on High Street, and a management figure gives us a call and says, ‘You fellows have to turn on the Rush Limbaugh radio show.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God, now what?’ Rush Limbaugh is on there and saying, ‘Those young men The Dead Schembechlers have to play that concert tonight as a tribute to Bo Schembechler and the rivalry.’ At that point, I thought I was in a Twilight Zone episode.”
Bacon: “The last chapter of ‘Bo’s Lasting Lessons’ is ‘If I Could Have One More Week.’ I asked him in September 2005, it must have been, if he had one more week at the height of his power, what would he have asked for? He said his wife in town, his kids around him, and one more week to prepare for the Buckeyes of Ohio State. He laid it all out and he said, ‘I wanted to get my team ready for them, and that’s good enough and everything else is gravy.’ And that’s exactly what he did (when he spoke to the team the night before his passing). I’ve learned since that he knew his days were numbered beforehand, and he kept going anyway.”
Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith: “I knew Bo. Bo recruited me out of high school, and I had a long relationship with him, so it was a tough time not just for Michigan fans but for all of us because we respected him so much. When I first got the call (he had passed), we immediately went to making sure we did it in the right way. We communicated with Michigan to make sure we did it the right way, and they were in concert with what we were doing. I’m really proud of how fast our people moved.”
Biafra: “The concert really was the greatest night you can possibly imagine. And as a postscript to it, I guess it was a couple of weeks after that, I heard from Bo’s son Shemy. He said, ‘(Bo) was so afraid of what your band was going to do, and as it turned out you gave my dad the nicest tribute that he got,’ and that meant a lot to us. We appreciated hearing from Bo’s family. We still hate Bo and sing songs about how he sucked, but I think at least Bo and the Schembechler family understand the spirit it’s meant in.”
Bacon: “It’s worth mentioning that Buckeye fans the entire weekend were at their absolute best. The drive down for the team bus, at every overpass, somebody had a sign, ‘RIP Bo,’ things like that. The crowd in the stadium was respectful. The moment of silence was heartfelt. It was kind of like all of the silliness of both sides had been pulled away, leaving only the absolute core of the rivalry, the actual thing itself. And it did not disappoint. It truly was as good as it gets.”
OSU STARTS STRONG
The game kicked off with Michigan receiving, and the Wolverines were firing from the get-go. Henne hit Manningham on passes of 24 and 25 yards, the latter of which advanced the ball to the OSU 1-yard line. A play later, Hart bounced off tackle and scored easily, making it 7-0 just 2:28 into the game.
“They kind of came out and hit us right in the mouth,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said afterward.
But Ohio State answered quickly with a 69-yard scoring drive. On third-and-16 from the OSU 49, Smith hit Hall over the middle for a first down and a 27-yard gain, and another pass to Hall on the ensuing third down got OSU to the 9. Smith then hit White on a 7-yard swing pass to get the ball to the 2, and after Pittman was stuffed at the 1 on second down, Hall came through again with a catch in the right corner of the end zone to knot the score at 7.
A pair of punts ended the first quarter with the score still tied, and Laurinaitis stuffed Hart on a third-and-1 on the second play of the second quarter to give the Buckeyes some momentum. Two plays into OSU’s ensuing drive, Wells took a handoff going left, spun off a tackle in the backfield, burst through the line and ran 52 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7.
After another Michigan punt pinned Ohio State inside its 10-yard line, the explosive Buckeyes swiftly needed just four plays to extend the lead. On second down, Smith avoided the rush in the pocket, rolled to his right and found Brian Robiskie on a comeback route along the right sideline. Robiskie shrugged off a tackle from Leon Hart and then cut upfield, gaining 39 yards before being tripped up at the Michigan 48.
After a 9-yard run by Pittman, officials checked to measure to see if OSU had gained a first down. The Buckeyes had not, resulting in second-and-1, and Tressel dialed up a bit of a trick play. Ohio State sprinted from the huddle to the line in a bunched set, catching Michigan off guard, and Wells sold a fake dive play by leaping over the line of scrimmage. With the safeties frozen for a split second, Smith delivered a beautiful pass to Ginn – who had lined up at tight end and ran a simple go route – behind the defense for a 39-yard score that made it 21-7 with 6:11 to play.
Michigan rallied from there, marching 80 yards to get back in the game. Adrian Arrington found a hole in the defense along the left sideline and was hit in stride by Henne, and his 37-yard score made it 21-14 with 2:33 to go.
OSU had come out firing – Smith was 21 for 26 in the half with 241 yards and three touchdowns – on the way to 320 yards of offense. Though the Buckeyes had just 10 rushes, they had more than doubled the yards Michigan was allowing on the ground per game with 79.
“As good as their defensive line was, if you sat back there and tried to do a lot of normal, drop-back passing, you were asking for it,” offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. “They had crunched everybody like that all year, so we didn’t do very much of that. When you spread it out like (we did), we think we have some pretty good wideouts so you can get some pretty good matchups.”
Michigan’s offense was no slouch either. Hart had run 10 times for 56 yards, while Henne had completed 10 of 14 passes for 141 yards. He had been sacked three times, however.
Ohio State offensive lineman Jim Cordle: “It’s been 10 years, but everybody can remember it like it was yesterday. One of the coolest things about the game was the walk to the Skull Session from the Blackwell over to St. John Arena. Every time I go out there now, the picture still comes into my mind because that was just a sea of red. I don’t know how many people were there just to see the team walk to St. John, but all you could see was people. That was one of the coolest memories was seeing all of those people and how much hype and anticipation there was for that game.”
Ohio State safety Brandon Mitchell: “One of the best memories for me, even though it’s negative, is that we went on defense first in that game and I remember running out there for the first play and the crowd, it was like the ground was shaking. I could literally see it. It was my first time at Ohio State that as the play was getting ready to happen, I was having an out-of-body experience, almost as if I wasn’t even on the field – I was outside of my body watching. It just seemed like, ‘Oh my God, this is insane. This is crazy.’ Which then led, since obviously I'm not focused on what I’m doing, to me missing the tackle (on the second play of the game). Mario Manningham ran a slant and I missed the tackle, but that’s the only time in my career I was awestruck at the crowd and the atmosphere of a football game.”
Ohio State wide receiver Roy Hall: “Here’s the thing – I don’t know if (opening up the offense) was just that game. (Tressel) was real big on whatever we’re good at, this is what we will do. And that entire season, we exploited defenses with our offensive firepower. Troy won the Heisman because we had guys all over the field making plays. When you have Ted Ginn Jr., you have Anthony Gonzalez, you have Brian Robiskie, you have Brian Hartline, you have myself, we had five guys get drafted. The year before that, Santonio Holmes went in the first round. Two years before that, you had Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble. We had guys that could go, and once Tressel knew that we could pass the football, he put the ball in the air without hesitation. There was nobody who could handle us.”
Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith: “The first drive, we didn’t run the ball. We threw the ball pretty much every down if I remember right. That was un-Tressel-like. He always had a great game plan for that game. His game plan and his play calls were always at their best for that game.”
Hall: “The first catch I had, I think it was like a third-and-13. I caught a skinny post over the middle. I don’t even know if Troy was throwing it to me or if he was throwing it to Gonzo. If you watch the film, Gonzo was coming underneath and he threw his hand up as if it was too high for him, and then it came right to me. Troy will tell you he was 100 percent throwing it to me, but I just knew I did what I was supposed to do. I think we picked up like 27 on the play, and the Michigan guy clipped my foot or I probably would have had a 50-yard touchdown for our first score. When he tackled me, I actually broke my toe or something on that play. My left big toe still hurts to this day because of that play. The rest of the drive, I was just running on adrenaline because my foot hurt so badly.”
Ohio State fullback Stan White Jr.: “Playing fullback, you do a lot of grunt work blocking. We were down 7-0, we had a first down at the 10-yard line and we call – back in the old era of football, the block down, kick out was a basic play and the play-action pass off of that. So we were in a play-action pass and our back actually goes the wrong way, so the defensive end is right in Troy Smith’s face. Actually, Coach Tressel has told me he thought that was the best pass of Troy Smith’s career where he slings it sidearm – and a non-football person would not see that – but he slings it sidearm and puts it right on my hip and I got down to the 1-yard line. We ended up scoring two plays later.”
Hall: “The play is called – it’s funny I remember this now – it’s called Cross Stump. This is where Troy signals to the left, signals to the right, he kind of calls his own play. The two outside guys run hitch routes – they cross and make an X, so they both end up where they’re supposed to be, which is 5 or 6 yards away from the line of scrimmage. And you just switch positions and you get to the spot where the other guy would be if you didn’t switch. So we crossed and they didn’t switch, and I don’t even know what they did on defense. I just knew I was standing there open. Troy threw a bullet in there, and it’s one of those plays where it’s like, just catch the football and then you celebrate with your teammates. It was awesome – the crowd was going crazy. If we were playing that game in 2016, I probably would have picked up 10,000 Twitter followers.”
Cordle: “One of the plays you’ll remember was the Ted Ginn pass where all 11 guys were in tight, we faked an iso (run) and just threw it up to Ted. As a player, when you see that in practice, you just know it’s going to work. And sure enough, the first (second)-and-1 near the red zone they called it, and you think it’s going to work. It was hurry up out of the huddle, snap the ball and go, and sure enough they caught on late but Ted was already by them. That was cool. Looking at it, you don’t know exactly what the game plan was, but obviously we knew we could spread them out and throw, which we did, but to be able to get in the I (formation) and run power and run a zone play like Beanie’s zone play where he spun off a guy in the hole and went on for a touchdown – whatever we called, it was working. We could do anything. We could line up and move them, and those guys did a great job.”
Ohio State held a two-score lead going to the second half, but that didn’t keep the rest of the game from being a nailbiter. Michigan forced a punt to open the half then rode Hart to the end zone, as the diminutive yet hard-running back went 8 yards, 33, 16 and then 2 to score a touchdown to make the score 28-21.
Just as it seemed like momentum was going the Wolverines’ way, the OSU quick-strike offense returned. A personal foul on the kickoff gave the Buckeyes the ball at the 35, and two plays later, Pittman found a hole, split the safeties and ran 56 yards for a touchdown that put Ohio State ahead 35-24.
“The offensive line, those guys took care of business, something they were doing all day,” Pittman said after the game of the run. “They got me free past the linebacker, and once I got past the linebacker, I knew it was just split the safety and go.”
The score stayed that way until the end of the quarter, but Michigan was threatening as the stanza ended after a snap over Smith’s head by center Doug Datish was recovered by Branch at the OSU 9. This time, the Buckeye defense couldn’t hold, as Breaston took an end around to the 1 and Hart plowed in a play later to make it 35-31 with 14:41 to play.
Looking to answer, Ohio State took the ball and drove 42 yards into Michigan territory at the 28. But on third-and-1, Datish’s shotgun snap never took flight, rolling instead behind the line of scrimmage until LaMarr Woodley fell on it at the 32 with 11:59 to go.
It seemed like the break the Wolverines needed, but Michigan couldn’t take advantage. Henne was pressured on first down, throwing underneath to Manningham, who dropped the ball. Hart ran for 7 yards on second down, but on third, Henne’s slant pass to Breaston skipped on the turf with Donald Washington in coverage.
From there, Ohio State took over at its own 17 and made the march that clinched the game. Pittman ran 26 yards to cross midfield on what was essentially a Statue of Liberty play, with Smith faking a pass to the left before handing to the back going right, then Smith hit Hartline on third-and-5 to move the ball to the Michigan 33. Three plays later, on third down, Smith was flushed from the pocket to the right and just missed a diving Robiskie over the middle, but Michigan's Shawn Crable was called for roughing the passer for hitting Smith high as he delivered the pass.
Given the gift, the Buckeyes took advantage. Three plays later on first-and-10 from the 13, cornerback Morgan Trent slipped and Smith hit Robiskie on a comeback route at the left pylon for a score that made it 42-31 with 5:38 to go.
“We made some mistakes there in the second half and let them back in it,” Smith said. “But the important thing was that we didn’t quit on each other. We don’t do that. After they scored to make it 35-31, we knew we needed to go right back down the field and score a touchdown.”
Michigan answered but took up precious time during an 11-play, 81-yard drive. A pass interference call on Jamario O’Neal on fourth-and-16 kept the drive alive, and Tyler Ecker caught a pass from Henne and fought into the end zone with 2:16 to go. Henne found Breaston for the conversion, and suddenly it was a field-goal game at 42-39.
It ended up not mattering, however. Ginn recovered the onside kick by Rivas, and Ohio State was able to run out the clock. Pittman ran for 9 yards on the first play, lost one on second down, and then iced the game with a third-and-2 run over the left side for 6 yards and a first down.
Ohio State didn’t have to run another play, and the Ohio Stadium crowd rushed the field as the Buckeyes began their celebration as time ran out.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock: “There were adjustments, it seemed, on very series. If memory is current, they started pounding the ball to the boundary. Hart was running good all day and Henne was a guy that you couldn’t really zero in on Hart because they had both aspects, the throw game and the run game. Every series, it was trying to figure out what they were doing and what we could do to stop that. At the end of the night, you knew you’d been through a game.”
Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (in 2011): “It is one of those games you think about for the rest of your life, but it was one of the worst games we ever played. We gave up 39 points. We were like, ‘Well, it was a great game, but we sucked that day.’ Like really, you go back and look at the highlights and you’re like, ‘Man, we were terrible.’ They were good, but the good thing is their defense was worse than ours. They gave up more points.”
Ohio State safety Brandon Mitchell: “I think what they did better than any other team was to prepare to go against our defense. They ran specific plays based on some of our defensive tendencies. If you go back and look at the game again, they would go out of a trips formation and run two posts and run the out-and-up with Arrington. He caught a couple of deep balls on the out-and-up on the outside, and that play was designed to break our main defense that we ran. We ran a quarters coverage, and they hadn’t run it all year. They hit on it at least three times I know. I think they were the most prepared team we played.”
Ohio State wide receiver Roy Hall: “Never (did we think we’d lose). Never. I mean, never ever. Never, man. Never. There is no way we were going to lose that game in our stadium. Are you kidding me? When you have a moment like that, you’re not thinking you could lose that. With all the great players that we had, there was no way we were going to lose that football game. They could have scored a touchdown at the end and we get the ball back with six seconds left, and we still would have won. We would have figured it out.”
New York Times bestselling author John U. Bacon: “In many ways, it was the perfect honor for Bo that both teams played lights out. It was an extraordinarily well played game on both sides. It was about great plays being made on both sides of the ball by both teams. Very few penalties as I recall, very few turnovers. It was not a sloppy game. It was extraordinary football.”
The Buckeyes did it largely because of their offense. Smith cemented his grip on the Heisman Trophy, completing 29 of 41 passes for 316 yards, four touchdowns and an interception while leading an offense that piled up 503 yards of offense. The Buckeyes sextupled Michigan’s rushing average allowed going in, racking up 187 yards, 139 of which were by Pittman as he and Wells averaged a combined 8.5 yards per carry.
“Everyone talked all week about their defense,” OSU guard Steve Rehring said. “That’s all we heard – how good their defensive line was and how we were going to have a tough time moving the ball against them. And I will say this: They are good. They’re very good.
“But I like to say that we go against one of the best defensive lines in college football every day in practice. Once you go against (our) guys … you’ve already seen the best. So if you’re asking if I’m surprised we got that any yards, the answer is no. Not really.”
Henne threw for 267 yards for Michigan and Hart ran for 143 with three touchdowns, but Ohio State had made plays when it mattered. Laurinaitis led the team with nine tackles while Antonio Smith, Lawrence Wilson, Joel Penton and Jay Richardson had sacks.
Afterward, though, Michigan’s Hart said he wanted another chance at the Buckeyes, up to and including a rematch against OSU in the title game.
“I guarantee if we play them again, it would be a whole different game,” the running back said. “We should have got them the first time around. We didn’t. So if (we don’t get another shot), that’s our fault. But if we played them again, it would be a whole different game. Guarantee that.”
It didn’t matter as the city of Columbus began its celebration, however. Cigars were passed out in the locker room, and offensive lineman Kirk Barton took one to the media room for his postgame interview, though he would later face the wrath of Tressel for that decision.
“Red Auerbach, baby,” Barton said between puffs. “This is about as good as it gets. T.J. Downing is one of my best friends in the whole world, and we just got through drinking some Dom Pérignon in the locker room. It was 350 bucks, and that took about all of the money I had to my name, but it was worth it. This is as good as it could be.”
The biggest star of the game was equally as excited after moving to 3-0 as a starting quarterback against Michigan.
“I’ll probably be wearing this smile for the rest of this week,” Smith said. “You’ve got to fight through, persevere, and the 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes did just that. Outright Big Ten champs, baby.”
Ohio State fullback Stan White Jr.: “As the clock goes down to zero, I lifted Antonio Pittman off the ground and gave him a hug. Before I knew it, the entire stadium is on the field. It was just a sea of humanity, and everybody is slapping you and hugging and running around. It took me a half hour, actually, to get off the field. Eventually some police officers helped a few of us get to the locker room. I missed the whole presentation of the Big Ten trophy, and by the time I got there, everyone was hugging and crying and celebrating in the locker room. One of the few moments in life of just intense joy.”
Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith: “It was special. Having played and coached at Notre Dame, I had seen some special moments. I knew what that type of game meant, but never had I experienced anything like being in a stadium like The ’Shoe and teams with so much on the line with so many great players involved. There were two outstanding coaches who had tremendous respect for each other, and all the elements were there. It was just the aggregate of things around that game where the pageantry was something I had never experienced before, and it was so great to have that experience.”
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock: “The thing that really stood out to me was the intensity of the play. Every down was critical, and every down guys were giving great effort. It was fun to be a part of. It was one that I’ll always remember, and I guess the reason you really remember it is we came out with the W. Those are always a little bit better.”
Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (in 2011): “When I think about my favorite games, that was probably the one. There was just so much riding on it besides the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. It was two great teams and we were No. 1 and No. 2, and basically whoever wins is going to go to the national championship game. There was a lot riding on that game, and really it couldn’t get any more intense. The way the game played out was just great. And then afterward with the fans carrying out chunks of the grass on their shoulder and stuff like that, it was juts nuts from start to finish. One of those games you’ll never forget.”
Smith: “People were literally going down after the game and cutting pieces of grass out of the field, and you’d see people outside of the stadium with swaths of grass. It would be interesting to do a survey to find out if anybody still has any grass from that year.”
Ohio State safety Brandon Mitchell: “I also remember that was the last time that there was grass on the field, too. My mom and dad actually took a patch off the field after the game and they planted it at my house in Atlanta.”
Ohio State offensive lineman Jim Cordle: “It was a great team and we had great leaders. You had Troy Smith win the Heisman, and as a young guy leading up to the game, we did everything we did for the seniors that had come through here. You wanted to send them out on top, and it was pretty cool. Obviously the fans rushed the field, and people were tearing out rolls of turf with them, and you go up to the locker room afterward and the whole deal, that was really unforgettable.”
Mitchell: “At the time, winning felt like everything. Most of our seniors on that team came in and won national championship in 2002, but most of us were redshirted that year. We spent the rest of our careers fighting to get back to the moment that we experienced our first year when most of us didn’t play at all. It was a culmination of that. We were the No. 1 team all year and we played the No. 2 team two or three times. Everyone was fighting for our throne and we knocked everyone back and overcame that. After the game, we went into the locker room and did everything with Coach Tressel, and then we went back out to the fans in the South Stands and closer to where the locker room was, and I actually smoked my first cigar. I think Tony Gonzalez had cigars, and we were sitting out there with the fans cheering and everybody has their jerseys still on and we’re out smoking cigars and celebrating with the fans.”
Ohio State offensive lineman Kirk Barton (in 2013): “You get these moments in life where you work so hard and you’re so stressed out and maniacal about your stuff, and every so often you can actually like achieve something. The games are fun, but there is a huge amount of stress. You’re playing someone that can beat you if you don’t perform. I thought (the cigar) was harmless at the time, but obviously it wasn’t. You know how people celebrate kids being born or wedding with a cigar, and those things are great, but playing in a one-versus-two Michigan game, how often is that going to happen?”
Ohio State wide receiver Roy Hall: “Gonzo had the cigars, so Gonzo was passing out cigars. I don’t know where he got them from, but all I know was he had the cigars. I got one and didn’t light it up. I just kept it, thinking I was going to have it forever, and I have no idea what I did it with. But it was awesome, man. We had a great time. That was one of those rare moments where Coach Tressel was saying nothing good happens past 10, but at the same time he knew everybody was going to be out past 10 that night.”