Buckeyes Lament Missed Opportunities At Michigan

Ohio State's inability to convert a fourth-quarter interception by Chris Gamble into points proved costly in the team's 35-21 loss at Michigan. The Buckeyes also lost out on an outright Big Ten championship and more than likely a Sugar Bowl bid as well with the loss. We look at that key series and share some notables from the game as well.

In the wake of Ohio State's 35-21 loss to Michigan, the Buckeyes were left to lament over a number of missed opportunities.

In suffering just their second defeat in the last 26 games, OSU was denied what would have been the school's first outright Big Ten championship since 1984. Plus, the Buckeyes will also miss out on a chance to defend their national championship at the Sugar Bowl.

"That is still a goal," OSU coach Jim Tressel said of his team's bid for an outright Big Ten championship. "That's why we sit here. We haven't won an outright Big Ten championship since 1984.

"It is a difficult task to win one. We have to tip our hat to Michigan for getting that done this year. That remains a goal of ours."

Clearly, the OSU defense did not hold up its end of the bargain against Michigan, surrendering five touchdown drives in excess of 60 yards including three of 80 yards or longer.

Some left the Buckeyes for dead when they fell behind 21-0 late in the first half. But OSU gamely rallied in the second half to trim the margin to 28-21 early in the fourth quarter.

The one sequence that will probably stick with OSU for the longest time will be the offensive series that occurred after cornerback Chris Gamble intercepted a pass from Michigan's John Navarre at the OSU 37-yard line with 13:17 left.

With starting quarterback Craig Krenzel ailing with an injured left shoulder, backup Scott McMullen took the field to try and lead OSU to a potential game-tying score.

But McMullen's first-down pass to Michael Jenkins fell incomplete. A second-down stretch play to tailback Lydell Ross netted just 1 yard.

That left OSU facing third-and-9 at the OSU 38. McMullen dropped to throw, but was quickly swarmed under by UM defensive tackle Grant Bowman and sacked for a 2-yard loss.

"Probably the third-down call, I would like to have that back from a protection standpoint," Tressel said. "I don't think we put our guys in the best situation. We got sacked. If we had gotten it down to fourth-and-short, we might have gone for it."

Instead, OSU punted the ball away with 11:48 remaining. Michigan answered with an eight-play, 88-yard scoring march -- capped by Chris Perry's 15-yard touchdown run -- to effectively put the game away at 35-21 with 7:55 left.

"We got a turnover and we're down 28-21," said offensive tackle Shane Olivea. "We were in perfect position to drive it out, but we hurt ourselves.

"You get it down to 28-21 and you go three-and-out. It's hard, especially with the way their offense was playing. We knew we had to conserve the clock and put up some points, but we just couldn't do it."

Krenzel, who returned to the game later, discussed OSU's comeback bid.

"We have a great group of guys who never give up," he said. "We were down by 21, but we scored late in the first half. We came out in the second half and get it down to 28-21. Then we get a turnover and we have a chance to come back and maybe tie the game.

"That was probably the turning point when we got that interception by Chris Gamble. The offense came on the field and goes three-and-out. That was a drive where we needed to score and make it a different ballgame."

For a team that has lived and died on late-game heroics, the Buckeyes could summon none against their rival on Saturday.

"We've been in situations like that before," said tight end Ben Hartsock. "We've been down and we've been in close games. I don't think anybody was nervous about the situation. Everybody was still fighting to get a win."

Olivea said it hurts to falter in a game of this magnitude.

"We could have been 11-0 and if we lost this game the season is for not," Olivea said. "That's how important this game is.

"A lot of teams down three touchdowns would have given up, but that has not been the character of our team the last three years. We play for 60 minutes. We got the ball back with four minutes left and we were acting like we were going to go play for overtime.

"Nobody gave us a chance. It was 70 guys in that room and the coaches. It was like, 'It's us against the world. Let's go.' "

OSU scored just before halftime to trim the deficit to 21-7, lightening the mood in the locker room during the break.

"It was the most positive halftime, I think," Olivea said. "The big thing was getting that score at the end of the first half. We slowed them down, but then we let them back in the game.

"It's a bitter feeling for me and the 25 other seniors right now."

Also Notable

* OSU safeties Will Allen and Nate Salley led the Buckeyes in tackles with 14 and 11, respectively.

But Salley was also left to lament at least two stops he didn't make. UM's Braylon Edwards broke tackles by Allen and Salley on a 64-yard touchdown catch that gave the Wolverines a 14-0 lead.

"We were in man coverage," Salley said. "I was the middle field safety. I saw him catch the ball and he broke Will's tackle. I had a clear shot at him, but couldn't make the tackle."

Later, Perry juked Salley and got outside on a 30-yard touchdown run that put the Wolverines up 28-7.

* The teams wore special patches commemorating the 100th rendition of The Game.

Michigan upped its series lead to 57-37-6, including 30-17-4 advantage in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State had won three of the last five meetings, including the last two.

* OSU will be fighting for a third straight win over UM for the first time since winning four straight from 1960-63. OSU also won three straight over UM on just two other occasions -- 1919-21 and 1934-37.

The Buckeyes last won in consecutive trips to Ann Arbor in 1979 (18-15, Buckeye Block Party win) and 1981 (14-9, Vaughn Broadnax block springs Art Schlichter as OSU wins Big Ten title).

* The victory gave Michigan a record 41st Big Ten championship. It was also UM's 16th outright title and first since 1997. Michigan has now won at least a piece of the title in 10 of the last 18 years.

Ohio State was vying for its 30th Big Ten title. OSU has captured 15 outright titles.

* This marked the 12th time since The Game was moved to the end of the season in 1935 that the teams will play an "either/or" game where the winner gets at least a share of the conference title and the loser does not.

Michigan upped its advantage in such games to 7-5, including the last three (1990, 2000 and this year).

* This marked the ninth time The Game will match two top-five teams since the inception of the AP poll in 1936.

OSU has a record of 5-3-1 in such games, although UM has now won the last three (1977, 1997 and this year).

* Michigan was facing a top-10 team for the third time in four games, with wins over No. 10 Purdue and No. 9 Michigan State.

UM improved to 5-2 against ranked teams this year, while OSU fell to 5-2 against ranked teams this season.

OSU was attempting to win a third straight game against a ranked team for just the second time in school history. The only time it happened was 1995 with wins over Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin.

* Michigan coach Lloyd Carr improved his record to 14-3 record against top-10 opponents since taking over for Gary Moeller before the 1995 season.

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