The Buckeyes came into the game 108th out of 118 Division I-A teams with an average of 300.1 yards per game. But OSU had 337 yards in the first half on its way to 446 yards of total offense. The Buckeyes (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) had lengthy scoring drives of 99 and 97 yards against the vaunted Wolverines.
"This was a good one," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, who improved to 3-1 against Michigan. "The kids played hard and the coaches prepared hard. This was for our 17 seniors. They deserved to go out with a day like this, a day they will remember for the rest of their lives."
The OSU victory denied Michigan (9-2, 7-1) an outright Big Ten championship. The Wolverines will share the crown with the winner of today's Iowa-Wisconsin game. Should Wisconsin win that game, the Badgers would supplant Michigan as the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative.
The Buckeyes are likely assured of nothing worse than a berth in the Alamo Bowl, set for Dec. 29 in San Antonio. The official bowl assignments may not be known for several weeks, however.
As the final seconds ticked off, the stadium exploded with emotion. OSU players danced on the "O" at midfield. The stands emptied shortly thereafter.
"I stated from the jump I was running to the middle of the `O,' " said OSU receiver Santonio Holmes, who caught a touchdown pass in the win. "I was declaring this is our home and nobody takes it away from us."
Flanker Anthony Gonzalez, who also had a touchdown catch, summed up more of the emotion.
"I have been looking forward to playing in this exact game my entire life," Gonzalez said. "I have watched this game on television for as long as I can remember."
The OSU seniors end their career with a 3-1 record against Michigan. They are the first senior class to be better than .500 against UM since the 1984 seniors also ended their careers 3-1 against the Maize and Blue.
"We have been through some ups and downs, but today showed potentially how good we are," said kicker Mike Nugent, who booted three field goals. "We talked before the game about how bad we felt after the loss to Michigan last year in Ann Arbor and none of us wanted to feel that way again.
"Someone said after the game that we get another pair of Gold Pants for this game and that's when I realized that we were 3-1 against Michigan. It's a great feeling ending like that on such a high note."
The victory was predicated on a command performance by OSU quarterback Troy Smith. He carried the ball 18 times for 145 yards and a touchdown and also completed 13 of 23 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
"Troy played hard and made great decisions," Tressel said. "The big thing for a quarterback is no turnovers and he did that today. And he's a leader as well."
Smith summed up the day.
"I really credit the offensive line, the guys up front, the guys in the trenches, we won the trench fight today," Smith said. "Everybody, as a whole, defensively, you know, they stepped up. We all stepped up as a unit with one goal in mind, sending our seniors out with a positive, as opposed to a negative. Just beating Michigan, that was key. Michigan's a great team.
"They did some good thing today, but I think us coming together as a team. Chapel last night was great. Before the game, I had tears in my eyes. I didn't really realize what this rivalry was about and is about until you get a W, until you're in it, until you're in the fight. My hat's off to Michigan, but today is Ohio State's day."
The Buckeyes also got a record-setting 82-yard punt return for a touchdown by freshman Ted Ginn Jr. That was Ginn's fourth punt return for a score, a new OSU and Big Ten single-season mark and tied the NCAA single-season record.
"The last couple games he's sort of been like the spark plug in our car," Smith said of Ginn. "He's kept us going. Hats off to him, you know."
Ginn also caught five passes for 87 yards, while Holmes had three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Gonzalez had two catches for 77 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown just over a minute into the game. Branden Joe, working some at tailback, had 52 yards rushing on 14 carries.
For Michigan, which managed 399 yards, freshman quarterback Chad Henne was 27 of 54 passing for 328 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Michael Hart had 61 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 attempts. Braylon Edwards finished with 11 catches for 172 yards and a score.
"I give Ohio State credit," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, now 6-4 against OSU. "I thought they did a great job in every phase of the game. It was a tremendous disappointment for us obviously. I give all of the credit to Ohio State."
The win was OSU's fourth in its last six meetings with Michigan.
Ohio State had the ball to open the game and managed a first down. But the Buckeyes soon faced third-and-12 on their own 32. Smith dropped to pass and had all day to throw. Just as a pass rusher closed in, Smith threw it as far as he could. Gonzalez got behind UM's Ernest Shazor and hauled it in at the 20. He rolled the rest of the way to complete the 68-yard touchdown and give the Buckeyes a quick 7-0 lead just 1:13 into the game. From the time of the snap until Gonzalez caught the bomb, no fewer than eight seconds elapsed.
"There was good protection on the play and my job was to occupy the safety," said Gonzalez, reflecting on his first career touchdown. "Troy had all day to throw and I just got open. He made a great throw and I took it in for the score."
Michigan answered with a nine-play, 87-yard touchdown drive. Henne completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive for 86 yards, including throws of 38 yards to Hart and 16 and 14 yards to Edwards. On second-and-goal at the 4, Henne looked right and threw to a leaping Jason Avant who scored over OSU's Ashton Youboty to tie the game at 7-7 with 10:25 left in the first quarter.
Michigan then got great field position after OSU punter Kyle Turano shanked a punt that went just 21 yards and rolled dead at the OSU 43.
The Wolverines needed six plays to find the end zone and take the lead. Henne hit Jermaine Gonzalez for a 19-yard gain down to the 11. Hart then plowed ahead for 10 yards and a first down at the 1. He then went behind right tackle and scored the touchdown to put the Wolverines up 14-7 with 6:03 left in the first quarter.
Two possessions later, Ohio State had a touchdown drive for the ages. The Buckeyes took over on their own 1 after a punt and moved 99 yards to tie the game. It was believed to be OSU's longest touchdown drive since a 98-yarder against Toledo in 1998. After three Joe runs netted 17 yards, Smith found Ginn for a 17-yard gain. He then went deep down the right sideline to Holmes for 34 more. A Smith keeper netted 15 yards and a first down at the 10. Smith then got 4 yards on first down and Joe plowed ahead for 5 more on second. Finally, Smith capped it with a 1-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game at 14-14 with 13:16 left in the first half.
OSU then missed a golden scoring chance, driving all the way down to the 1 yard. But on fourth-and-goal there, Smith's pass to Holmes was deflected incomplete by UM's Marlin Jackson.
"He just made a good play on that," Holmes said of Jackson's break-up.
The Buckeyes drove down to the 1 again on their next series, keyed by a 19-yard Smith pass to Gonzalez as well as Smith's 15-yard gain on a quarterback draw. On fourth-and-goal at the 4, Mike Nugent came on and hit a 21-yard field goal to put OSU ahead 17-14.
OSU got the ball back after a Michigan punt on its own 30 with 1:11 left in the half. Smith kept the ball for 18 yards and hit Ginn for a 26-yard gain down to the UM 24 with 16 seconds left. After two passes fell incomplete, Nugent came on and hit a 42-yard field goal as time expired to put OSU ahead 20-14.
"I was just hoping to get an opportunity today because my last field goal here in the stadium (against Penn State) was blocked," said Nugent, who ended the regular season 20 of 23 on field goals.
Ohio State extended its lead early in the second half on Ginn's electrifying 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. He broke a tackle, sidestepped another tackler and beat punter Adam Finley around the corner and was gone down the left sideline as OSU moved ahead 27-14 with 9:56 left in the third quarter.
"It means just having faith in your team and the people that's in front of you," Ginn said. "We've just been telling everybody to hold up on the blocks and making a good block. Me catching the punt was the most important thing right there. I saw the guy, so I had to try to make something real quick and I was just trying to find a hole to get vertical as my coach told me to. As I said before, once you see the touchdown, there's no point in making a move, you just use your speed and get to the end zone."
The Buckeyes then drove 97 yards in 10 plays on their next possession. The key play was Smith's 46-yard scamper down to the UM 18. After two Lydell Ross runs netted 6 yards, Smith found Holmes on a square in route for the 12-yard touchdown and a 34-14 lead with 1:53 left in the third.
"I really think that drive took the spirit out of their team," Holmes said. "When we scored, we could just tell by then it was our game to win."
The long touchdown drives were a killer, Carr said.
"The way we have always tried to play defense at Michigan is if you have any kind of field position the odds are you are going to stop them," Carr said. "We couldn't stop them. I think Ohio State played great today."
But Michigan would not go away. The Wolverines drove down to the OSU 8 on their next possession, only to be turned away when Youboty intercepted a Henne pass intended for Edwards at the goal line.
Aided by a pass interference penalty by OSU's Anthony Schlegel, UM found paydirt on its next series. The capper was Henne's 38-yard touchdown pass to Edwards on a fade that cut the OSU lead to 34-21 with 10:56 left in the game.
Turano came up big with a 71-yard punt that backed UM up to its own 20. And, on fourth-and-1 from the 29, Michigan lost possession on downs when Henne's pass went through Edwards' hands incomplete with 7:34 left.
OSU took possession and inched the lead back up to two full touchdowns when Nugent drilled a 48-yard field goal to make it 37-21 with 7:15 left.
Fittingly, OSU's Nate Salley intercepted Henne's last pass with 24 seconds left.
* Ginn became the third player in NCAA history to return four punts for touchdowns, tying David Allen of Kansas State (1998) and Golden Richards of BYU (1971) In Ohio State annals, Ginn surpassed Jeff Graham (1989-91) and Garcia Lane (1981-83). Graham and Lane each had three TD returns for their careers.
Ginn also tops the Big Ten record book, passing Iowa's Tim Dwight (1997), Gene Derricotte of Michigan (1947) and Ira Matthews of Wisconsin (1976).
Ginn's 82-yard TD return is the fourth longest in Ohio State history. Former Buckeye Robert Demmel holds the record at 87 yards in 1950 vs. Iowa. The 82-yard return marked Ginn's sixth play of more than 50 yards this season.
* The crowd was the second largest in OSU history, behind the 105,539 for the Fiesta Bowl-clinching OSU victory two years ago.
* Michigan still leads the all-time series 57-38-6, including 27-21-2 in Columbus.
* Tressel joins Earle Bruce and Woody Hayes as OSU coaches who went 3-1 in their first four games against Michigan. Francis Schmidt is the only OSU coach to win his first four games against UM (1934-37).
* Ohio State has won 21 of its last 22 games at home.
* The win Saturday upped Tressel's career mark to 174-68-2, including a 39-11 record at Ohio State. Tressel is 25-3 at home at Ohio State. His teams are also now 5-1 against top-10 ranked opponents.
* The last time an unranked Ohio State team defeated a top-10 opponent was Nov. 10, 1990 at No. 6 Iowa, a 27-26 victory. The win also serves as Ohio State's largest margin of victory over a top-10 opponent when the Buckeyes enter unranked. An unranked Ohio State team defeated No. 6 Purdue, 15-0, in Ohio Stadium on Oct. 17, 1959.
* Ohio State held a 20-14 lead at halftime. With the win, the Buckeyes are 19-1 under Tressel at Ohio Stadium when leading at halftime. Overall, the Buckeyes are 28-2 under Tressel when leading at the half.
* The 37-21 win serves as OSU's largest margin of victory over the Wolverines since 1994, when the Buckeyes downed UM 22-6. The 16-point win over No. 7 Michigan served as the largest OSU victory over a Top 10 team since defeated No. 10 Washington State, 25-7, Sept. 14, 2002.
* This marked the 35th time OSU has played Michigan when it was ranked in the AP top 10 since the inception of the poll in 1936. OSU is now 10-21-4 against top-10 ranked Michigan teams.
Michigan was 8-0-1 as a top-10 team against OSU since OSU's 14-9 win over then-No. 7 Michigan in 1981. (The tie was a 13-13 decision in 1992.)
This was only the second time in eight tries that an unranked OSU team has beaten a top-10 Michigan squad. (The other time was that 1981 win.)
Carr said the teams' records, obviously, did not factor into the outcome.
"I have never believed (the records) matter," Carr said. "Ohio State has played extremely well in the last few weeks. I don't put much stock into the favorite. It is what counts on that day. They have a lot of good football players, just like we do. We did not play like we had hoped to, that is obvious."
* Since the OSU-Michigan game was moved to the end of the season in 1935, this marked the 19th time the Wolverines were in search of an unbeaten Big Ten season when facing the Buckeyes.
Michigan's record in such games dropped to 9-8-2. UM completed unbeaten Big Ten seasons with wins over OSU in 1943, 1947, 1948, 1971, 1980, 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1997. OSU spoiled UM unbeaten league seasons with wins in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1982 and 1998. The teams tied in this situation in 1973 and 1992 (UM had another tie previously).
* Michigan had already clinched at least a share of what will be its 42nd Big Ten championship. The Michigan loss would assures the winner of the Wisconsin-Iowa game, which starts at 4:30 p.m., a share of the Big Ten title.
* Michigan built its commanding lead in the series by going 13-0-2 in the first 15 meetings between 1897 and 1918.
But over the last 51 years, OSU just inched ahead 25-24-2.