After Ohio State earned a 14-3 victory over archrival Michigan on Nov. 17, 2007, reporters asked the quoteable offensive tackle about comments made by U-M tailback Mike Hart, offensive tackle Jake Long and quarterback Chad Henne. All three came back for their senior seasons with the goal of winning a national championship and beating the Buckeyes for the first time.
"We heard about it," Ohio State captain Kirk Barton said. "Obviously it got a lot of coverage all year because the three guys all turned down the NFL so they could come back and beat us and ride off into the sunset.
"But I guess a funny thing happened on the way to the sunset."
The season had already been a struggle for the Wolverines. Their national title hopes lasted less than 60 minutes. Those were dashed when Division I-AA champion Appalachian State upset the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in the season opener. Then, following a blowout loss to Oregon, Michigan only had the Big Ten title and revenge against Ohio State to play for.
They would get neither.
Ohio State's defense was dominant and Chris "Beanie" Wells carried the offense in front of the second-largest crowd (111,941) in Michigan Stadium history.
The Wolverines were held to 91 yards of total offense, the first time they were held under 100 yards since 1962, and only eight first downs. Only three of those came in the second half and two came on OSU pass interference penalties.
"Our defense was not going to let them control the game with the run," said OSU head coach Jim Tressel, who improved to 6-1 against Michigan.
Henne and Hart struggled in their final chance to beat Ohio State. Henne, who was playing with a chronic shoulder injury, completed 11 of 34 passes for 68 yards. Hart, who had garnered the ire of Ohio State fans with his comments after the '06 OSU-Michigan game, finished with only 44 yards on 18 carries.
"We didn't think we were going to be this bad off," Hart said. "Give credit to the (Ohio State) defense. They came up with a great game and had a good scheme against us. The defense did a great job."
Wells led the offensive attack with an impressive performance. He set career highs with 39 carries for 22 yards and score both of Ohio State's touchdowns. Quarterback Todd Boeckman attempted only 13 passes and completed 7 for 50 yards. Each of those totals represented season lows for the junior.
"We did a pretty good job of moving the chains a little bit," Tressel said, noting the Buckeyes finished with 279 total yards. "I wish we would have scored a little more, wish we would have been a little more consistent (on offense). But we did what we needed to do, and 14 points was enough to win the Big Ten."
Juniors Marcus Freeman and Vernon Gholston led the OSU defense. Freeman led the Buckeyes with nine tackles, eight of which were solos. Gholston recorded three sacks and tied Mike Vrabel's school single-season record of 13. His final sack, which resulted in an 8-yard loss in the fourth quarter, put an exclamation point on the victory.
Michigan opened the scoring, moving 49 yards in 12 plays before settling for a 33-yard field goal by K.C. Lopata late in the first quarter. The Buckeyes answered early in the second quarter. Ohio State got the ball at the Michigan 44-yard line after a punt and turned the field position into points. Wells capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge that gave OSU a 7-3 lead.
Neither team scored again in the first half, and Ohio State put the game out of reach with an early third-quarter touchdown. OSU sophomore Ray Small appeared to have done so when he returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, but the Buckeyes were penalized for an illegal block during the return. However, on the first play following the penalty, Wells broke over left tackle, shed Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable near the line of scrimmage and ran for a 62-yard touchdown.
Michigan's offense sputtered throughout the second half. The Buckeyes forced six three-and-outs.
The victory clinched Ohio State's first back-to-back outright Big Ten championships since 1954-55 and third straight overall. The win also gave Ohio State at least a bid to the Rose Bowl, with what was then an outside chance at returning to the BCS National Championship Game.
"It's special to be able to win the outright Big Ten championship two years in a row, and three years in a row being part of it," Tressel said. "We're the first ones to do that since Penn State joined the league, so I'm pretty proud of those guys for being able to do that."