We knew whichever team we picked to win the game would probably lose. That’s how close and intense this perennial tradition unfolds, regardless of rank. And the 102nd meeting between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines was just another notch in the belt of great college football games.
We knew Ohio state quarterback Troy Smith would respond after last year’s loss and play a marvelous game. Smith did just that, scoring the first touchdown and setting the tone for the Buckeyes consistent offense. He ended the game with 297 yards passing, 37 yards rushing but — most importantly — a 88-yard fourth-quarter drive that led to Antonio Pittman’s game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.
We knew even if Michigan tailback Michael Hart didn’t have the yards (Ohio State had the second best rush defense in the country) that his presence on the field, after missing two games with an ankle injury, would give the team a statless bonus. Hart picked up some early blitzes and gave his quarterback, Chad Henne, some time to complete some crucial passes. However, we thought he would have more than 15 rushing yards.
We thought Buckeye linebacker Bobby Carpenter would be the archetypical hard-hitter on defense. Instead, the team’s second-best tackler left the game early with an injury and came back on the sidelines with crutches under his arms and tears in his eyes.
We knew the pressure was on Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr. While Carr dominated the John Cooper-led Bucks, he has been a miserable 1-3 against the sweater-vested Jim Tressel.
We thought the energetic tandem of Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn would provide the Buckeyes with some special teams magic. But some mental errors gave the two a combined -32 yards on 3 punt returns.
We knew Henne would be the target of not only the Buckeyes defense but also of ridicule from the Michigan faithful — fans and the media — for not being Tom Brady, Drew Henson or even John Navarre, and that an Ohio State win would exonerate him for mistakes in the past. But Henne played quite a fine game himself, executing a 4th-and-1 sneak in the final quarter that lead to a field goal and finished the game 25-for-36 with 223 yards and a touchdown. Still, the sophomore will not yet be in the ranks of great Michigan quarterbacks unless he wins “the big one.” He still has two years.
We knew whoever won the game would only be in control of finishing second place in the Big Ten, and would need help from their quasi-rival Michigan State to knock off first place Penn State for either Ohio State or Michigan to win the Big Ten. But we also knew that No. 4 Penn State was only 2 seconds away from being an undefeated team, so we didn’t expect an upset in Happy Valley.