Ryan Day has his first conference loss as Ohio State’s head coach and it’s hard to imagine a loss that was more earned than this one. The Buckeyes played easily their worst game of 2021 in The Game and had their winning streak — and dreams of reaching another College Football Playoff — emphatically destroyed as a result. The Buckeyes were noticeably outplayed on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football and didn’t appear to want it more than their hosts. The silly halftime confrontation in the tunnel did nothing more than reinforce Michigan’s desire to win. Michigan was always going to win one of these one days, and that day was Saturday.
Here’s what had me yelling at Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt.
The first annoying item on the list is the one out of everyone’s control that helped the home team. Any weather that can slow down Ohio State’s passing game favors the opposition, but it’s especially favorable for a team that relies on the running game and a big offensive line moving people. Given the choice of 75 degrees and sunny and a snowy day, every Michigan player, coach, and fan would take the wintry weather that we saw on Saturday. It’s not the reason Ohio State lost, but of the two teams, Michigan was the obvious beneficiary.
Missed Tackles are Expensive
Antwaun Jackson had a chance to make the first big play for the OSU defense on Michigan’s opening drive. The Wolverines faced a third-and-1 at the edge of field goal range and Cade McNamara handed off to Hassan Haskins. Jackson shot into the hole and had a chance to drop Haskins for a loss but couldn’t finish and it turned into a chunk run that set up Michigan’s opening score. Ohio State’s defense went on to record zero tackles for loss. I don’t think we’ll see many defensive players grade out as champions this week.
Julian Fleming has not performed well in Emeka Egbuka’s absence on kickoff returns. After Michigan scored, Fleming called fair catch but didn’t field the ball in the air, putting Ohio State deep in its own territory to start its first drive. That’s not an ideal place for a first-year starting quarterback to begin his first drive of The Game, and CJ Stroud threw some nervous-looking passes on that possession. Fleming had a similar play later in the game, and if Egbuka can’t play, Ohio State should probably look elsewhere for a replacement.
Snap To It!
To compound Ohio State’s field position problem on the first drive, Luke Wypler delivered an early snap while Stroud was trying to change the call and Ohio State was fortunate that the quarterback was able to fall on it for a 1-yard gain. The Buckeyes were immediately in a long-yardage situation deep in their own territory due to the combination of the kickoff error and the mistake by Wypler. He also had a terrible snap that was almost disastrous in the second half but Stroud again bailed him out with a recovery.
Don’t Be Untrue
One of the more maddening trends in 2021 is false starts by Ohio State’s insanely talented wide receivers. It’s almost so commonplace with the offensive line that we overlook it but the wideouts have been doing it a lot in recent weeks. Jaxon Smith-Njigba may have cost the Buckeyes four points by false starting on third-and-goal on the first OSU scoring drive. After backing the offense into an obvious passing down, Dawand Jones gave up a sack to Aidan Hutchinson and the Buckeyes had to settle for a short Noah Ruggles field goal. Short field goals are the saddest field goals.
Don’t Answer Me, Part ? (Way Too Many)
Ohio State finally got its bearings in The Game and took the lead on a ridiculous throw by Stroud and an even more ridiculous catch to take a 10-7 lead. Ohio State’s kickoff coverage team pinned Michigan inside its 20-yard line on the ensuing kick and the defense had an important drive to give Ohio State control of the game. Instead, the OSU defense did what it has done far too often in 2021, which is to allow the other team to come right down and score after a Buckeye touchdown.
And that recurred in the second half. Ohio State’s defense overall was cottony soft and did not look like the team that forced Kenneth Walker III out of the game just a week earlier.
How Much Contact is Too Much?
Disaster nearly struck on Ohio State’s final drive of the first half when a Stroud pass floated and was nearly intercepted. The defensive back dropped the ball, but what no one on the broadcast crew saw, nor did the officials on the field, was Wilson getting mauled at the goal line while the ball was in the air. That’s, at minimum, defensive holding, and more logically it’s pass interference. Either foul would have given Ohio State a first down and continued the drive, but no call was made, and Ryan Day settled for a second Ruggles field goal instead of a touchdown to end the half with Ohio State in the lead. It was a potential loss of four points for Ohio State and kept the doubt from creeping into the Wolverines’ minds.
Bad Time to Go Manball
Ohio State came out of the halftime break and got the ball to start the second half. A touchdown or even a field goal would have put the Buckeyes ahead in the second half and continued to make Michigan and its fans nervous. Day called a couple of runs that set Ohio State up with a third-and-short and then went back to the well yet again and Michigan got the stop. That was a defining play in the game because from that point on the Wolverines never had to be afraid of falling behind. They either had a one-score lead and the ball or a two-score lead.
That’s what had me shaking on Saturday and a lot more than that, but I’ll keep this thing under 1,000 words. I could find something on every drive — whether holding or pass interference going uncalled on Michigan, Ohio State’s insane number of pre-snap fouls and putting it on the ground three times — or perhaps even every play.
And that’s it for the regular season. Ohio State will play in a good bowl game that none of us care too much about, but we’ll watch it anyway.