COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer hasn’t run out of Michigan magic yet.
Even with his offense struggling to pick up a first down, even facing a double-digit deficit in the second half, and even with history working against him, the Ohio State head coach still wouldn’t let his grip on The Game slip away.
The Buckeyes, who remain perfect against rival Michigan since Meyer arrived, are still alive and well in the race for the College Football Playoff. And somehow, the Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh are still trying to figure out what it’s going to take to knock Meyer off after his Buckeyes pulled out a thrilling 30-27 double-overtime escape Saturday afternoon in a matchup that certainly lived up to the yearlong hype.
The Buckeyes hadn’t rallied to win after being down 10 points against Michigan since 1987, and the fact they had to do it with so little consistency from their offense should only add to the head-scratching for Harbaugh and Michigan.
Meyer needing to lean so heavily on his defense this time around might qualify as something of a surprise, particularly given the coach's offensive reputation and J.T. Barrett’s record-setting track record at quarterback. But that has arguably been Meyer's best formula for success this season given all the dynamic, aggressive playmakers he’s recruited on the defensive side of the ball. On Saturday, they once again bailed him out -- both by scoring and slowing down the Wolverines.
Safety Malik Hooker has emerged as one of the best defenders in the country, and his interception return for a touchdown – his third this season -- opened the scoring for the Buckeyes. Another pick by versatile linebacker Jerome Baker set up the short drive that produced Ohio State’s first offensive score and pulled the Buckeyes within 17-14 late in the third quarter. Time after time down the stretch, the “Rushmen” package of defensive linemen cranked up the pressure on Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight to keep giving the Buckeyes a shot to complete the comeback.
Eventually, Barrett came to life as a rusher. His arm was accurate when it had to be on arguably the most important drive of his career. And with no room for error in the first overtime, he calmly dashed through the middle of the Michigan defense and found the end zone from 7 yards out as the Ohio State offensive attack finally zoomed to life in the clutch.
Then, when Meyer’s new defense-first program delivered a double-overtime stop to force a Michigan field goal and put the ball back in the hands of the offense, running back Curtis Samuel dashed around the left side and into the end zone, offering a reminder that the Buckeyes can still score when they have to.
And in The Game, Ohio State always delivers when Meyer is around to lead the way.